Gary Zimmerman may have been the quintessential ’90s-era Denver Broncos offensive lineman — with his reticence to talk to the media, generally undersized frame and maniacal zone-blocking tendencies — but it was like-minded center Tom Nalen who always had my heart.
That shaggy dude was the linchpin for every success enjoyed by the cast-off running backs that coach Mike Shanahan would pull from the dregs of the draft, and for it he'll join 23 other former players in the team's Ring of Fame.
Nalen himself came from the bottom of the pile, drafted out of Boston College in the seventh round in 1994. He went on to make five Pro Bowls, win two Super Bowls, be named All-Pro three times, block for 11 1,000-yard rushers — including Terrell Davis' 1998 year, when he rushed for 2,008 yards — and start more games than any other Denver Broncos player except John Elway. He was named the National Football League's Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2003.
He played his last game in October 2007, and formally retired in 2009 after suffering knee and bicep injuries. Here's Westword's Michael Roberts around that time: "Back then, my wife was an assistant principal at a Denver-area school where the Nalens were thinking about enrolling their kids — which they ultimately did," he wrote in 2008. "She wound up giving Nalen and his wife a tour of the facility, and when they came to a small set of stairs, she watched as he slowly — very slowly — climbed them one agonizing step at a time.
"It hurt her just to watch him and his gait on the flat surfaces made it clear that plain old walking caused him pain, too. But he didn't stop then, and he's seldom taken a break since then."
Nalen will be inducted on Sept. 29 at halftime of the Broncos' home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, joining other contemporary Broncos players Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Steve Atwater, Zimmerman and Davis. I bet it's a short speech.