10 Broncos Jersey Numbers That Should be Retired

Erick Trickel

The Denver Broncos have a rich history, but due to a perceived lack of respect nationally, that history isn’t as enshrined as it should be, though it is sacrosanct to fans. The Broncos are vastly underrepresented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

There are 13 members of the Hall of Fame who have played for the Broncos, with eight of them being primary members in Denver. The Broncos aren't as enshrined in NFL history as a result, but this is a team with many deserving candidates for the Hall that have been perennial snubs. 

There are other ways for the Broncos to honor their many greats over the years, including the Ring of Fame and the retiring of jersey numbers. There are only three jersey numbers the Broncos have retired and it includes four players. 

They are: John Elway (7), Floyd Little (44), and the number 18 jersey was originally retired for Frank Tripucka, though the Tripucka family allowed Peyton Manning to wear it during his four-year stretch in Denver.

With how much history the Broncos have, there are multiple players that also deserve to be honored by having their number retired and never worn on the field again. Some candidates are more deserving than others. 

As a result of that being the case, I am going to break these up into three groups. The first group is honorable mentions, meaning players you can make the argument for, but in my opinion, remain on the outside looking in. The second group represents players that you can make an even bigger argument for and more strongly consider, while the final group includes a couple of players who should never see their number worn on the field again.

Honorable Mention: Jason Elam, Kicker, 1993-2007 | Jersey Number: 1

For a long time, there wasn’t much of a worry for the Broncos missing a field goal because Elam was considered money. He was a three-time Pro Bowler, three-time second-team All-Pro, and a two-time Super Bowl Champ. During his career, he put up 1,983 points, which is eighth-most in NFL history. It was a great career, but not one destined for the Hall of Fame, or to see his jersey number retired.

Honorable Mention: Gary Zimmerman, Offensive Tackle, 1993-97 | Jersey Number: 65

Zimmerman is one of the few who represents the Broncos in the Hall of Fame and had a really outstanding career. As a seven-time Pro Bowler, five-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, and a Super Bowl Champ, it isn’t hard to see why he is enshrined. However, he spent five years with the Broncos, and while he was great, it isn’t enough to eliminate another player wearing the number 65.

Honorable Mention: Louis Wright, Cornerback, 1975-1986 | Jersey Number: 20

Wright is considered the first shutdown corner in the NFL by multiple analysts. He spent his career fully with the Broncos and was outstanding. There are a number of accolades for Wright that push the argument for the Hall of Fame, but he falls just short for the jersey. There's no excuse for the Hall to keep him out. 

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Strong Consideration: Shannon Sharpe, Tight End, 1990-99/2002-03 | Jersey Number: 84

As a Hall of Famer, it's hard to not put Sharpe in the 'must retire' group on this list. Sharpe was an outstanding tight end for a long time for the Broncos. He was a big reason the Broncos offense was so effective. For me, he is right there for it, but misses out due to spending some time with the Baltimore Ravens, which helped him get enshrined with a third Super Bowl championship.

Strong Consideration: Rod Smith, Wide Receiver, 1994-2006 | Jersey Number: 80

Being one of my favorite players ever, it is hard to not put Smith into the 'must retire' list. He was exceptional for the Broncos and retired as the club's all-time leading receiver. In addition to having his number retired, the case is also there for him to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Smith had a great career with multiple quarterbacks and put up similar or better numbers than some receivers in the Hall. And he was undrafted. 

Must Retire: Terrell Davis, Running Back, 1995-2001 | Jersey Number: 30

The reasoning here is really simple. You can’t pound the table for Davis’ enshrinement because Denver doesn't win the back-to-back Super Bowls without him. That is exactly why 30 should never be worn again. Broncos history is dramatically different if it weren’t for the contributions of Davis.

Must Retire: Steve Atwater, Safety, 1989-1998 | Jersey Number: 27

Atwater's career with the Broncos was exceptional and he owns one of the most memorable hits in NFL history. There are plenty of accolades, but Atwater’s 27 should be retired because it was a number that put fear into opposing offenses.

On top of Atwater, 27 should be retired jointly with another player. That player being Darrent Williams. Before he was taken from this world tragically, he was poised to have a very bright future with the Broncos. With what Williams was contributed, he should be remembered by Broncos fans, and the team, with very high honor.

Must Retire: Randy Gradishar, Linebacker, 1974-1983 | Jersey Number: 53

It is egregious that Gradishar isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He is far more deserving than a few players who are enshrined in Canton. Gradishar's accolades are abundant and he really changed how the NFL is played from the linebacker position, for his era of football. Gradishar is one of the best defensive players in Broncos history and the honor the team gives him should reflect just that.

Must Retire: Karl Mecklenburg, Defensive Weapon, 1983-1995 | Jersey Number: 77

Back-to-back deserving defenders who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, though they should be, and also should have their jersey numbers retired. I list Mecklenburg as a defensive weapon because that is what he was for the Broncos. He exemplified that term for the NFL by doing so many different things for the Broncos, including starting games at each front-seven position. It is hard to talk about the history of the NFL without including Mecklenburg, and you can’t mention the history of the Broncos without him. He should be in the Hall of Fame already and have his number retired.

Must Retire: Champ Bailey, Cornebackr, 2004-13 | Jersey Number: 24

What is there to really say? Every Bronco fan knows what Bailey did for the team and how great a player he was. He is up there as one of the greatest corners to ever play the game and very few have had a better two-season reign of dominance than Bailey's 2005 and 2006 campaigns. Bailey embodied what it meant to be a Bronco on and off the field. It is wrong to see any other player wear the 24 jersey. The accolades speak for themselves. 

Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel and @MileHighHuddle. 

Comments (7)
No. 1-5
Chad Jensen
Chad Jensen


I'm not a strong believer in the retiring of jersey numbers, though if that player was transcendent and altered the team's destiny, I'll listen. I'm okay with Elway and Little having their numbers retired because they meet that criteria. Tripucka, frankly, doesn't. God bless him and his family. The only player on this list I could really get behind in terms of transcendence and destiny-altering is T.D. But Phil Lindsay would have to change and it just so happens that his college number 23 is now available. What I love about this article, though, is the remembrance of these Broncos greats, many of whom have been forgotten in the national conversation, especially as it relates to the Hall, which has become something of a mockery and popularity contest. Thanks, Erick.


Sorry Erick but I agree with Chad on this one I’m just not into retiring numbers unless that player was just the absolute face of the franchise for an extended period of time. Like your John Elway Joe Montana Roger Staubach Ray Lewis Derrick Thomas and so on all were standout stars of their teams. None of the players you listed above were that yes they were nice players all productive but none were the face of the Broncos during their time. TD could have been that when Elway retired but his injury just cut his career too short in fact most would say he only had a 4 year career from 95 to 98 those last 3 he was in and out of the lineup and only a shell of himself. And the fact is most people nowadays have no idea who Karl Mecklenberg or Randy Gradishire are they aren’t on anyone’s list of greatest LB’s of all time and are just forgotten guys now. Sorry but like I said none of these guys were transcendent players they had good careers most HOF careers but just not worthy of haveing their number retired.


I’ve thought about 27 in part because Atwater but mostly in remembrance of D. Will. However, they do have Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center and the “Darrent Williams good guy award” so there are some great tributes to him. Ring of Fame is where these players are best remembered, imo.


Elway and Little are retired, for good reason. Little was the first franchise player in Broncos history and Elway one of the greatest NFL players ever. Tripucka, along with Lionel Taylor, gave the Broncos some legitimacy in the early days. Tripucka was the first QB to ever surpass 3,000 yards, NFL or AFL. He almost did it again two seasons afterward.

I'd agree with the names on the lists to not have their numbers retired, although Sharpe's debatable. At the time he retired, he was the greatest pass catching TE in history. The list of players whose numbers should be retired is a good one. TD is obvious. Gradishar was the key player of the Orange Crush D. He was the reason that D was not just good, but great. Those two, definitely yes. Atwater and Bailey, a case could be made for each. I wouldn't be opposed to their numbers being retired. Mecklenburg, to me at least, is in the category of very good but not great enough to have a number retired. No disrespect to him though.


Simon Fletcher