DENVER (CBS4) – Former Denver Broncos wide receiver and kick return specialist Rick Upchurch has been elected to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame and will be honored with a ceremony during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in mid-September.
Upchurch will be joined in the Ring of Fame by former head coach Dan Reeves and halfback/kicker Gene Mingo. For Upchurch, the honor hasn’t set in and he hasn’t been working on his speech yet.
“Right now, I haven’t felt it yet. I got the word, it hit me, and now it’s almost like it is so unreal, and I believe on Sept. 14 when I step on that field it will be real,” Upchurch said on Xfinity Monday Live! “I am just thankful. I thank Pat Bowlen for what he’s done and recognizing all of the players up on the side up there. And for him to do that, boy, it really lets you know that he cares about the former players.”
Upchurch played for the Broncos from 1975 to 1983 and ended his career with eight punt returns for a touchdown, a record when he retired. Back then the Broncos compound was a couple of trailers off north Interstate 25. Now there’s a massive facility at Dove Valley that’s expanding even more.
“That’s the growth of the game, the evolution of the game, it’s going to grow. It’s the most popular game in the United States,” Upchurch said. “With the marketing that all the commissioners have done, the popularity of the game around the world, you can just imagine that these owners right now are feeling really good about their investments.”
But one evolution of the game Upchurch doesn’t like is all the changes the league has made in terms of special teams. The most notable is with the kickoffs.
“You know, football started with special teams. You had your kickoffs, and that started the game, and it just so happened that someone might return one back. Those are points that you don’t count on,” he said. “You have a great punter who can put the ball in the coffin corner; that backs that offense up. So now you are dictating field position or the excitement of a punt return, catching the ball and taking it all the way back to the house and changing the momentum of the game. Special teams is great. I think it’s the greatest phase of football, it’s the other third of the game.”
Upchurch analyzed the current status of the Broncos punt return game and said Wes Welker might be the right man for the job this season.
“If they can’t find anybody that can handle the football … catching the ball first is the most important thing; if you can’t find the guy that can handle the ball and catch the ball – you have to find someone who’s not going to put you in a bad situation. Wes Welker has some of the best hands that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And he’s consistent. If you look at his record as far as fielding punt returns … he’s the perfect guy to do it. He’s not going to put you in a bad situation.”
Upchurch, Reeves and Mingo will be have their sculptures displayed in the new Broncos’ Ring of Fame plaza at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The official ceremony will take place at halftime of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 14.
– By Matthew J. Buettner, CBSDenver.com
Watch more of the video with Rick Upchurch in the Xfinity Monday Live! section.
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