The Denver Broncos are an original AFL team — and I don’t mean Arena Football League. The American Football League, which ran competitvely with the NFL from 1960-69, was playing with two-point conversions a generation before the NFL caught on and intro’d it in 1994. And the Broncos were right there, from the beginning.
They were a bad football team in the early-1960s — among the worst the AFL had ever served up. And their uniforms were ugly, too. One version of their outfits featured vertically-striped socks, which made them look like they were running on zebra stumps.
One year (1966), the Broncos had a quarterback crisis. Not controversy — crisis. As in, they weren’t sure who was going to play the position, because everyone on their roster either stunk or was hurt. So the Broncos lured 38-year-old Tobin Rote out of retirement. Rote had been the Lions quarterback in the 1957 championship game won at Briggs Stadium over the Cleveland Browns. But Tobin didn’t have anything left. After eight passes, he went right back into retirement. Such was the state of the Denver Broncos.
Early Broncos action: Frank Tripucka (left center) throws to Lionel Taylor vs. the Houston Oilers. Note the ugly gold uniforms!
They did have a day once — and at the Lions’ expense, of course. In the pre-season of 1967, the Lions were set to play the Broncos in Denver. In those days, prior to the 1970 merger, NFL and AFL teams routinely squared off for exhibitions. Detroit’s Alex Karras boasted that if the Lions lost, he’d walk home to the Motor City.
You guessed it — the Lions lost, becoming the first-ever NFL team to lose to an AFL team. Karras flew home with the rest of the team.
Did you know that the Broncos’ first QB was Frank Tripucka? You might remember Frank’s son — former Pistons forward Kelly Tripucka.
The Broncos were mostly slapstick until the early-1970s, when they built a foundation around players like DT Lyle Alzado, DE Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, RB Floyd Little, and WR Haven Moses. They eventually made it to the Super Bowl after the 1977 season — their first of four losses in the big game, before John Elway finally got it right.
The Lions have been so bad, that had the norm held, you might have overheard a Bronco crowing that he’d walk home to Denver if his team lost this Sunday (Dre’ Bly, perhaps?).
One more Denver-Lions connection: the Broncos were the last team to play the Lions in Tiger Stadium, on Thanksgiving Day, 1974. The Lions lost that one, too.