CREAM OF THE CROP
- GOOSE GONSOULIN
Austin William "Goose" Gonsoulin (born June 7, 1938 in Port Arthur, Texas) of Baylor University was a Professional Football safety, the original Denver Broncos, selected first in the 1960 season. At the end of his Broncos career, he was the all-time American Football League leader in interceptions with 40. He made the first interception ever in the American Football League, in the first AFL game against the Boston Patriots. He had seven interceptions in his first three games, and his 11 pickoffs in 1960 are still a Denver club record. He shares the team record for interceptions in a game with four, a feat he accomplished 18 September 1960 at Buffalo.
Gonsoulin was a Sporting News AFL All-League player in 1960, 1962, and 1963, and an AFL Western Division All-Star in 1961, 1964 and 1966. His amazing durability and toughness enabled him to start 61 consecutive games at one point in his career. He was also the captain of his college team at Baylor. "Goose" Gonsoulin was selected to the second unit of the American Football League All-Time Team.
- RICH JACKSON
Rich Jackson (born July 22, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana) was an American college and professional football player. In college Jackson played for Southern University. Jackson played for the American Football League's Oakland Raiders in 1966 and the AFL Denver Broncos from 1967 through 1969. He played for the NFL Broncos in 1970 through 1971, and the NFL Cleveland Browns in 1972. Jackson was All-Pro in 1969 and 1970.
Jackson, a defensive end whose nickname was "Tombstone", was famous for moves such as the "head slap" and the "halo spinner" which he used to subdue opposing offensive linemen. In the late Lyle Alzado's book "Mile High" he recalled Rich Jackson as the toughest man he'd ever met, and told the story of Jackson breaking the helmet of Green Bay Packer offensive tackle, Bill Hayhoe, with a headslap. Jackson's career was cut short by a severe knee injury, but he finished with an unofficial total of 43 sacks, 31 of which came during the three season period of 1968-1970. He finished with 10 sacks in both 1968 and 1970 and posted a career-high total of 11 in 1969. He was named 1st Team All-AFL by the AP, Pro Football Weekly and UPI at the conclusion of the 1968 season and by the AP, NEA, NY Daily News, Pro Football Weekly, The Sporting News and UPI at the end of the 1969 season. He was also a unanimous 1st Team All-NFL choice in 1970. Despite the shortened career, Sports Illustrated's football expert, Dr. Z, Paul Zimmerman, said that Tombstone Jackson was perhaps the finest overall defensive end and pass rusher he ever saw, a surefire Hall of Famer if he would have had a longer playing career, in a bigger media market. As it was Jackson will be remembered as a great one, only by a handful of football insiders, including those who lined up with and against him.
Jackson wore number 87 with the Broncos and was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the Denver Broncos' "Ring of Fame". He was inducted in 1984 along with safety Goose Gonsoulin, running back Floyd Little, and wide receiver Lionel Taylor.
In 1975 he was voted to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
- LIONEL TAYLOR
Lionel Thomas Taylor (born August 15, 1935, in Kansas City, Missouri) is a former American football wide receiver who led the American Football League (AFL) in receptions each year for the first six years of the league's existence.
Taylor attended New Mexico Highlands University, where he had starred in basketball and track, earning all-conference wide receiver honors in 1956 and 1957.
Taylor first played eight games as a linebacker with the Chicago Bears of the National Football League(NFL) before moving to the Denver Broncos of the AFL for the 1960 season. With the Broncos, he switched positions and became a receiver. Third in all-time receptions (543) and receiving yards (6,872) for the Denver Broncos, Taylor was the Broncos' team MVP in 1963, 1964 and 1965, and an AFL All-Star in 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1965. An original Bronco, Taylor was part of the team's inaugural class of Ring of Famers in 1984.
Taylor was the first professional football receiver ever to make 100 catches in a single season, accomplishing the feat in only 14 games (1961). He had four seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving, and averaged 84.7 catches per year from 1960 to 1965, then the highest six-year total in professional football history. Taylor completed his career with the Houston Oilers in 1967 and 1968.
After his playing career, Taylor went into a long career as a coach. He was an assistant coach for the Super Bowl championship teams of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s.
- GERALD PHIPPS
Gerald Phipps (March 4, 1915 – August 6, 1993) was a businessman, President of Gerald H. Phipps, Inc., a construction company, and owner of the Denver Broncos American football club from 1961 to 1981.
Phipps and Cal Kunz purchased the Broncos from founder Bob Howsam in May 1961. Phipps was chairman of the National Football League Finance Committee from 1970 to 1981. During Phipps' tenure as owner, the Broncos earned their first trip to the Super Bowl (in 1978) participating in Super Bowl XII and saw a significant rise in Denver Broncos popularity, called “Broncomania.”
In 1975, Phipps became the first non-player to be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame. He is also a member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
Phipps was also the owner of the Denver Bears minor league baseball team. He was a director of Rocky Mountain Empire Sports Inc., which owned the Denver Bears minor league baseball team from 1947 to 1984.
- CHARLEY JOHNSON
Charley Lane Johnson (born November 22, 1938) is a former quarterback in the NFL. During his 15-year career he played for 3 teams; the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Oilers, and Denver Broncos. During his collegiate career at New Mexico State he became the only person to date to be named Most Valuable Player of the Sun Bowl in consecutive years, winning the award in 1959 and 1960. He is a member of the NMSU Sports Hall of Fame and is the only player in the history of the NMSU football program to have his jersey number (33) retired. He was named to the NFL Pro Bowl in 1963 and is a member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice on the December 14, 1964 and November 1, 1965 issues as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. An engineering major at NMSU, Johnson continued his academic pursuits during his NFL career and obtained Master's and Doctoral degrees in Chemical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis while concurrently playing in the NFL. He retired as a professor of Chemical Engineering at his alma mater, New Mexico State University in May 2012.
- PAUL SMITH
Paul Edward Smith (August 13, 1945 – March 14, 2000) was a collegiate and professional American football defensive end. Smith was selected in the 1968 Common Draft by the American Football League's Denver Broncos and played in the National Football League for the Broncos and Washington Redskins.
Smith wore number 70 with the Broncos and was inducted into the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1986 along with quarterbacks Frank Tripucka and Charley Johnson.
- FRANK TRIPUCKA
Francis (Frank) Joseph Tripucka (The Trip) (born December 8, 1927) is a former American collegiate and Professional Football quarterback, at Notre Dame, in the National Football League, in the Canadian Football League, and in the early American Football League.
Tripucka was backup quarterback to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack on Frank Leahy's unbeaten Notre Dame squads in 1946 and 1947. When Lujack graduated, Tripucka became the 1948 starter. He led the team to a 9-0-1 record, their only blemish being a 14-14 tie with USC in the last game of the season. Notre Dame finished #2 in the final polls and Tripucka was named an All American.
When Tripucka graduated, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him with their first round pick in the 1949 NFL Draft, but traded him to the Detroit Lions before the 1949 season began. He started with the Lions in 1949, and then played the next three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals.
The American Football League was founded in 1960, and Tripucka's old coach at Saskatchewan, Frank Filchock, was hired as the first coach of the new league's Denver Broncos. He brought Tripucka with him as an assistant coach. However the Broncos also had quarterback problems, and in preseason Filchock sent Tripucka in as a player. He became their first starting quarterback in the regular season and played with the team for four seasons. He was the first U.S. pro quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. He also threw the first touchdown pass in the history of the AFL. In 1962 he was named to the AFL All Star team.
Tripucka retired in 1963 after 15 professional seasons. The Broncos subsequently retired his #18 jersey. On March 9, 2012, Tripucka stated that he would allow #18 to be worn again by Peyton Manning if the Broncos were to sign him. On March 20, 2012, at a press conference announcing his signing by the Broncos, John Elway thanked Tripucka "for allowing the franchise to unretire the number for Manning."
- BILLY THOMPSON
William "Billy" Allen Thompson (born October 10, 1946 in Greenville, South Carolina) is a former American football cornerback and safety in the National Football league. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 1969 NFL Draft. He played college football at Maryland State College.
Thompson was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1987.
Thompson played his entire 13-year career for the Denver Broncos from 1969-1981. During his career he was selected to three Pro Bowls in 1977, 1978, and 1981 and was an All-Pro selection in 1977. He is currently second on the Broncos all-time list for games started with 179 and sixth in games played with 179.
- CRAIG MORTON
Larry Craig Morton (born February 5, 1943, in Flint, Michigan) is a former professional football player. He played quarterback in the National Football League for 18 seasons, 1965-82. Morton played for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and the Denver Broncos. He played college football at the University of California.
At age 34 he revived his career with the Denver Broncos, finishing the season as the second rated passer in the AFC and becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to start the Super Bowl for two different teams (Dallas in Super Bowl V and Denver in Super Bowl XII), a feat that has only been equaled by Kurt Warner. After the 1977 season, Morton was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, selected All-AFC by The Sporting News.
Morton's best statistical season came in his 17th season (1981), when he threw for 3,195 yards and 21 touchdowns, compiling an excellent 90.5 passer rating and setting several records. He was a downfield passer not known for his mobility, and is one of the all time leaders in yards per completion. He also briefly held the record for the most passes completed in a row.
Morton wore number 7 for the Broncos, and retired just before the arrival of John Elway in 1983, who also wore the same number and has had it since retired in his honor. He still remains as the second all-time passing yards leader in team history with 11,895 and his regular-season record was 50 wins and 28 losses in five seasons.
He was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 1988.
Although Roger Staubach replaced Morton for the Dallas Cowboys in 1973 and would go on to great success, Morton played seven more NFL seasons than Staubach. The Cowboy teammates graduated from college the same year, but Staubach began his NFL career four years later following his active service in the U.S. Navy, and he chose to retire after the 1979 season, while Morton played for three more seasons until 1982.
- HAVEN MOSES
Haven Christopher Moses (born July 27, 1946 in Los Angeles, California) is a former American football wide receiver. Haven played collegiately for Los Angeles Harbor College and San Diego State University. He was drafted by the American Football League's Buffalo Bills in the first round (9th overall) of the 1968 Draft and played for the Bills from 1968 to 1972. During the 1972 season he was traded to the Denver Broncos for Wide Receiver Dwight Harrison. Haven made the AFL All-Star Game in 1969 and the NFL Pro Bowl in 1973. He is on the "Ring of Fame" in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
- JIM TURNER
James Bayard "Jim" Turner (born March 28, 1941 in Martinez, California) is a former American football player. A quarterback and placekicker, he played college football for Utah State University and was signed as a free agent in 1964 by the American Football League's New York Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank. "Tank" kicked a then record 145 points in the 1968 regular season, with a professional football record 34 field goals. Turner kicked for nine points in the AFL Championship game win over the Oakland Raiders, and ten points in the Jets's 16-7 defeat of the Baltimore Colts in the Third World Championship of Professional Football, Super Bowl III.
The last of Turner's three field goals in Super Bowl III was for 9 yards, the shortest in Super Bowl history. At that time, the goal posts were located at the front of the end zones. They have since been moved to the back, so it's no longer possible to kick a field goal from this short a distance. Mike Clark of the Dallas Cowboys tied Turner's record for the shortest Super Bowl field goal in Super Bowl VI.
In the locker room after the game, on national television (NBC-TV), Turner shouted "Welcome to the AFL !"
Following the AFL-NFL merger, Turner also played with the Denver Broncos for another nine seasons and kicked four points in a losing effort in Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys, connecting on a 43-yard field goal and an extra point following a 5-yard touchdown run by Rob Lytle. He was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 1988.
Turner finished his career with 304 of 488 (62%) field goals and 521 of 534 extra points, giving him 1,439 total points.
- RANDY GRADISHAR
Randy Charles Gradishar (born March 3, 1952) is a former American football linebacker who played in the 1970s and 1980s. A native of Ohio, Gradishar was a two-time consensus All-American for the Ohio State Buckeyes, before playing ten seasons for the NFL's Denver Broncos, where he was the centerpiece of the so-called "Orange Crush Defense".
Gradishar was drafted 14th overall in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Gradishar went on to spend 10 seasons with the Denver Broncos franchise. He played along with Tom Jackson as part of the Orange Crush Defense and is considered by some to be the greatest defensive player in Broncos history. Teammate Jim Jensen said Gradishar and Roger Staubach were the two best players he ever took the field with.
He became a starter midway though his rookie season and was named to his first Pro Bowl after the 1975 season, his second in the NFL. From that season through his last, 1983, the Broncos "Orange Crush" defense allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the NFL, behind only the Steelers "Steel Curtain" defense and the Cowboys' "Doomsday" defense. Additionally, the Broncos trailed only the Steelers in the fewest yards per rush during that same span. They have been named one of the NFL's greatest defenses by the BBC and others.
Gradishar became nationally known in a 1975 Monday Night Football game versus the Green Bay Packers in which he picked off a pass and returned it for a game-sealing victory while also recording a sack, two tackles for loss and knocked down two passes and recorded six solo tackles.
In 1976 the Broncos switched to a 3-4 defense in which Gradishar moved from middle linebacker to inside linebacker, where he stayed the remainder of his career. The switch to the 3-4 defense gave Gradishar responsibilities relative to rush-lane discipline and pass coverage that are beyond those of a middle linebacker in the 4-3 defense. In addition to leading the Broncos in tackles for the second straight year, Gradishar led all NFL linebackers in sacks, with seven. He was voted second-team All-AFC by United Press International.
In 1977 Gradishar assisted the Broncos to Super Bowl XII. He made the Pro Bowl for the second time and began a string of six straight appearances from 1977 to 1983. Gradishar was First Team All-Pro and led a defense that led the AFC in fewest points allowed with 148 in that 14-game season and was 6th in allowing the fewest yards. The 1977 Broncos season is documented in a new book by Terry Frei, '77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age that features Gradishar, Lyle Alzado and others. The 1977 Broncos season began with a 7–0 shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals that had been one of the NFL's top offenses from 1974–1976 that featured offensive stars like Jim Hart, Terry Metcalf, Mel Gray, Dan Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler. In a 14–7 win against the Kansas City Chiefs the Broncos made a goal line stand as time expired to preserve a win. Denver Post staff writer Terry Frei's book, 77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age, put it this way, "Gradishar penetrated and stopped two running plays, as Gradishar did time and time again on the goal line in his career. It was the trademark of both Gradishar and the defense overall".
He was named consensus NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 by winning the Associated Press Award, along with the UPI Defensive Player of the Year award and the NEA Defensive MVP award, receiving the George S. Halas Trophy for his efforts as the Broncos reached the playoffs for the second straight season. The Broncos defense allowed 198 points in 16 games, which was second in the NFL behind the Super Bowl champion Steelers. Additionally, Gradishar was the Football Digest NFL Linebacker of the year in 1978, an honor he repeated in 1979.
The following season, 1979, the Broncos defense ranked 5th in fewest points allowed and Gradishar led the team in tackles for the 5th straight season. The 1980 season was average in terms of record (8–8) and statistics as the Broncos defense ranked in the middle of the pack in many defensive categories except the Bronco defense was 5th in allowing the fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Gradishar returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown which was his career long interception return and one of four defensive touchdowns Gradishar scored in his career. He was also named All-Pro and was voted the Broncos Most Valuable Player for the second time in three years.
However, under new coach Dan Reeves the Broncos defense rebounded in 1981, ranking 6th in total defense, 3rd in lowest rushing average allowed in the NFL and 9th in fewest points allowed as Broncos were 10-6. Randy had one of his best seasons as he was consensus All-Pro and All-AFC as well as being voted to the Pro Bowl.
In 1983 the Broncos returned to the playoffs with rookie quarterback John Elway and Gradishar capped off his career with his seventh Pro Bowl in ten NFL seasons. In Week 12 of 1983 season, against the Seattle Seahawks, Gradishar intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, recorded a sack, and a tackle for loss to go with his season-high 15 tackles in a key 38–27 win.
"If you ask me to name the five best linebackers I played against, or had a chance to cover in my broadcasting career, Randy Gradishar would be on that list ... There is no question about his credentials; Randy Gradishar belongs in the Hall of Fame." Merlin Olsen
His former coach Dan Reeves said about Gradishar, "He was as good a linebacker as I have ever been around, and I have been around some great ones. He was a leader without question of our defense while I was with Denver. He was an exceptional football player. I had a great deal of respect for him when I was at Dallas before I ever went to Denver. After I arrived in Denver and saw what kind of a leader he was my respect for him grew. He never missed a game and was a dominant force on the field. The opposing team always had to take him into account when they devised their game plans."
Randy Gradishar was called, "the heart and soul of the original Orange Crush defense. He was the centerpiece of Joe Collier's 3-4 and the glue that held a ragtag bunch of degenerates and hand-me-downs (I mean that in a good way) together." Pro Football Weekly 's personnel scout Joel Buchsbaum wrote that "there are quite a few scouts who will tell you that former Broncos ILB Randy Gradishar was almost as good, even as good, as Jack Lambert" and "unlike Lambert, Gradishar was not a flashy headhunter, just a great anticipator who was a deadly tackler and great short-yardage defender".
When naming the top linbeackers ever, Buchsbaum wrote, concerning Gradishar, "Maybe the smartest and most underrated ever. Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The fact he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player." In 2006 was named by Riddell author Jonathan Rand as one of the Top 25 linebackers of all-time.
Pro Football Weekly published these comments collected from NFL scouts, "Superior diagnostician with exceptional strength, balance, tackling form and very good lateral mobility. Not as flashy or brutal as some ILBs but means almost as much to Denver's defense as Walter Payton does to Chicago's offense" and "Is most dominant defender in AFC when healthy. Although not as brutal as Butkus or Bergey, he's strong at the point of attack, does a superb job of playing off blocks and getting to the ball, gets good depth on his pass drops and is consistently excellent"
Zander Hollander, who wrote The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, said about Gradishar, "Not as nasty as Butkus, doesn't snarl like Lambert, but Gradishar makes all the plays. Hey, he can hit, too. Just ask Saints' Henry Childs, after Gradishar knocked his helmet off, "It was the first in my career like that, in the open field". Gradishar's hitting ability was a sentiment echoed in Rick Korch's book, The Truly Great. In it, Tony Dorsett recalled the hit Gradishar gave him in a 1980 game, "I ran a pass pattern and was wide open but Danny White did not see me. I go back to the huddle and tell Danny that I am wide open. I ran the same route again but this time I was almost decapitated. My eyes were only partially open when I hit the ground. Trainers and doctors came running onto the field. They thought I was dead. Hey, I thought I was dead, too." Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton remembers asking Walter Payton, "Walter, who gave you the hardest hit you ever took in the NFL?". According to Hampton, Payton replied, "Randy Gradishar, 1978". In 1981 SPORT magazine named Gradishar one of the Top 5 hardest hitters in the NFL, quoting the modest Gradishar, "The chance for a real good shot comes very seldom, but when it's there I take full advantage of it".
NFL Films' Steve Sabol said this about Gradishar, "His range separated him from others at his position. A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation and athletic ability. His "play anticipation" was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact; which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short." Detroit Lions General Manager and fellow inside linebacker Matt Millen added, "Randy Gradishar was one of the most productive players I've watched. He was always around the ball, rarely out of position, and constantly making plays. Linebackers are difficult to evaluate because there is a lack of statistics. But someone like a Randy Gradishar was easy to judge because of what he produced."
Mike Giddings of Pro Scout, Inc., added that "Gradishar could cover the "Y" flat on a weakside linebacker blitzed. In recent times only Gradishar and Lambert could to that". Additionally, coach Joe Collier would have a unique coverage on a strong-side blitz in which Gradishar, the right inside linebacker would be responsible to cover the tight end, man-to-man, on any "up" route in the "seam", which would be on the opposite side of the formation. To do so he would have to take the exact angle to get proper depth while going across the field and an angle, according to Giddings, Gradishar "could, and did".
In January 2008, he was voted by a panel of former NFL players and coaches to Pro Football Weekly 's All-Time 3-4 defensive team along with Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, Andre Tippett, Howie Long, Lee Roy Selmon, and Curley Culp.
Gradishar retired after the 1983 season, finishing his career with the NFL record for most tackles all time with 2,049, and 20 interceptions, which he returned for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He also recovered 13 fumbles, returning them for 72 yards and one touchdown. He also recorded 20 sacks according to Broncos team records. Since his retirement, he has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times, but has yet to be enshrined. He was among the 15 finalists in 2003 and 2008, and made the top 25 list in 2005 and 2007. The closest he came to induction was the day before the 2003 Super Bowl, when he made it to list of final ten.
Gradishar was inducted to the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1989. Inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.
- TOM JACKSON
Thomas Louie "Tom" Jackson, also referred to as "TJ" or "Tommy", (born April 4, 1951) is an NFL analyst for ESPN and a former linebacker for the Denver Broncos, where he was part of the so-called "Orange Crush Defense".
Tom Jackson attended the University of Louisville, where he was coached by current college football analyst Lee Corso. During his college career, he was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year selection.
Tom Jackson was selected by the Denver Broncos in the 1973 NFL Draft. He enjoyed a 14-year career in Denver where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time All-Pro selection, and was voted Denver's Most Inspirational Player six times by his teammates. He also assisted the team to Championship appearances in Super Bowl XII and Super Bowl XXI. Jackson was one of only four players to play for the Broncos in both of the aforementioned Super Bowls, played 9 years apart. Jackson finished his career with 20 interceptions, which he returned for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns, and 8 fumble recoveries, which he returned for 104 yards. He also recorded 13 sacks (with a season high 5-1/2) as a weak-side blitzer in Denver's 3-4 defense according to Broncos records. Jackson ranks third only to Jason Elam and John Elway on the team's all-time list of games played with 191.
Jackson published Blitz: An Autobiography in 1987 which focused on his career with the Broncos. The book was written with long-time Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige.
In 1992, Jackson became the 14th person inducted in the Broncos' Ring of Fame.
In 1987, Jackson joined ESPN studios where he was teamed with Chris Berman on the network's signature NFL shows, NFL Countdown and NFL Primetime. Sunday NFL Countdown, the weekly Sunday morning pre-game show and has won seven Sports Emmy awards for Outstanding Studio Show—Weekly (1988, 1991, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2003 and 2007 seasons). On Monday Night Countdown, Jackson hosted the segment "Jacked Up!," which featured five hits from the previous day's games. The show's hosts recited the title phrase as they watched some of the most punishing hits inflicted by players on the field.
- LOUIS WRIGHT
Louis Donnel Wright (born January 31, 1953, in Gilmer, Texas) is a former American Football cornerback who played his entire NFL career for the Denver Broncos for 12 seasons from 1975 to 1986. He was a five time Pro Bowler in 1977 to 1979, 1983 and 1985.
Wright began his college career at Arizona State University, but would later transfer to San José State. He started at cornerback in each of his two years at San José State, finishing his career there with 3 interceptions. He also excelled in track and field, winning two letters. His accomplishments included recording a long jump distance of 25 feet, 7 inches that still ranks in the top five in school history and running the 100 in 9.6 seconds. Following his senior year, Wright played in the 1974 East-West Shrine Game and the 1974 Senior Bowl. He was later inducted into the San José State University Hall of Fame.
“They use a term today of shutdown cornerback." "We didn't have that term back then, but Louie Wright was a shutdown cornerback. He was a great run defender. He played the left side and in those days most teams were right-handed and their running plays usually went to our left side.”
Wright was drafted by the Broncos with the 17th overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft. He broke into the lineup quickly, starting 11 games as a rookie and intercepting 2 passes while also recovering a fumble.
1977 would be his breakout season as he intercepted 3 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown and helped lead the Broncos to Super Bowl XII. He was named a First-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press in both 1978 and 1979. During the '79 season, he returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown. In 1980 and 1981, he was named Second-Team All-Conference by UPI. In addition to his cover skills, Wright was also one of the best run supporting cornerbacks of his era. His feats eventually earned him the nickname "Lou-dini."
Arguably, Wright had the best season of his career in 1983, intercepting a career-high 6 passes and being named First-Team All-Pro by Newspaper Enterprise Association. In 1984, he recorded the second fumble return for a touchdown of his career and was named First-Team All-Pro by Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News.
In 1985, he intercepted 5 passes and was named First-Team All-Conference by UPI. In a week 11 game against the San Diego Chargers, Wright recorded the fourth and final touchdown of his career, returning a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning score in overtime of the 30-24 Broncos victory. 1986 would be Wright's final season in the NFL and he intercepted 3 passes in helping lead the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI.
In his NFL career, he finished with 26 interceptions for 360 yards and 1 touchdown. He also recovered 11 fumbles and returned two for touchdowns. He was inducted to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 1993, but has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- KARL MECKLENBURG
In 1983, the Denver Broncos drafted Karl Mecklenburg in the 12th round with the 310th pick overall. In spite of his low selection, Mecklenburg went on to become an integral part of the Broncos' Super Bowl teams of the 1980s. He played in six Pro Bowls. His 79.5 sacks is the second highest total in franchise history. In 2001, during half time of a game against the Baltimore Ravens, he and Dennis Smith were inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. He is also in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and serves on the Broncos Alumni Council.
Since retiring from pro football in 1994 because of injury, Mecklenburg divides his time between family, motivational speaking, and his ongoing charity involvements. Karl and his wife Kathi have three children. The Mecklenburgs reside in Littleton, Colorado. The son of Fred Mecklenburg and Marjory Mecklenburg, Karl has two brothers, Eric and Fred, and a sister, Carol.
His nickname as a Bronco was 'The Snow Goose' or 'The Albino Rhino'.
- DENNIS SMITH
Dennis Smith (born February 3, 1959 in Santa Monica, California) is a retired American football safety who wore number 49 for the National Football League's Denver Broncos between 1981 and 1994.
Smith established himself as one of the most feared and hardest hitting safeties in the NFL (a reputation later held by his protégé, Steve Atwater). Smith was voted to play in six Pro Bowls (following the 1985-1986, 1989–1991 and 1993 seasons), was named All-AFC in 1984 and 1988 and played on three Broncos Super Bowl teams (XXI, XXII, XXIV), and was named All-Pro 4 times.
Smith’s career totals include 1,171 tackles, 30 interceptions and 15 sacks. He posted a career- high five interceptions in 1991.
2001 - Smith was inducted in the Ring of Fame
2006 - Smith was inducted in the Colorado Hall of Fame
Ranks 4th all-time amongst Denver Broncos in games played with the franchise with 184.
Named the club's most inspirational player in 1992.
- STEVE ATWATER
Stephen Dennis "Smiling Assassin" Atwater (born October 28, 1966 in Chicago, Illinois) is a former American football player who spent most of his career playing free safety for the Denver Broncos. Atwater and Dennis Smith made up a Broncos secondary that was known for their ferocious hits on opposing players. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl Champion.
Atwater was drafted out of the University of Arkansas by the Broncos with the 20th pick in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft. The Broncos began the draft with the 13th overall pick and were hoping to upgrade their defense which had ranked 27th (out of a possible 28) against the run the previous year. Knowing that Atwater would be available in the later parts of the first round, the Broncos traded down to the 20th overall pick owned by the Cleveland Browns who selected Eric Metcalf with Denver's 13th overall pick. Atwater was projected by most as the second-best safety in the draft behind Louis Oliver who was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 25th overall pick. However, then-head coach Dan Reeves selected Atwater over Oliver because of his leadership skills, which Reeves felt were badly needed following the defense's let downs during the 1988 season.
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips employed Atwater close to the line of scrimmage in order to fortify Denver's run defense and he led the team in tackles, finishing with 129 tackles his rookie season. Denver's defense jumped 20 spots to finish 7th against the run and tied for 3rd best in yards per carry with a 3.7 yard average. That same year, Atwater finished 2nd to the Kansas City Chiefs' Derrick Thomas in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. The additions of rookies Atwater and Bobby Humphrey, along with key free agent signings, helped Denver rebound from 8-8 in 1988 to AFC Super Bowl representative in 1989.
Atwater's second season marked the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections (1990–96), tied for most in franchise history. Over his career, he was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, second most in franchise history. Early in his career, Atwater teamed with fellow Broncos safety Dennis Smith to form one of the best safety tandems of their generation. Both would later be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame. During his 10-year career in Denver, Atwater started in 155 games, tying him for seventh in franchise history for games started. He also started in 14 post-season games.
In Super Bowl XXXII, he posted one of the better performances by a safety in a Super Bowl and one of the greatest games of his career. In that game, he is credited with six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defended and a forced fumble. His presence near the line of scrimmage kept the Green Bay Packers' running game in check. His sack and forced fumble resulted in three critical points in the second quarter when the Broncos offense had stalled without star running back Terrell Davis. Near the end of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 24 and Green Bay had the ball on 3rd down & 8. Atwater knocked down a critical pass on a blitz where the receiver was left wide open, forcing the Packers to punt. Then on Green Bay's final drive, Atwater's vicious hit (which nearly knocked out two players, a Packers player and a Broncos player) with less than a minute remaining left the Packers in 4th and 6 situation without any remaining timeouts, due to NFL rules regarding injuries to players in the final two minutes of a game. Many argued that Atwater should have been the MVP of the game and the ensuing article in The Sporting News pictured Atwater and noted the impact of his hits on the game.
Super Bowl XXXII was Atwater's last great game, and 1997 his last great season. In 1998, he was relegated to only playing on 1st and 2nd downs and replaced on 3rd downs. Nevertheless, because of the viewership of the Super Bowl from the previous year, he was voted as an AFC Pro Bowl starter for an eighth and final time. Following the Pro Bowl voting, the Denver Post noted that Atwater's selection to the Pro Bowl was due to his play in the previous year's Super Bowl. Denver went on to win the Super Bowl for a second straight year, marking Super Bowl XXXIII as Atwater's final game with the Broncos.
Atwater left the Broncos following the 1998 season, signing with the New York Jets as a free agent for his final season in 1999. Atwater played for the New York Jets for one season, then retired. He signed a one-day ceremonial contract with the Broncos before announcing his retirement from football.
Atwater was inducted to the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 2005.
Atwater was among 27 modern-era semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2012. He was one of four previously eligible candidates that made it to the semifinals for the first time.
- TERRELL DAVIS
Terrell Lamar Davis (born October 28, 1972) is a former American football running back who played for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL) from 1995 to 2001. Davis was drafted by the Broncos in the sixth round (196th pick overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft. Davis is the Denver Broncos all-time leading rusher, with 7,607 rushing yards. As a player, he was given the nickname "T. D." by players, fans and the media; this denoted both the initials of his first and last name as well as being an abbreviation for touchdown.
- ROD SMITH
Roderick Smith (born May 15, 1970) is a former American football wide receiver who played thirteen seasons for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Missouri Southern State. He was originally signed by the Broncos as an undrafted free agent and played his entire career with the team. He is ranked 15th in NFL history in career receptions and 16th in receiving yards.
After the 1994 draft, Smith wasn't drafted. First, the New England Patriots signed him but then he was released. Soon after his release, the Broncos signed him. His first NFL catch was a last-minute 43-yard touchdown from John Elway in a 38–31 win against the Washington Redskins on September 17, 1995. In fourteen seasons as an NFL player, Smith had eight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. He had two seasons of at least 100 receptions (2000: 100; 2001: 113). His reception total in 2001 led the league. He was a starting wide receiver of the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1997 and 1998. In the Broncos' 34–19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII, Smith had 5 receptions for 152 yards (the fourth highest total in Super Bowl history), including an 80-yard touchdown reception. He was a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2004.
A hip injury that he suffered in 2006 required a complete hip replacement. On December 28, 2007 it was revealed that Smith needed another hip surgery, possibly ending his career. He was placed on the reserve/retired list on February 15, 2008, and announced his formal retirement from professional football on July 24, 2008 in a press conference at the team's Dove Valley headquarters. With two Super Bowls, three Pro Bowls, and a controversy-free career noted for professionalism, Smith left the Broncos as one of the most well-loved players of all time. In May of 2012 it was announced that he would be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in his first year of eligibility for the honor. The induction ceremony took place on Sunday, Sept. 23, at halftime of the Broncos' home game against the Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Only undrafted player to reach 10,000 receiving yards, and the 24th in history to eclipse that figure.
Has the most catches (849), receiving yards (11,389) and touchdown receptions (68) of any undrafted wide receiver in NFL history.
Holds Broncos franchise records in career receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
Ranks first on Denver's all-time yards from scrimmage list.
Only the sixth player in NFL history to have 100 receptions against at least 3 teams (Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders).
AFC Offensive Player of the Week (week 15; 12/17/05 against the Buffalo Bills at Buffalo).
Associated Press second-team All-Pro (2000, 2001).
Football Digest first-team All-Pro (2000, 2001).
USA Today first-team All-Pro (2000).
College and Pro Newsweekly first-team All-Pro (2000).
Pro Football Weekly All-AFC (2000, 2001).
Division II Hall of Fame (Inducted in 2008)
College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted in 2009)
Denver Broncos Ring of Fame (Future Inductee in 2012)
- FLOYD LITTLE
Floyd Douglas Little (born July 4, 1942) is a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, and was a three-time American football All-American running back at Syracuse University. In 1967 he was the 6th selection of the first common AFL-NFL draft. He was the first ever first-round draft pick to sign with the American Football League's Denver Broncos where he was known simply as "The Franchise."
Little led American Professional Football in rushing in 1969 and 1971. At the time of his retirement, he was the 7th leading rusher in professional football history with 6,323 yards rushing and 43 touchdowns. As a Denver Bronco, Little was team captain in his rookie season and in his final season.
Little was one of the first players selected for the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1984. He was the first Bronco to win an AFC rushing title in 1970 with 901 yards and the following year he became the first Bronco to eclipse 1,000 yards, gaining 1,133 to lead the NFL. Little was the first player to lead his conference in rushing for a last place team and the 13th player ever in professional football to rush for at least 1,000 yards in one season. He was an American Football League All-Star in 1968, named first-team "All-AFL" in 1969, and made the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in 1970, 1971 and 1973. At 5'10" and 195 pounds, Little was the smallest back to lead the league in rushing since World War II. He led the league in combined yards in 1967 & 68 and was the only player to return punts for TDs in both seasons.
In 2009 Little was a finalist for induction into the Hall of Fame. He was voted in on February 6, 2010, his induction took place in Canton, OH on August 7, 2010. Little was the first Bronco to have his jersey number "44" retired.
- SHANNON SHARPE
Shannon Sharpe (born June 26, 1968) is a former American Football tight end who played for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL) and is now a commentator for CBS Sports on its NFL telecasts.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and inducted on August 6, 2011. Sharpe played 12 seasons for the Broncos (1990–99, 2002–03) and two years with the Ravens (2000–01), winning three Super Bowls and finishing his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end until Tony Gonzalez surpassed all three of these records, including breaking his total yardage record on October 5, 2008. Sharpe holds the distinction of being the first tight end ever to amass over 10,000 receiving yards. Shannon was also named a member of the NFL's first team All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Sharpe was drafted in the 7th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, 192nd overall. He remained with Denver until 1999, winning two championship rings in Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII in the process. After the 1997 season championship, his first, he appeared on General Mills' Wheaties boxes with four other Broncos. After a two-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens, where he won another championship ring in Super Bowl XXXV, he returned to the Broncos. He played there until 2003. Then he retired to become an NFL broadcaster for CBS, where his brother Sterling also works as an analyst.
Ozzie Newsome, Hall-of-Fame tight end, Ravens' general manager, and the man responsible for signing Sharpe before the 2000 season had this to say about him: "I think he's a threat when he's on the field. He has to be double-teamed. He's a great route-runner. He's proven that he can make the big plays. That's what separates him. He's a threat." Sharpe was selected All-Pro 4 times, played in eight Pro Bowls (1992–1998, 2001) and amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in three different seasons. In a 1993 playoff game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Sharpe tied a postseason record with 13 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown. In the Ravens 2000 AFC title game against the Raiders, he caught a short pass on 3rd down and 18 from his own four-yard line and took it 96 yards for a touchdown, assisting his team to a 16-3 win. Sharpe also caught a 50+ yard pass in each of their other two playoff games. He finished his 14 year career with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 69 touchdowns in 203 games.
- GARY ZIMMERMAN
Gary Wayne Zimmerman (born December 13, 1961 in Fullerton, California) is a former American football offensive lineman in the National Football League. Zimmerman played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1986-1992 and for the Denver Broncos from 1993-1997. He was selected to the Pro Bowl 7 times and was an All-Pro selection 8 times. He attended Walnut High School and the University of Oregon whereby he was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 1984, Zimmerman was drafted in the 2nd round (36th overall) by the Los Angeles Express in the 1984 USFL Draft. He subsequently signed with the Express on February 13, 1984 and went on to play in 17 games that season, starting all 17 at left tackle. His Express teammate was future Pro Football Hall of Famer, QB Steve Young. The Express lost in the USFL Semi-Finals to the Arizona Wranglers to end a 10-8 regular season. In 1985, Zimmerman suited up again with the Express, playing in 18 games (starting 17) with a 3-15 club that ended up out of the USFL playoff picture.
After the USFL folded in August 1986, Zimmerman joined the Minnesota Vikings after they obtained his rights from the New York Giants who drafted him in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL Players.
During his time in the NFL, Zimmerman was famous for his refusal to interact with the media. This disdain for the sports press came about due to an early incident in his NFL career, after comments made by Zimmerman condemning the Vikings offensive players for a loss were made public by the media. Zimmerman claimed that his teammates ostracized him for speaking ill of his teammates performance; this led Zimmerman to decide to boycott the sports media as a result, refusing to do interviews or engage in any sort of interaction with them for the rest of his career.
Zimmerman ultimately left the Vikings for the Broncos in 1993, and stayed with the team from 1993-1997. He would be part of the team's first Super Bowl-winning squad, winning the game in 1997. Arriving as the veteran player in 1993 to an offense that was made up of mostly rookies, Zimmerman became the de facto leader of the Broncos offensive line; off the field, Zimmerman forced his fellow players to join him in shunning the media, a policy that would remain in effect until his retirement in 1997.
He played in 184 NFL games, starting 108 of them.
On February 2, 2008 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Zimmerman joins Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Marv Levy, and Sid Gillman as former USFL league members who are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- JOHN ELWAY
John Albert Elway, Jr. (born June 28, 1960) is a former American football quarterback and is now the executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Stanford and his entire professional career with the Denver Broncos. Elway recorded the most victories by a starting quarterback at the time of his retirement. He retired in 1999 and statistically was the second most prolific passer in NFL history. Elway led his teams to six AFC Championship Games and five Super Bowls, winning his last two.
Elway set several career records for passing attempts and completions while at Stanford. He also received All-American honors. Elway was drafted #1 overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts before being traded to the Denver Broncos. In 1987, he embarked on what is considered to be one of the most clutch and iconic performances in sports and in NFL history, helping engineer the Broncos on a 98-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in the AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns. The moment is known in National Football League lore as "The Drive". Following the AFC Championship Game, Elway and the Broncos lost in Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants. It would be the first of a record five Super Bowl starts at quarterback in Elway's career, a record that he solely held until 2012 when Tom Brady earned his fifth Super Bowl start.
After two more Super Bowl losses, the Broncos entered a period of decline; however, that would end during the 1997 season, as Elway and Denver won their first Super Bowl title by defeating the Green Bay Packers 31–24 in Super Bowl XXXII. The Broncos repeated as champions the following season in Super Bowl XXXIII by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34–19. Elway was voted MVP of that Super Bowl, which would prove to be the last game of his career.
Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in his first year of eligibility. Since his retirement, Elway has owned several businesses, including being a co-owner of the inactive Colorado Crush, an arena football team.