Al “Hoagy” Carmichael started his career playing for some of the most distinguished football programs in the country.
After spending time with the Marine Corps and playing service football, he competed collegiately at the University of Southern California, where he played in the same backfield as Frank Gifford. He even caught the winning touchdown in USC’s 7-0 win against Wisconsin in the 1953 Rose Bowl. From there, he went on to spend six years playing for the Green Bay Packers, a franchise typically referred to as the first dynasty of the NFL. He is now part of the Packers Hall of Fame.
Then in 1960, Carmichael joined the Broncos, taking what some would consider a step down at the time — moving onto a brand new team in an upstart league.
But Carmichael felt otherwise, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“If I had to do it again, I would do it again, because I think it was one of the greater things I experienced, being on a new team, starting out in a whole new league,” he said. “Not everybody gets that opportunity. I feel real honored being a member of that 1960 team.”
Carmichael ended up scoring the first touchdown in AFL history — a 59-yard reception from quarterback Frank Tripucka in a win against the Boston Patriots. He went on to total 1,950 all-purpose yards with the Broncos in the final two seasons of his professional career, including 147 all-purpose yards in the Broncos’ first home game — a 34-14 win against the Oakland Raiders.
With the modern-day Broncos preparing to take on the Raiders this week, there was no better time for Carmichael, 81, to come back and visit the team’s Dove Valley facilities.
“I want to say that it’s an honor to be here,” said the former halfback, wide receiver and kick returner. “This is a real true occasion because I never got to look at the facility they have here. Just looking at it blows you away.”
Two of Carmichael’s former teammates on the 1960 squad, Gene Mingo (far right) and Chuck Gavin (far left), came to Dove Valley as well once they heard there could be a potential reunion. The three teammates said they don’t often get the chance to see each other, so they wanted to take full advantage on Wednesday.
Carmichael is perhaps best remembered for his 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as a Packer in 1956. That stood as a pro football record for 51 years until New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs broke the mark with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in 2007. Not coincidentally, Carmichael has written an autobiography entitled “106 Yards,” which tells stories from his football days as well as his job as a Hollywood stunt man during the offseasons.
Ever the storyteller, Carmichael reminisced on Wednesday of an occasion when he was dressed like a Civil War soldier, riding a horse down an embankment. Unfortunately, the horse lunged a bit just as it reached the bottom of the hill, and Carmichael “got hurt in the wrong place” and “could hardly walk for about a week.”
After his playing career and days in Hollywood were over, Carmichael moved on to real estate and made a living selling homes. A few years ago, he retired and met his wife, Barbara.
He said coming back and reminiscing about his days in Denver was a great pleasure, and something he is glad he got a chance to do.
“I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.
-Gray Caldwell, DenverBroncos.com
Here are some photos from today’s practice, courtesy of Chris Gentilviso.