The Broncos on Wednesday morning held a press conference at Dove Valley to announce that Gene Mingo — one of the most versatile players in club history — will be the team’s honorary captain for Week 5′s Legacy Game against the Boston Patriots.
Having Mingo, of all players, be the team’s honorary captain for the game holds much significance.
On Friday night, Sept. 9, 1960, the Broncos and Patriots squared off in the first-ever American Football League game, and Mingo made his mark on that contest — recording the first-ever punt return for a touchdown in AFL history to help the Broncos squeeze out a come-from-behind, 13-10 victory in Boston.
With the game hanging in the balance, Mingo can still recall catching the ball at his own 24-yard line and slicing his way downfield for the 76-yard touchdown like it was yesterday.
“When it came time for me to be back there for that punt, I can visualize it right now, right here, how I caught it,” he said. “I made a couple steps to my left, went up the field a little bit, cut back to the right and the blocking was just perfect going down the sideline.”
Mingo, also the first-ever African American placekicker in pro football history, was slated to kick the extra point after the play. One problem: he was gassed.
“I was never so tired in my life and I could not believe it, so when it came time to kick that extra point, I stepped up there to kick it and just as I went to come through with my foot, my legs got rubbery and I kicked the biggest divot out of the ground,” he said. “I didn’t make the extra point, but we did win the game.”
As one can see, few players have the versatility to return punts and kick field goals and extra points. Mingo, ever the multidimensional player, was a tailback by trade and could be counted on to tally up rushing and receiving touchdowns on a consistent basis. From time to time, Mingo also threw touchdown passes (meaning he was well ahead of today’s wildcat formation).
Speaking to the media from team headquarters on Wednesday, Mingo claimed his heart was beating as fast as the day he took to the field 50 years ago for the first-ever AFL football game, and he said he couldn’t have been more pleased to be the team’s honorary captain against the Patriots.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said Mingo, sporting one of the club’s 50th Anniversary throwback uniforms. “I appreciate the Broncos offering me this opportunity to be on the field for this 50th anniversary (game). It means a lot to me.”
A standout player during his 10-year career in pro football, Mingo now makes an impact in an even more important role, as a drugs and alcohol counselor.
“I’m proud of who I am, where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished over 71 years,” Mingo said.
On an interesting note, Mingo grew up in Ohio and played football at Akron South High School. One of his opponents was Canton-McKinley High School, where Head Coach Josh McDaniels, Coaching Assistant Ben McDaniels and Kenny Peterson went to school.
– Zach Eisendrath, DenverBroncos.com
Here are some pictures from Wednesday afternoon’s practice session: