The next regular season win for the Denver Broncos will be the team’s 400th in its history.
That is a lot of wins for a team that started off its existence at the bottom of the rag bag of the American Football League.
This week’s opponents, the Tennessee Titans, began life and play as the Houston Oilers, and the other six original AFL teams were the Boston (now New England) Patriots, Buffalo Bills, New York Titans (now Jets), Los Angeles (now San Diego) Chargers, Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs), and the Oakland Raiders.
Without any question, the lowest of the low back in the early 1960’s were the Broncos and Raiders.
When Denver reaches that 400th win, the Broncos will become the third original AFL franchise (and by the way, AFL expansion teams Miami and Cincinnati have not reached 400 wins) to hit the 400 win mark.
The first two were Oakland and New England.
The Patriots originally were owned by Billy Sullivan, and eventually the Sullivan family, well back before Robert Kraft purchased the team.
Billy Sullivan had been the sports information director at Notre Dame, and according to historical books on the AFL, when the AFL was formed he was awarded the Boston franchise essentially based on a letter of credit for $25,000. Times were a little different then.
A lot of the tickets were sold to walk up crowds, and paid for by cash (remember, Barron Hilton, owner of the Chargers, was just then at the beginning of starting the credit card business with his creation of Carte Blanche, so ticket sales were still primarily a cash business).
Anyway, tales from the day and from Boston players and employees say that the money went into a shoe box, the shoe box went to the bank on Monday, and everybody ran like the wind to cash their paychecks as soon as they received them.
And here the Patriots are, with 400 regular season wins, along with three Super Bowl wins.
The city of Oakland only got a franchise after Minneapolis backed out of the AFL when given a promise of joining the National Football League one year later. When Minneapolis backed out there was a hectic search for anybody and any city that could field a team, and along came Oakland.
For the first three years of play, the Raiders franchise was actually far worse than Denver—it was the arrival of Al Davis in 1963 that changed the Oakland fortunes for the better.
The Raiders did not begin with a stadium, or park, of any kind whatsoever, or even with the name “Raiders.” One of the 16 or so individuals who owner the team was Chet Soda, who favored addressing everyone he met as “Senor”—much as Babe Ruth called everyone “Keed.” The name “Senors” came from a fan contest, almost certainly rigged by Soda, as it was a good friend of his who won.
A few months later the owners reconsidered, had another contest, and the Raiders were born.
But they still had to play in a borrowed stadium their first year, playing all their 1960 “home” games in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium before onlookers, fan groups not even large enough to be called crowds. When they moved into their own home, it was Frank Youell Field, which did not even seat 30,000.
And here are the Raiders, with three Super Bowl titles of their own, along with those 400 wins.
And now, the Broncos already have two Super Bowl wins of their own, and are on the precipice of their 400th franchise win as well.
All three teams were among the afterthoughts of the AFL, but they now own eight combined Vince Lombardi trophies and over 1,200 combined regular season wins.
Sometimes the runts of the litter turn into the biggest dogs in the yard.