Much of success in professional football is and always has been about the quarterback position.
The most recent and an all-time most notable example is that of Peyton Manning, already stamping the Denver Broncos organization merely through osmosis, with greater influences to come steadily, and constantly, an ever flowing example of the water rising to elevate all boats.
Manning is the only man to have been named the National Football League Most Valuable Player four times. He has passed for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns, third most in NFL history in both departments.
No quarterback has earned more Pro Bowl selections than Manning (11), produced more 4,000-yard seasons (11), posted more 300-yard games (63) or had more seasons with 25 or more passing touchdowns (13).
This is a staggering array of statistics that he brings to the Broncos, but always, there is a connection to the past at the quarterback position.
In the category of winning, Peyton Manning’s 141 victories as a starter rank fourth all time, with a winning percentage (.678) that is the very best among any of the five quarterbacks who have won 125 games.
Clearly, he is a winner almost without parallel.
But once upon a time, Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Haven Moses, speaking of another Denver QB, said, “He taught us how to win.”
Moses was speaking of Charley Johnson, and this is just a little jaunt down memory lane to remind us all that the foundations for current successes were built in the past.
In the Pat Bowlen Era (1984-2011) the Broncos have had 263 regular season wins, second only to San Francisco in the entire NFL. From that first winning season, 1973, Denver has had just seven losing seasons, second fewest in the NFL.
But prior to 1973, the Denver Broncos had never had a winning season.
They floundered like few franchises before or since, and it did not change until Denver acquired the veteran Johnson, and back in 1973 Denver started off with a 1-3-1 record, giving every suggestion that it would be another losing season for Denver.
But Johnson took the Broncos on a run that had them finish 7-5-2, losing out on the playoffs and division title on the basic of a tough, season-ending 21-17 loss to the Raiders in Oakland. Johnson led Denver to a 6-2-1 record after that shaky start, the absolute best nine-game stretch that Denver had ever had to that point in pro football.
It was at the end of that first winning season in 1973 when Moses uttered his comment about Johnson teaching the Broncos to win, surely the highest compliment that could ever be uttered toward a signal caller.
It all started in 1973. The Broncos reverted to a losing campaign in 1974, and then from 1975-2011 the Broncos have had the top home record in pro football, along with the Steelers the only two teams with over 200 wins at home.
That is a 39-year legacy of franchise success, and all success begins somewhere. Johnson was the quarterback to first led Denver to a stretch of six or more wins (six and a half, technically) in any nine-game span.
But success by accomplishment and by example has been part of Charley Johnson’s life and career.
A New Mexico State graduate who was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1986, he passed for 170 touchdowns and 24,410 yards in his pro career.
Admittedly, those stats pale by any modern standard.
But consider, while Johnson was having a 15-year career with the St Louis Cardinals (nine seasons), Houston Oilers (two seasons), and his final four in Denver, he was setting a standard in other ways as well.
While serving as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback, Johnson was on active duty as an officer in the United States Army for two years, stationed stateside. He actually spent significant parts of two years away from St. Louis during the week on Army duty, then joined the team as quarterback on Sunday. It seems crazy, I know, but is true.
It is true, but it is not all.
While playing as a pro quarterback Johnson earned both a master’s degree and a PhD in chemical engineering from Washington University of St. Louis.
So, name me another quarterback who played 15 years without interruption while at the same time being an active duty army officer, and then earned a doctorate in chemical engineering?
His is the only name on the list.
Today Charley Johnson is a professor of chemical engineering at his alma mater, New Mexico State University, enjoys his status as a Broncos Ring of Famer, and is forever linked to the Broncos as the quarterback “who taught us how to win.”
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