Sometimes I feel like choosing a blog topic just because it gives me a chance to write and you a chance to read about an obscure moment that one does not remember, but which has significance nonetheless.
That’s the route this one is taking.
As many of you know, I am enamored with the “Golden Ages” of pro football. Despite the current off-the-field situation, we are in a golden age right now, and it will be back in full swing soon, we all hope.
The first golden age came in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a glorious time just after the war when America exploded with growth, development and new ideas.
That age led to the Greatest Game Ever Played, the famous championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants that helped propel pro football to the “most favorite sport” category. Following up that moment was the early 1960s and the American Football League, the greatest and ultimately most successful expansion league in American sport history.
It was in that golden age that the Broncos had some legendary moments on the playing field, now almost entirely forgotten. But this being draft time on the website, I noticed a connection tying together the era with the draft and an all-time Broncos record that deserves to be remembered, just for a moment if nothing else.
Every team has a record book, and every team has the longest touchdown reception in franchise history. Regardless of length, the record mathematically exists.
In the case of the Broncos, who made the longest scoring reception in franchise history?
Lionel Taylor? Steve Watson? Jack Dolbin? Haven Moses? Eddie Royal? Brandon Marshall? Rod Smith? Ed McCaffrey? One of the Three Amigos—Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, or Ricky Nattiel? How about Brandon Lloyd, who had a career year in 2010?
The answer, to all of the above, is “no.”
The longest touchdown reception in Broncos history came on September 9, 1962 at Boston against the Patriots at Boston University Field. In the early days of the AFL the Patriots were waifs who played all over Boston. The Broncos were getting whacked that day, with the final score 41-16, and head coach Jack Faulkner—who would go on to be AFL coach of the year that season, leading Denver to a 7-7 record that was the team’s best to date—pulled some starters and let the reserves finish it up.
So it came to be that George Shaw connected with Jerry Tarr on a 97-yard touchdown pass that has remained the team’s longest for 49 years now. That length makes it a tough one to break.
Coincidentally, both players had come out of the draft, but worlds apart.
Tarr had been a great track athlete at Oregon, setting numerous records on his way to being named the most outstanding track performer in the Pacific Eight Conference.
Tarr was a 17th round draft choice by the Broncos. He could really fly, and was the Broncos’ first experiment at taking a track guy and trying to make him a wide receiver. Unfortunately, what Tarr had as a plus in the speed department he more than made up for in a negative way in the hands department, so 1962 proved to be his only pro season.
His speed showed in his limited stats: eight receptions for 211 yards and a 26.3 average and eight kickoff returns for 217 yards and a 27.1 average.
In one of the amazing coincidences that sport provides, George Shaw too was an Oregon alum, but he was the first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1955. Shaw played for the Colts, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings before closing out his checkered pro career with the Broncos as Tripucka’s backup in 1962.
Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Shaw as a pro player is that he was the quarterback cut by Baltimore when the Colts decided that Johnny Unitas might have a future as their signal caller.
In any case, on that day in Boston, number 11 — Shaw, a number one draft choice in the NFL — threw a 97-yard TD pass to number 41 — Tarr, a 17th round pick in the AFL — and they created a moment in time that is still in the record book today.
Every draftee has a different moment, and some of them last forever.