As the team website looks at 2011 draft quarterbacks this week, I started speculating in my mind as to the Denver Broncos’ draft history in terms of quarterbacks.
One thought led to another, and here we are taking a look at this question: who proved to be the most successful quarterback ever drafted by the Broncos, playing and contributing primarily for our team?
There have been some interesting guys in terms of what they did in college or in the real world, despite not having achieved success in Denver.
We won’t bother listing every name, but let’s throw out some tidbits of which fans might not be aware.
The 1960 draft, Denver’s first, produced Dean Look of Michigan State, who had a fine career in the National Football League — as an official.
In 1962 the Broncos selected Gale Weidner from the University of Colorado, who never made it, but CU fans might recall him quarterbacking a perfect 7-0 conference record and Big Eight championship for the Buffs in 1961, going to the Orange Bowl where CU eventually lost to LSU.
Mickey Slaughter was drafted out of Louisiana Tech by the Broncos in 1963, and he achieved his greatest fame going back to his alma mater as a coach, where he prepared Terry Bradshaw for his Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
George Mira (University of Miami) and Bob Berry (University of Oregon) were chosen by Denver in 1962 and went on to have NFL careers, but that was back in the day when prominent guys just did not come to Denver, and neither did they.
Scotty Glacken came here from Duke in 1966 and he fought hard trying to play, but the offense was so woeful he had no chance.
The common draft began in 1967, which meant that the NFL and AFL were no longer competing against each other for players-when you drafted someone, he had to sign with you or go play in Canada. So naturally, that marked the Broncos being able to sign their draft choices and build a team. But it still did not mean ultimate success at the quarterback position through the draft.
The early years were unkind to Denver in a lot of ways, so it figures that drafting quarterbacks would follow that pattern.
Bronco fans are aware that first quarterback and Ring of Famer Frank Tripucka was acquired as a veteran free agent, Steve Tensi was a number one draft choice of the Chargers before Lou Saban acquired him through trade, Jacky Lee was labeled a “can’t miss” prospect with the Oilers before the Broncos traded All-AFL defensive tackle Bud McFadin for him-and then Lee missed badly as an awful quarterback in Denver.
In 1974 Denver selected John Hufnagel from Penn State, and while he did make the team as a backup, he went on to great success first as a player and still as a coach in the Canadian Football League, where he continues as a head coach today.
Trades and free agency always were a bigger part of what Denver did at the position than the draft.
Denver was led to its first winning season by Ring of Famer Charley Johnson (trade) and went to its first Super Bowl in 1977 with Ring of Famer Craig Morton, whom the Broncos had acquired in trade from New York, with Steve Ramsey going to the Giants as part of that deal.
Even the ultimate quarterback, the Gold Standard of the NFL, John Elway, was traded to Denver by the Baltimore Colts. Mark Herrmann (Purdue) went to the Colts as part of that trade, and Herrmann was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010, long after his Denver days.
But in 1983 the Broncos did draft a relative unknown from Texas A&M, and Gary Kubiak went on to become a great backup quarterback behind John Elway.
Brian Griese was selected in the third round in 1998 and he too went on to a longer career away from Denver than in the Mile High City.
The last two decades have seen first round draft choices Tommy Maddox (UCLA, drafted in 1992), who had later success with the Steelers and Jay Cutler in 2006. Cutler certainly has become a controversial figure in Denver sports history and it remains to be seen how he does with the Chicago Bears. His situation in Denver has been well-chronicled.
And of course, last year’s number one draft choice Tim Tebow came here off of perhaps the greatest single season by an offensive player in the history of college football. Two national championships and a Heisman Trophy were the cherries on top of the cake for Tebow’s magnificent career at Florida.
The Tim Tebow, the sky is the limit and the future is unknown. He did an excellent job first in a reserve role and then in starting the last three games of the 2010 season for Denver, but Tebow would be the first to admit he has a lot of work to do to achieve the kind of success he and the Broncos desire. But as those who know him are aware, no one will ever work hard on crafting that future than Tebow, every single day of the year.
The future is as big a part of history as is the past, and it will be interesting to see how Tebow can impact that list of all-time Bronco quarterbacks selected in the draft.
For the moment, the quarterback who was actually drafted by Denver, and went on to play his entire career as a Bronco, with championship level success, was Gary Kubiak.
He played his entire career here from 1983 through 1991, and in those nine years he earned a reputation as the best backup quarterback in pro football, while earning three AFC championship rings with the Broncos. Kubiak was a vital player on those championship teams and participated in Super Bowls XXI in Pasadena, XXII in San Diego, and XXIV in New Orleans. It takes a lot of players to make a team, and the backup quarterback is a vital position.
Of course, he also coached for the Broncos and now is the head coach of the Houston Texans, remaining an all-time fan favorite in the Mile High City.