I thought it might be fun to have a series of blogs (and, since it’s my blog, whatever I think might be fun seems pretty likely to find its way into print) on Broncos by the numbers.
The team has just completed 50 years of play, a milestone in any franchise history, and over that time a lot of players have made contributions, large and small, to what the Broncos are. It’s like family members, some more accomplished than others but when you are in a family, you are in for keeps. So too for the Broncos. Once a Broncos, always a Bronco.
Those players have worn a lot of numbers over the years, and we are going to take a look, over time, at various uniform numbers.
This blog starts at the very beginning, with number “0” (zero).
You would think that no player has ever worn zero, but this actually happened, and today is the day you find out a little bit about the guy.
It was 1962, and a running back named Johnny Olszewski (OL-SHEV-SKI) was ending his pro career with the Denver Broncos. Interestingly, that was Denver’s only .500 season (7-7) in the franchise’s first 13 years of existence.
He was strictly a reserve player, but valuable for his versatility. Olszewski ran the ball 33 times for 114 yards, but had a nice 11.6 average on 13 pass receptions, with one touchdown. He played special teams as well, returning three kickoffs for 66 yards when he wasn’t trying to bust up a wedge, at the end of a 10-year career still doing the dirty work that has always been a part of special teams.
Of course, in sports everybody gets a nickname sooner or later, and when you are of Polish extraction and named Olszewski, you become “Johnny O.” That’s what he was almost from the very beginning, at St. Anthony’s High School in his native Long Beach, California. A sterling prep career led to Johnny O playing collegiate ball at the University of California, and he was the number one draft choice of the Chicago Cardinals in 1953.
Johnny O played five seasons for the Cardinals before getting traded to the Washington Redskins, where he played three more before moving on to the Detroit Lions in 1961 and then finishing up with the Broncos.
In the list of NFL running backs, Johnny O’s is not the name that people think of first, or perhaps at all, but he fashioned a fine 10-year career in which he accounted for 4,308 yards from scrimmage, also returning punts and kickoffs.
He scored 19 touchdowns in his pro career and in 1959 with Washington his 6.6 per carry average led the NFL.
But what he really led pro football in was one of the greatest nicknames ever, and one of the few that he was able to match up with his jersey. Johnny O led to “0” on the uniform, and back in the days before names were on the backs of the jerseys, his number was his calling card.
To top it off, Johnny O was not the only player in the American Football League wearing a “0”—in fact, he was topped by eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame center Jim Otto of the Oakland Raiders. Taking a page from Johnny’s book, Otto wore “00” for the entirety of his 15-year career with the Raiders.
Johnny O is the only player in Broncos history to have worn No. 0 — one of just three players in team history to have been the only man ever to wear their number — but that’s the topic of a future blog.
Today belongs to the only Bronco ever to wear zero, the now largely forgotten but in his day legendary Johnny O.