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.
We certainly have seen a lot of #15 jerseys in Denver and in the stands at the Cincinnati preseason opener for the Denver Broncos.
While there is no question about the star power of Tim Tebow, whose jersey has shot to the top of the all-time most popular National Football League rookie jersey, it might interest some Bronco fans to note that there has been a lot of history in Denver relative to number 15.
Many people would be thinking back to Brandon Marshall right now, but while Marshall had some great stats wearing that number, the most significant happenings regarding number 15 thus far occurred in the much more distant past.
We’ll have to wait and see how Tebow makes his mark — no question he did the number proud in college, but he has been the first to admit that he is a long way from where he wants to get as a pro.
But he is the eighth Bronco to wear number 15, most recently following Marshall.
Most notably, historically speaking, three very significant players wore number 15.
Back in the early 1960’s the Broncos were terrible, as has been well documented, and most notable was the team’s lack of a quarterback after the 1963 retirement of Frank Tripucka.
So in 1964 the Broncos did something that perhaps has never been done in pro football, before or since—they traded their number one draft choice and All-AFL defensive tackle Bud McFadin to the Houston Oilers for the two-year use of Jacky Lee.
Lee, who wore number 15 as a Bronco, was to be sent back to Houston after two years of play in Denver—that is how desperate the Broncos were for a quality signal caller. Interestingly, Lee was a flop for the Broncos, with his biggest distinction being his nickname in the papers, “Lend Lease Lee.”
In 1968 Marlin Briscoe wore number 15, and maybe current fans are unfamiliar with the diminutive passer, but Marlin Briscoe will forever have the distinction of being the first black quarterback in pro football. He was expected to be a wide receiver or defensive back after being drafted out of Nebraska-Omaha, but injuries to the quarterback spot forced him into service there.
I was fortunate enough to actually see Briscoe play, and he was a fine player, a natural play maker, who could run and had an excellent arm. He was barely 5-9, so it was clear he would not have a future at quarterback, but he was the first, and no one can ever take that away. Briscoe had a lengthy career in the NFL but forever achieved fame as number 15 for the Broncos in 1968.
The Broncos made a trade of placekickers with the New York Jets in the 1970 offseason, sending Bobby Howfield to New York in exchange for Jim Turner, a California native who had played his college football in the West at Utah State.
Turner continued his career as one of the greatest placekickers in NFL history with the Broncos, kicking for Denver from 1971-79 and earning selection to the team’s Ring of Fame for his great career in orange and blue.
Not only did Turner kick for Denver’s first Super Bowl team in 1977, but earlier in his career he kicked three field goals in the legendary New York Jets’ upset win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, and he kicked the winning field goal in the very first Monday Night Football game ever played, giving the Jets a win over the Cleveland Browns.
Earlier in his Denver career, when the Broncos were having their first winning season in 1973, he kicked the fields goal to give Denver a 23-23 tie against Oakland in the first Monday Night Football game in Broncos’ history, which I consider one of the most significant games ever played in franchise history—it was the game that literally put the Broncos on the national stage, and Turner had a pivotal role in that game.
So, from an unknown and long forgotten quarterback (Jacky Lee), to one of the most significant historical figures in pro football history (Marlin Briscoe), and on to one of pro football’s greatest placekickers whose name graces the Ring of Fame facade at INVESCO Field at Mile High (Jim Turner), the number 15 has been notable in Broncos lore to date.