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.
Let’s take a look at number 87.
It has been worn 15 times by different players prior to this season, mostly without notable distinction. On the other hand, three of the most productive Broncos in history are among those three.
It has most recently been issued to rookie wide receiver Eric Decker, a third round draft choice by the Broncos from the University of Minnesota. One of Eric’s heroes while playing for the Golden Gophers was the Broncos’ Ed McCaffrey, and he wanted to wear number “87″ for that reason. When Ed got wind of it he was honored and sent a signed number 87 jersey to young Decker.
Fans will see some obvious similarities when the rookie earns his playing time and gets on the field for game action, they will note that Decker is big like McCaffrey (6-3 and 220), has had a reputation for being very sure-handed, and very productive as well.
While at Minnesota, where former Denver tight end coach Tim Brewster now is the head coach, Decker caught 227 passes (his final three season totals were 67, 84, and 50) for a 13.7 career per catch average, along with 24 touchdown receptions.
But just as Eric Decker is not the first Bronco to wear number 87, neither was Ed MCaffrey.
In fact, the first two players ever to wear that number both are members of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
Lionel Taylor was the first Bronco to have 500 career catches, and he joined the team for game three of the inaugural 1960 season after having failed to make the Chicago Bears as a linebacker. I wonder how many players have been cut from a pro football team at linebacker and then went on to a great career as a wide receiver! My guess is that Lionel Taylor is the only one.
He caught 100 passes in the 1961 season and was a great star in the early years of the American Football League.
The next Bronco to wear 87 was Rich Jackson, who came to the Broncos as a linebacker from the Oakland Raiders in a 1967 trade. He was a complete unknown to all, but the Broncos switched him to defensive end and he was a pass rushing terror for Denver from 1967-72, wearing the number 87 that no longer is a legal one for defensive linemen. This was before they changed the rules to establish standards as to which numbers can be worn at different positions.
Rich Jackson was known as “The Sheriff” because he worked in law enforcement in the off-season, and also as “Tombstone.” The latter was a perfecting fitting nickname for Jackson.
The legendary pro football writer Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated, in naming his all-star team for the first 50 years of pro football, had Rich Jackson as one of his defensive ends and said he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s career was cut short by a knee injury, but not before he became one of the game’s legends at defensive end. He was capable of had slapping an offensive tackle to the extent that the helmet would get twisted on the blocker’s face. A devastating player, he and Taylor were among the players first selected to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
The next “famous” 87 was McCaffrey, who started and starred for the back-to-back world championship teams of 1997 and 1998, popularizing the chant of “E-d-d-i-e, E-d-d-i-e” by Bronco fans.
It remains to be seen what legacy Eric Decker carves out for himself, but he definitely has had the foundation set by some great players who have worn number 87 in Bronco history.