Many Denver Broncos fans by now are familiar with last week’s announcement at the National Football League annual meeting relative to the celebration of the 50th year of play by the eight original American Football League teams this year.
I was in elementary school when the AFL and Broncos started playing, at that time unaware that I would be fortunate to ultimately have a career spanning four decades with this new franchise.
One of the pivotal elements of this celebration is that each of the eight teams will wear a throwback uniform, with the Broncos opting for their original threads.
If you are not sitting down, you might want to.
The original uniform of the Denver Broncos was seal brown and gold, although I have always thought “mustard” is a more accurate term for the gold color.
The pants were brown both home and away, the helmet was also brown with just a center stripe and the uniform number on each side. The jersey was gold for home games, white for road, but the most striking — and most would say hideous — element was the socks.
The socks were vertically striped, gold and brown at home, white and brown on the road. Few uniforms like this have been seen before or since.
The combination was frowned upon by all who saw them, and the team’s performance was horrid to boot, so when Jack Faulkner took over as head coach and general manager in 1962, not only did he oversee the switch to orange and blue, but he had the original uniforms burned at a bonfire on the night of the Broncos’ annual intrasquad scrimmage that closed out training camp.
Of course, the bonfire was a big hit — little did they know that they were burning one of the great collectors’ item uniforms in American sport history. A few pair of the socks were sneaked away, one finding its was to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one to AFL founder Lamar Hunt, soon to be displayed in the Kansas City Chiefs’ new museum, and a few were spirited away by the players themselves.
The Broncos are in possession of just one pair of the socks, the road white and brown, which is displayed at the team’s headquarters in Dove Valley.
One of the most astonishing elements of the story is that the Broncos did not have these uniforms commissioned by a team of artists and tailors.
No, what happened was the Broncos bought them used.
That’s right. The uniform that the Denver Broncos wore in their first two years of operation were purchased from a long defunct and forgotten bowl game called the Copper Bowl, not to be confused with any bowl game that has existed since 1960.
So the uniform and first team colors were literally selected from the rag bag of opportunity. Quite a bit different from how pro sports teams operate today.
The person who gets the credit — yes, credit — because he did what he absolutely had to do given the financial circumstances placed upon him, was general manager Dean Griffing, who came to the Mile High City from the Canadian Football League.
For two years, every rip was stitched, every seam reinforced. Pants and jerseys were let out, taken in, sometimes multiple times each year, and above all, every tear was stitched. After all, these were the uniforms. There were no others.
But some births take place in the best of hospitals, and some take place in a stable. Once born, the person writes his own history, and so does a team.
So since then, this team has fashioned a history like few others. Back to back world championships and at the time the best three-year record in pro football history (1996-98), six AFC championships, eight appearances in the AFC title game, and being chosen by the NFL to play in seven American Bowl games — these are highlights which few teams have. Wins, national television, and growing number of Hall of Famers.
But for the Denver Broncos, it began in the uniform-version of a stable.
And that little chunk of history will be commemmorated this year.