Sometimes there is so much going on, it is very difficult to tie a bow around it. This is about Charley Johnson, but sometimes a topic is about a lot of things, all at once.
While the terrible tragedy of Kenny McKinley’s passing casts a pall over Broncos Country, we are in a seven-day period that takes us full cycle and ties things together.
Last week the team played its home opener and won, with the end zones painted like those of the 1960’s—a great tribute that will remain all year.
In addition, the game day entertainment package now includes a resurrection of the Denver broncos’ very popular 1960’s fight song, a Denver original that many fans have commented on favorably. This too will remain as part of the team’s continuing tradition.
We had a great military salute last week, and this Sunday, Floyd “The Franchise,” Little — the first true national superstar in Denver professional sports history — will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at halftime when the Indianapolis Colts visit INVESCO Field at Mile High.
In between all this, we have had the tragic and untimely passing of Kenny McKinley. Words fail sometimes, but the team has a private memorial service on Friday before the Colts game, before Floyd is honored once again.
So much happiness, so much sadness. This is life, and sometimes it all comes at once. It is up to us to adjust to it and place it all in proper perspective, and it is tough sometimes.
But adding to this, just Wednesday, was the unrelated announcement out of Waco about the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2010.
Charley Johnson was on that list, announced September 2010, continuing six degrees of separation in Broncos history.
Charley and Floyd played together. Fans who go to the game Sunday can see both names on the team Ring of Fame.
As has been well documented, the team never had a winning season in its first 13 years of play. To those of us following this “progress,” it seemed like a bad dream that had no end.
But Floyd Little came in 1967, and a foundation was laid.
Then the Broncos acquired Charley Johnson, who was a true Renaissance man in pro football. He had been a starter for the Cardinals and the Oilers, and while on active duty as an officer in the United States Army, he continued to start for two years, commuting from his Army post on Saturday, firing touchdown passes on Sunday, then going back to his Army job. Can you imagine?
But while you are imagining, consider that while his pro football career was underway, in St. Louis and Houston and Denver, Johnson was studying for and eventually received a PhD in Chemical Engineering.
The Big Spring, Texas native, the first and only back-to-back Sun Bowl MVP (1959 and 1960) for New Mexico State, completed 170 touchdown passes and had 24,000 passing yards in his pro career, and he won 60% of his games played as a pro.
And in 1973, with the Broncos sitting on a 1-3-1 record to start a 14-game season, Johnson took command of the team and led the franchise to its first winning season ever, finishing up 7-5-2 and playing the Oakland Raiders for the AFC West title.
That was Denver’s first winning season, ever, and from that very moment forward, Denver had a winning tradition.
Including 1973 and from 1973 through 2010, those 38 years have the Denver Broncos with the best home record in pro football, 220-82-2, including postseason.
That is the foundation that Charley Johnson and Floyd Little built, and of which Kenny McKinley also belongs forever.
So Charley is honored with induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Floyd Little receives his ring as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Kenny McKinley is memorialized by his family, friends and teammates as the wonderful young man which he was.
The cycle of life goes on.
The common thread among those three players, and shared with the 76,000 who hold tickets to Sunday’s game, is once a Bronco, a Bronco forever.