On Thanksgiving Day, I suspect that even the most football crazed fan (I think I have accurately captured Broncos fans with this description) is thinking more about turkey than this blog.
However, just on the odd chance that you are giving it a quick read, I thought Thanksgiving Day football would be a legitimate topic.
And on that score, I remember the Titans. No, not the fine Denzel Washington movie, and not the Tennessee Titans whom the Broncos defeated Monday night, but the original football Titans, the New York Titans of the American Football League.
Those lucky enough to have watched the AFL—and I am certainly among that group–will love it forever.
It was a wild and crazy offense minded league that gave us a tremendous rush of offensive football, changing the way many fans looked at the sport and the way those fans wanted to watch it in the future.
It also gave us the two-point conversion and included two Hall of Fame head coaches (Hank Stram of the Dallas Texans, later the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sid Gilman of the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers) who were among the most innovative in the game’s history. Of course, Paul Brown makes three, but he clearly was inducted for his staggering accomplishments as head of the Cleveland Browns, as opposed to his coaching with the AFL expansion team in Cincinnati.
But to the point of Thanksgiving Day, the very first time the Denver Broncos ever played a Turkey Day game was in 1962, and I remember it well.
I was barely a teenager at that time and it was before I ever had the wherewithal to attend a game in person, so my early fandom was confined to television and, when the games were not on TV, to our kitchen radio.
The New York Titans visited Bears Stadium (which became Mile High Stadium, which preceded INVESCO Field at Mile High) on November 22, 1962.
One year later our nation would lose another slice of innocence on that same date, as President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas.
But on this date in 1962, the Broncos played the Titans.
Only 15,776 fans showed up that day, as Denver was still in its infancy as a future major league sports city. Bronco home games were not televised at that time (just as they would not be now were they not sellouts), just the road contests, so radio was the venue of the day.
The Titans won 46-45, and I was glued to that radio listening to a game that by today’s standards was so sloppy and prehistoric as to barely be called professional.
The Broncos had a new head coach that season, Jack Faulkner, and for the first time in franchise history the team had an actual play book.
It was the first year the team had orange jerseys, for Faulkner knew that this team was badly in need of a new identity–the old mustard and brown uniforms were burned in a ceremonial bonfire at the annual intrasquad game that closed out training camp.
Too bizarre to be made up.
The Broncos at that time had an administrative staff that doubled as the staff for the Denver Bears baseball team (my first pro organization, many years down the road).
This was pro football on a small scale.
The Titans scored twice in the first quarter and added a field goal in the second to go up 17-0, and after a Frank Tripucka to Bob Scarpitto 35-yard touchdown for the Broncos’ first score, New York added another TD to make it 24-7.
There would be 16 total scores in that game (can you imagine the excitement of such a game being the national Thanksgiving Day TV game in 2007?), with the Broncos coming back to score seven times to the Titans’ one to take a 45-32 lead midway in the fourth quarter.
I was rapt with excitement as the Broncos, my team, right here in Denver, scored on a field goal (45 yards), field goal (eight yards), fumble recovery (Bud McFadin rambling 69 yards), TD pass (Scarpitto again, this one from George Shaw, who had replaced Tripucka as the Broncos’ signalcaller), another TD pass, this one from Shaw to Lionel Taylor, a pass interception (Jim McMillan for 59 yards), and a final 49-yard field goal by Gene Mingo, who kicked three overall.
That sure seemed like enough points, but of course this was AFL football, which at times was like the real-life predecessor of a video game.
The Titans came back with two late touchdown passes, the last one a three-yard reception by Art Powell, who went on to a lengthy career with the Oakland Raiders, and New York had won, 46-45.
We see a lot of games, but for various reasons remember some better than others.
And sometimes there are no better memories than being in mom’s kitchen, with the scent of turkey, dressing, and spaghetti sauce assaulting one’s nose while the ears are focusing on that radio broadcast as the mind’s eye envisions the plays.
On that day the Titans were a part of my father’s house and my mother’s cooking, and they will all be with me forever.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, I do remember the Titans.
Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading.