Most Denver Broncos fans are aware by now that rookie draftee Spencer Larsen made team history against the Atlanta Falcons by starting on offense at fullback and on defense at middle linebacker, while still taking his regular snaps on special teams. Meaning he is the first player in Denver history to be on the field for the first special teams, offensive and defensive snaps of the game.
And that’s how history seems to work, more often than not — you never know who is going to be a part of it.
In Spencer’s case, it could not happen to a nicer or more well-mannered young man, and he has a real proclivity for hitting as well, so he certainly has a chance to carve out a niche in the National Football League.
The idea of playing two positions at once is not new, it just seems so in this age of complete specialization in sport.
A lot of fans remember that Deion Sanders played both ways (all three ways, actually) during his NFL career, and he topped that by playing major league baseball as well.
Champ Bailey is another player who has started both ways in a game, doing so for the Washington Redskins earlier in his career. College fans might recall that during his time at Georgia, Champ was a great receiver and kick returner for the Bulldogs while carving out his name on defense, as well.
Going back to the middle of the last century, Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles was the last true two-way performer in the game, starting at center and linebacker every year for the Eagles in his Hall of Fame career.
Bednarik’s nickname was “Concrete Charlie,” and he earned it on every snap.
Going way, way back, the ultimate example of two way players might be Sammy Baugh and Bronko Nagurski.
Please, don’t say “who?”
“Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh was a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Washington Redskins, but he also played defensive back when the other guys had the ball, and he led their entire NFL in pass interceptions with 11 back in 1943.
But the wiry Texan was such a great athlete that he didn’t stop there: Baugh was the Redskins’ punter as well, putting him on the field in all three phases of the game every week for Washington.
Baugh led the NFL in punting four years in a row, from 1940-43, and his punting average in 1940 was 51.4 per kick, with a long of 85. Remember, his primary job was leading the Redskins to world championships as a Hall of Fame quarterback. Being a defensive back and punter were just “extras.”
Then, of course, there is Bronko Nagurski.
A humble yet astonishing physical specimen (his Hall of Fame ring is a record size 18, if you can imagine that), Nagurski has to be on the short list — the very short list — of the greatest players ever to play football.
His rushing, blocking and tackling abilities truly struck terror into the players against whom he played.
But perhaps the most unique statistic ever regarding Bronko Nagurski is that in his senior year at the University of Minnesota, the All-American team only had 10 players — Nagurski was the All-American fullback and also was All-American at tackle in the same season.
I was fortunate to be there for his final public appearance, when he agreed to leave his beloved Minnesota farm to toss the coin at Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa. I was working that game as part of the NFL public relations staff and was honored to be in the same stadium with a genuine legend.
So while Spencer Larsen is just beginning his career with the Broncos, what he did in those 66 total plays against the Falcons put him in some very special company as a two-way player.
Tags: Spencer Larsen