Continuing with the theme of taking a look back at some of the guys who were Denver Broncos back in the day, Gene Mingo is a gentleman who occupies a unique position not just in Bronco history but in the annals of all professional football.
Mingo was unique and accomplished on several levels.
An Ohio native who did not play college football, Mingo was a high school star who continued to play in the United States Navy during a time when many military bases had excellent teams and service football was very competitive, often at the college level.
But in the late 1950′s just as now, players who did not go to college had virtually no future in pro football.
However, sometimes ability and time combine to create opportunity, and such was the case for Mingo when the American Football Legue was formed in 1959, with the first season of play slated for 1960.
The Broncos were among the cheapest and most hardscrabble of teams, looking at any and all players that they could get on a “cost effective basis,” and they took a look at the young Navy veteran.
Mingo was a halfback who could catch the ball, return kicks, pass a little, and to top it off, he was a placekicker.
The latter gave him his place in history, as Gene Mingo forever will be the first African American placekicker in pro football history, kicking for Denver from 1960 through 1966 and then continuing his career with Oakland, Miami, Washington and Pittsburgh. All tolled, Mingo had a fine 11-year pro football career in which he scored 629 points and as a Bronco led the AFL in scoring in the inaugural 1960 season as well as in the 1962 campaign.
As a Bronco he achieved other distinctions that will be tough to match.
Mingo scored by field goal, extra point, rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, passing touchdown (two of those) and punt return touchdown. No other Bronco has scored that many ways and it seems unlikely anyone ever will.
The punt return score has its own unique place in pro football history.
The very first regular season game in AFL history was a Friday night matchup between the Broncos and the Boston Patriots on September 9, 1960. The game was played at Boston University Field before 21,597 curious fans who had no diea they were watching two teams that still would be playing 50 years later, and certainly the idea that these two two teams would combine for five world championships could not have seemed more foreign that Friday night.
Denver halfback and kick returner Al Carmichael got dinged up in the first half and Head Coach Frank Filchock decided at the break to insert Mingo into Carmichael’s role. This not only gave the job to a rookie with no college experience but also to a young black man, greatly adding to the significance of what was to come.
Carmichael had scored the Broncos’ first touchdown, but Boston had a 10-6 lead late in the game when the Patriots had to punt.
Mingo caught the ball at his own 24-yard line, got some early blocking and headed down the far sideline on a 76-yard touchdown run.
It was the first game-winning TD in AFL history, the first on a punt return and today still ranks ninth in team history among the longest punt return touchdowns ever by a Denver player.
He brought a lot of versatility to the table for Denver as an all around back.
One more quick historical note on Gene Mingo: despite all the well-documented success the Denver Broncos have gone on to achieve, the franchise has scored 50 points in a game just once — in a 1963 win over the San Diego Chargers. Mingo kicked five field goals in that October 6, 1963 contest to place his mark on that game as well.
Lots of players have suited up for the Broncos in our 50 years of play, but few have demonstrated the versatility of Gene Mingo.