This blog is the result of a lengthy research project, the results of which might be of minimal interest to most fans. However, there are a certain number of pro football historians who have long debated a question about the Denver Broncos uniform, and this project was my effort to answer a question.
Some blogs might be called “I remember when,” and this one legitimately could be referenced as “NOBODY remembers when.”
A horse is a horse, or course, of course (that phrase part of the theme song of an old 1960′s television sitcom about a talking horse, “Mister Ed”), but this project involves a horse of a different color, so to speak, with that color up for debate.
Everyone knows that the Broncos wore seal brown and a mustard yellow the first two seasons of play (1960-61), and in 1962 the team adopted a new color combination of orange, royal blue and white.
The helmet worn from 1962-66 was orange (basically, a University of Tennessee tint as opposed to the more familiar orange of the last 40 years) with a white caricature horse on the helmet.
However, for years I have received scattered phone calls or letters insisting that there was a dark horse as well on the helmet in 1962. Some people have said that this dark horse was blue, and some have said it was brown.
Finally, in part due to having some extra time resulting from the lockout this past offseason, I embarked on an extensive research project focusing on the 1962 helmet horse.
What I found was that yes, indeed, the Denver Broncos began the 1962 season with a dark horse on the sides of their helmets. I looked at the film from every game played that year, and the Broncos did not break out their new uniforms until the regular season, with a September 7 win over the San Diego Chargers at the University of Denver’s Hilltop Stadium.
The horse logo on the sides of the helmets that night was dark, and remained so for the next four games-contests at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium, Boston’s Boston University Field and New York’s legendary Polo Grounds, before returning home to face the Raiders on Friday, night, October 5.
The dark horse was worn for all five of those games, and the contest against the Raiders was the last one for the dark horse.
The following week, October 14 at Oakland’s Frank Youell Field, the Broncos debuted their new white horse logo on both sides of the helmet. That was the look that would remain unchanged through the 1966 campaign.
But what color was the horse?
Well, part of the reason for the debate was the same reason a change was made. The uniforms were in color, but the games on TV were in black and white-the blue horse just looked like a blotch of mud on the orange helmet, making the logo virtually blend into the rest of the helmet.
Many fans recall the color as brown, due to the uniform colors of the first two years. Others said it was blue.
As I wrote, I first checked all the highlight films from the games, old, grainy and black and white. It was clear when the change took place to white, but as I wrote, the film was black and white.
I then went to the Denver Public Library and read all the microfilm articles of the day, and virtually every article about the new uniforms praised the color combination as exclusively orange, royal blue and white-The Denver Post called the new uniform a “dazzling orange, blue and white look.” Clearly, there was not a single mention of the word “brown” in any news article in either The Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News for the 1962 season. The Denver post did boast, as it should have, that the helmet horse design was by their sportswriter/sports cartoonist Bob Bowie.
Bob was a talented guy from back in the day when writers also drew cartoons, but that’s a different topic entirely. Likely he was asked to design the horse because he was a talented local artist, but I suspect currying favor with one of the major papers entered into Broncos thinking as well.
On April 4, 1962 The Denver Post prominently ran a photo of General Manager/Head Coach Jack Faulkner admiring the new orange and blue helmet, again calling the combination “dazzling.”
As part of this project I called three individuals who were working in Denver at the time, either for the Broncos or as journalists.
My first call was to longtime friend Chuck Garrity, then sports editor of The Post and now retired from journalism and most recently NFL Properties. I also interviewed friend and mentor Al King, publicist for the Broncos from 1961 through 1969, and Ronnie Bill, assistant equipment man for the same period.
I asked the same question of each: blue, or brown?
“Blue,” said Garrity, with no hesitation whatsoever. “When Faulkner took over the Broncos in 1962 he wanted to cut all ties with brown. The team was just so bad the first two years, and that color combination of brown and yellow, with those striped socks, were so representative of a terrible team, he could not wait to make a change.”
It is now well known as part of Denver’s urban legend that the brown and yellow uniforms were symbolically burned at a bonfire prior to that 1962 campaign.
“Not only were there no remnants of brown in the new uniform,” added Garrity, “but there was never a brown horse in the first place. The 1960 and ’61 helmets only had a numeral on each side, like the University of Alabama. They not only would have had to carry over a color they were getting rid of, but a logo that never existed on any previous helmet in the first place.”
Ronnie Bill added that, “I was the one who put the decals on the helmets every week, and there was never any brown horse. Every week I had to touch up the helmets and get them ready for that week’s game. There was nothing brown in the 1962 uniform.”
Even more emphatic was Al King, a public relations pro from back in the day and a mentor of mine since the start of my own career with the Denver Bears. King followed the same pattern, coincidentally, first Bears, then Broncos.
King noted with authority that “The logo on the helmet was blue. But it looked like heck on TV. The game were still basically in black and white, and the logo was not visibly discernable, just looked like a big blotch. When we changed the helmet logo from blue to white it showed up a lot more clearly. You could actually tell it was a cartoon or a horse, instead of a blob.”
He too added, “The team’s reputation was so bad, and the brown uniforms were such a laughingstock, that Jack (Faulkner) really wanted to separate us from anything brown. The horse was blue for those first several games (five). Of course, when we changed the logo from blue to white, it also meant that there was not much royal blue left in the uniform, mostly a small stripe on the pants, so a couple of years later the jersey was re-designed, with a blue shoulder for emphasis. But the orange, blue and white became how the Broncos were identified, and it was great to see the team gain such an identity of its own.”
So, for the record, the Denver Broncos have worn six helmets in regular season play:
In 1960-61 the seal brown helmet with a white numeral on each side.
In 1962, first five games, orange helmet (basically, a Tennessee orange) with royal blue bucking caricature horse logo.
From game six of 1962 through 1966, that same orange helmet with white bucking caricature horse logo.
In 1967 the Broncos wore the new royal blue helmet, with no logo at all.
From 1968-96 the Broncos wore the royal blue helmet with the familiar “D” and snorting Bronco.
From 1997 to the present the Broncos continue to wear the navy blue helmet with the current Bronco logo.
And one final, final note on 1962.
Ring of Fame wide receiver Lionel Taylor did not like to have a horse’s tail on his helmet, whether blue or white.
“I don’t know why I had such a phobia about that tail, but I just did”, Taylor said recently-and so every week Ronnie Bill would affix new logos to Taylor’s helmet, and every Sunday morning Lionel Taylor carefully peeled back the logos just enough to cut off the tails!
And that’s another horse tail, true and confirmed by those who lived it, back in the day.
Tags: Jim Saccomano