Sometimes when you are just sitting around thinking about players and their backgrounds, one thing leads to another and an interesting theme is developed.
In this case, I started thinking about two-sport Broncos, players (or administrators) who worked or played for the Broncos and also took a crack, however brief at another sport professionally.
Just for fun, here is what I came up with.
In 50 years of Broncos history, there have been a number of individuals with two-sport ties. I think it is safe to say most people are unaware of this, so that’s why I wrote the blog.
Many people are aware that John Elway played college baseball, but a lot of you don’t know that he played professionally for the New York Yankees organization (an action, by the way, that stripped him of his scholarship at Stanford for his final two years, meaning one of the greatest of the all-time greats had to pay his own tuition for his junior and senior years). Elway led the Oneonta Yankees in runs batted in during his season there. He did not wear number 7 by the way, but had number 8 instead (“I was Yogi!,” John once told me).
But way before John, the Broncos had a star linebacker named John “The Bull” Bramlett, a very tough customer. As in, very tough. He played baseball for two years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before deciding to channel his aggressiveness into pro football instead. A mediocre baseball player, Bramlett was one of the fiercest linebackers in the American Football League.
A placekicker here in the 1960’s was Bobby Howfield, who came to the Broncos after more than a decade as a professional soccer player in the United Kingdom. Howfield was a fine kicker who eventually was traded to the New York jets for Jim Turner. Overall, Howfield played pro sports, soccer and football, here and there, for 20 years.
Elway and Bramlett were not the only baseball-playing Broncos, either.
Pro Bowl safety John Lynch played baseball in college and was drafted as a pitcher by the Florida Marlins in the second round of the 1992 amateur draft. He threw the first pitch in the organization’s history as a member of the Erie Sailors (a 95 mile per hour strike, by the way). Lynch has his Erie Sailors jersey in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played two seasons in the minor leagues with the Sailors and the Kane County Cougars, starting nine games and going 1-3 overall, with a fine 2.36 earned run average.
Carroll Hardy, who is one of the greatest athletes ever produced by the University of Colorado (the best, old timers will say) played pro football for the 49ers and baseball for several organizations, a two-sport guy back in the 1950’s—but then, after his retirement as a player, Carroll became a player personnel man for the Broncos and had a 20-year career as one of the NFL’s best talent evaluators. Carroll had a lot to do with drafting the players who made up the foundation of the Broncos’ first Super Bowl team in 1977. A couple of Carroll Hardy notes: one of the most intimidating physical presences a scout could have. He always reminded me of sheriff Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” except Carroll Hardy was real. He is the only [player in baseball history to have pinch hit for Ted Williams (Ted fouled a ball off his foot and could not continue the at bat), and Carl Yastrzemski—thus, the only guy in history to have pinch hit for two Hall of Famers. And just for good measure, he once pinch hit for his good friend (and one of my very favorite all-time players) Roger Maris, with Carroll hitting his first major league home run in that at bat.
When Lonnie Wright was a star basketball player at Colorado State everyone who saw him commented on his physique and said he could probably play pro football. Turns out, he could. Upon graduation Lonnie Wright joined the Broncos as a free agent safety and played here in 1966 and 1967, with five pass interceptions over his two years in the secondary. Along the way, Wright decided to play for the Denver Rockets (now the Nuggets) in the off-season, becoming a genuine two-sports at one time pro player. Wright went on to play five years overall in the American Basketball Association, four with the Rockets (1967-71) and one with the Floridians (no city name, just the Floridians). He averaged 10.7 points per game over his pro career
How about pro wrestling?
Recent era fans might remember defensive end Darren Drozdov, who played for the Broncos from 1993-1994. Afterwards, he became a pro wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation in 1998 and 1998 under the ring names “Puke” and “Droz.” Sadly, Drozdov is a quadriplegic due to a neck injury sustained from a failed wrestling maneuver. Drozdov still is very active as a writer in the wrestling world, contributing numerous articles to trade publications.
Greg Boyd was a defensive end for the Broncos and is still active as an NFL employee who keeps track of proper uniform issues (he is the uniform policeman for the league) at Bronco games. Greg too was a pro wrestler, and one of the names under which he competed was “Herculoid” Boyd. One look at Greg’s physique, and you would get the Herculoid name immediately.
But the top Bronco (1961-63 with Denver, nine pro years overall) pro wrestler, by far, was Ed “Wahoo” McDaniel. There are enough stories about Wahoo McDaniel to literally write a book about, so I can’t even begin to tough on all of them here. But Wahoo played college football for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma (well, he sort of played for Wilkinson; Wahoo made a lot of his own decisions about when to practice, when to show up, etc.; but he was a great player, without question). Again, too many stories to tell, most of them great, but he played football during the fall, wrestled in the off-season, and was very prominent into the 1990’s. That’s four decades of pro sports, a lot of liniment and leg wraps.
How can you mention wrestling and not boxing?
Lyle Alzado was a dear friend of mine. He had a lot of well documented weaknesses, but I can tell you from years of knowing him that as tough as he was on the field, No player ever had a bigger heart of gold. Many of the great things he did in the community he made me privy to, with the stipulation that the press could never know. A guy with a big heart, and a great one. Most have forgotten, but right after Sylvester Stallone hit it big with “Rocky,” Lyle boxed in an exhibition with Muhammad Ali in 1979. Now, that was a media circus here in Denver. Again, there are so many untold stories relative to the before, during and after of that exhibition that we can’t get into them here, but it happened. Lyle was a Gold Gloves champion in his raucous youth, and that exhibition match is part of Bronco lore.
And if you can read on for just one more, how about Jake Plummer? Since his departure from the Broncos and pro football Jake has become an avid player of 4-Wall Handball. He attended his first pro handball tournament in 2007 along with his brother Eric. Jake Plummer played and lost in the semifinals versus brother Eric Plummer (the eventual champion) at the 2008 Idaho State Singles Championships. Jake hosted his own pro invitational in 2008, losing in the finals of the pro consultation bracket.
It just goes to show that when someone has athletic talent, it can be spread around over a lot of different sports.