The Broncos are a team whose history has more ups and downs than the Rocky Mountain skyline. This Super Bowl Sunday, they will be making their eighth appearance on the NFL’s biggest stage. Before kickoff, let’s all take a quick look at the wild world of Denver football.
1. Founded as an American Football League club on August 14, 1959, the Broncos participated in the AFL’s first regular season game, beating the Boston Patriots 13-10 in 1960.
2. Financial woes forced the young team to spend its first two seasons wearing hand-me-down uniforms from an All-Star college game. Yellow and brown with vertically striped socks, the hideous duds were destroyed in an organized bonfire during the 1962 off-season.
3. Gene Mingo—professional football's first African-American placekicker—was a Bronco from 1960 to 1964.
4. North Platte, Nebraska, celebrated the Cornhusker State’s 100th anniversary by inviting the Broncos over to serve as their “home” team in a special 1967 exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders.
5. Playing football a mile above sea level has some interesting effects on the ball itself. At Denver’s altitude, kickoffs usually go about 10 percent farther than they do in other NFL cities. Unsurprisingly, three out of the four longest field goals in league history took place there. Among these is the all-time record-holder, a 64-yard kick made by Denver’s Matt Prater against the Tennessee Titans in 2013. How much Denver’s thinner air contributes to longer field goals is a topic of much debate among football fans, given that accuracy is still paramount.
6. Number 18 was retired by the Broncos in 1963 to honor the club’s original quarterback, Frank Tripucka. But once Peyton Manning came to town in 2012, it was promptly un-retired (with Tripucka’s blessing) on the former Colt’s behalf.
7. “Birmingham Broncos” sure has a nice ring to it. When Colorado taxpayers voted against a proposal that would grant $250,000 for a stadium expansion in the late 1960s, the team’s ownership considered moving the franchise to Alabama. A grassroots campaign raised the necessary funds from private contributors.
8. Who was the first male cheerleader in Denver Broncos history? Robin Williams. At a 1979 home win, the actor showed up in boots and a glittering mini-skirt. With pom-poms waving, Williams rallied 74,000 fans as Mork—his extraterrestrial character on ABC’s popular sitcom Mork & Mindy. Fourteen days later, footage from the stunt appeared in a season two episode.
9. Once a coveted Major League Baseball prospect, legendary Broncos QB John Elway spent the summer of 1982 as the right fielder for a New York Yankees farm team in Oneonta, New York. Over 42 games there, he put up a .318 batting average. Not bad.
10. Denver’s current mayor is an ex-Broncos mascot. In the 1980s, the NFL decided to come out with a series of characters, called Huddles, that represented each team. Denver’s anthropomorphic pony was played by 17-year-old Michael Hancock; he was paid $25 per game.
11. Elway’s come-from-behind victory in the 1986-'87 AFC championship game—a.k.a. “The Drive”—is one of the greatest wins in franchise history. That day, the visiting Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns, whose fans had tried to keep Denver’s players awake the night before by driving around the squad’s hotel and honking.
12. On January 28, 1990, the orange and blue lost the single most lopsided Super Bowl ever played, nabbing just 10 points to San Francisco’s 55. “The 49ers did what every expert said they would do: dominate us,” Broncos head coach Dan Reeves said.
13. Historically, the big game has been a mixed bag for Denver. They have won two, but the team has also lost a league-high five Super Bowls, by a cumulative score of 206-58.
14. At first, fans didn’t take kindly to the team’s present horse head logo. After the emblem was unveiled in 1997, somebody drove past the Broncos’ training facilities and fired paintballs at it.
15. Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis was temporarily blinded by a migraine headache during the game. “I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “Nothing.” Undaunted, coach Mike Shanahan sent his sightless running back out onto the field, where Elway faked the ball to him before jogging into the end zone for a touchdown. That night, Denver finally claimed its first world championship—though Davis had to miss most of the second quarter.
16. Along with Brett Favre, Peyton Manning of the Broncos is one of only two NFL quarterbacks who’ve managed to beat all 32 teams.
17. Between 1977 and 2007, super-fan Tim “the Barrel Man” McKernan attended every single home game while wearing nothing but boots, suspenders, a cowboy hat, and an orange barrel.
18. Long before the NFL came knocking, running back Ronnie Hillman played youth football in a Los Angeles league owned and operated by Snoop Dogg.
19. Super Bowl XLVIII was a gut-wrenching nightmare for Bronco fanciers, with the Seattle Seahawks smashing the team 43-8. On a positive note, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas set a record for most Super Bowl receptions, with 13 catches.
20. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are both die-hard Broncos fans. Three years ago, the pair offered John Elway a free ticket to see their hit musical The Book of Mormon when it opened in Denver, only to discover that he’d already watched it on Broadway. Apparently, the Duke of Denver gave them a rave review.
21. By dismantling the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, Elway—who was 38 at the time—became the oldest starting quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. Now the vice president of Denver football operations, he’ll be watching 39-year-old Manning try to break his record on Sunday.
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