On September 9, 1960, the Broncos played in the upstart American Football League’s first-ever game, beating the Patriots 13-10 in Boston. On September 9, 2019, Denver will kick off the 60th season in franchise history when they travel to Oakland to take another of the AFL’s original teams, the Raiders.
Sixty seasons. Starting in 1960. It’s all too symmetrical and perfect not to celebrate.
From that first season through today, thousands of players have donned the orange and blue (and even the brown and yellow). Plenty came and went, having forgettable careers in the Mile High City. But a select few stood out. And a handful of Broncos became legends, in this town and beyond.
Who falls into that category? In the coming weeks, 1043TheFan.com will count down the 60 greatest players in Broncos history.
It kicks off today, with Nos. 56-60.
60. Tim Tebow | QB | 2010-11
No player in Broncos history has ever been more of a supernova than their first-round pick in 2010. During a magical 2011 season in which the quarterback led Denver to six consecutive wins, many in improbable fashion, Tebow became the biggest story in sports. ESPN provided wall-to-wall coverage of his every move, talk shows debated the merits of his game and national reporters flooded to Dove Valley.
During that time, the Broncos went from 2-5 and circling the drain to atop the AFC West and headed to the playoffs. In the postseason, Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Game at Sports Authority Field is arguably one of the top-five moments in franchise history and perhaps the best memory most fans have in that stadium.
It was also Tebow’s final home game as a Bronco. Following a loss at New England the following week, the only quarterback ever drafted by the team to win a playoff game for the franchise saw his career in Denver come to an end. The franchise signed Peyton Manning in the offseason, which led to a change at quarterback, as Tebow was traded to the Jets.
Tebow only started 16 games (including the postseason) in orange and blue, and only posted nine career wins, but few players have made more of an impact. Those three unforgettable months will live on in the memories of fans for years to come.
“Easily one of the most-polarizing athletes to ever come through Denver. His season as the starting QB in Denver will go down as one of the most interesting, electrifying, unbelievable years in Broncos history. Simply put, the Broncos won games that year that in retrospect just shouldn’t have happened. All that, plus I got a tattoo out of the whole experience.” – Mike Evans
59. Mike Harden | CB / S | 1980-88
Other members of the Broncos defense during the Dan Reeves era earned more accolades and are perhaps better remembered by fans, but few were as important as Harden. He was a key member of the team for nearly a decade, toiling in the shadows while others got most of the glory. During that time, he played 128 games in a Denver uniform, 98 as a starter. And he was an ironman of sorts, missing only five games after becoming a full-time starter in 1983.
Harden had one of the toughest jobs in Joe Collier’s defense, lining up opposite of Louis Wright. Few quarterbacks wanted to test one of the greatest cornerbacks in league history, so they’d take their chances by going Harden’s direction instead. He was almost always up to the task. As a Bronco, Harden hauled in 33 interceptions, placing him sixth on the franchise’s all-time list.
His best season was in 1986, when with the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in nine years. That year, he had a team-high six interceptions and scored three touchdowns, two off of picks and one on a punt return. During that memorable campaign, Harden was all over the field, providing a spark to a defense that was trying to get the last out of the final members of the original Orange Crush.
“Harden was a consistent, hard-hitting DB for the Broncos in the 1980s and was a key member of two Super Bowl defenses.” – John Davis
To see the rest of the Sixty Since 60 list, CLICK HERE
58. Vance Johnson | WR | 1985-93, ’95
After being picked by the Broncos in the second round of the 1985 draft, “The Vance” immediately became one of the flashiest players on the team – both on and off the field. During his career in Denver, Johnson started 128 games across 10 seasons, hauled in 415 passes (sixth-most in franchise history) for 5,695 yards (eighth) and 37 touchdowns (eighth). But the numbers only tell part of the story.
He was also on the receiving end of some of the biggest passes in John Elway’s career. Few can forget the late-game bomb he caught at Mile High Stadium on a fourth-and-10 play against the Chiefs or the big numbers he posted in Super Bowl XXI (five catches, 121 yards and a touchdown), but it was a wobbly toss during the 1991 NFL Playoffs that provided Johnson’s defining moment.
During what would become known as “The Drive II,” Elway hit the wide receiver with an improvised pass on fourth-and-10 that went for 44 yards and set up the game-winning field goal. It was a perfect example of Johnson having a flair for the dramatic, something he demonstrated throughout his career.
Off the field, he showed his love of the spotlight by being the ring leader of the team’s famed “Three Amigos” wide receiver trio. Teaming up with Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel for music videos, posters and more, which secured Johnson’s place in Broncos lore.
“Before Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, Vance Johnson was John Elway’s favorite big-play receiver.” – John Davis
57. John Mobley | LB | 1996-2003
The Broncos didn’t win a Super Bowl when Terrell Davis scored his third rushing touchdown against the Packers. And Denver didn’t get over the hump when John Elway took a knee to run out the clock in the waning seconds of that game. Rather, an NFL championship finally came to the Mile High City when John Mobley knocked down Brett Favre’s fourth-down pass late in Super Bowl XXXII.
That deflection became the signature play of Mobley’s eight-year career with the Broncos, but it was far from his only contribution. The 15th overall pick in the 1996 draft, Mobley was an immediate starter in Denver. And by season two, he was a first-team All-NFL selection.
That ’97 season was without a doubt his finest in orange and blue, as he recorded 132 combined tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. Mobley was an integral part of an aggressive, opportunistic defense that was the perfect complement to the team’s high-flying offense. That group ultimately helped the Broncos win back-to-back titles in 1997 and ’98.
“The Broncos poster child for the idea that great players can come from anywhere. In this case, it was tiny Kutztown. A true three-down linebacker who excelled in many different ways. Of course, his pass knockdown that clinched the Super Bowl win over Green Bay was perhaps the greatest play in Broncos history because it delivered the organization and their loyal fan base that cherished first championship.” – Mike Evans
56. Al Denson | WR / TE | 1964-70
In the mid-1960s, the Broncos weren’t a very good team; they didn’t win a lot of games and didn’t boast many stars. That started to change in 1967, however, when two offensive players burst onto the scene in Denver.
While rookie Floyd Little got most of the headlines, understandable for the future Hall of Fame running back and first-ever first-round draft pick to sign with the team, the emergence of flanker Al Denson also helped ignite the fan base. After spending three seasons working his way up the depth chart, the pass catcher from Florida A&M finally got his chance to be a starter. And he made the most of it.
In 1967, Denson led the American Football League with 11 touchdown receptions; that’s an impressive number even today, but it was staggering during a season in which the Broncos had 17 TD passes as a team and only scored 27 total offensive touchdowns. Two years later, Denson proved it was no fluke, hauling in 10 touchdowns to earn a spot on the final AFL Pro Bowl roster.
Despite playing in a completely different era, Denson name still litters the Broncos record book. He’s in the top-15 in franchise history in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
“A classically built wide receiver, Denson was first-team All-AFL in 1967, when he caught 46 passes for 899 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 19.5 yards per catch.” – Sandy Clough
To see the rest of the Sixty Since 60 list, CLICK HERE