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 continues today, with Nos. 21-25.
25. Jason Elam | K | 1993-2007
When it comes to certain Broncos records, Elam demonstrates a Secretariat-like dominance over his competitors; he’s so far ahead, it’s sometimes difficult to even see who’s in second place.
In points scored, the kicker sits atop the team’s all-time list with 1,786; Jim Turner is second with 742. When it comes to field goals made, Elam is No. 1 with 395; again, Turner is the silver medalist with 151. With regard to extra points made, he’s the clear winner with 601; Turner comes in second with 283.
The only category that is even a close battle is games played in a Broncos uniform. Elam wins that battle with 236, besting John Elway by two. The third-place finisher, Tom Jackson, sits at 191, nearly three full seasons behind.
So it’s a huge understatement to say Elam was the best kicker in franchise history; that battle isn’t even close. He’s head and shoulders about Turner, Matt Prater, Brandon McManus or any others who have shined in the orange and blue.
But his place atop that list is not just based on longevity and numbers. Elam was also a super-reliable kicker. During his time with the Broncos, he converted on 99.5% of extra point attempts and 80.6% of field goals. And during his illustrious career, Elam nailed 26 game-winning or game-tying field goals; he was the definition of clutch.
Two moments stand out as putting that trait on display. During Denver’s upset win over Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII, Elam drilled a crucial 51-yard field goal, the second longest in the history of the game. And during the Broncos second-consecutive championship season, the kicker tied an NFL record by drilling a 63-yard field goal against the Jaguars. Both are indelible images, shining examples of what made Elam such a valuable weapon during his time in Denver.
“A true football player on those great Broncos teams. His teammates had tremendous respect for and belief in him. He was not just a kicker. He was clutch and carried himself in a way that spoke to complete confidence. When the game was on the line, you just knew he would come through.” – Mike Evans
24. Steve Foley | CB / S | 1976-86
One of the most-versatile defensive backs in Broncos history, Foley enjoyed great success at two different positions during his time in Denver.
As an eighth-round pick out of Tulane in 1976, he started his career as a cornerback, lining up opposite of the great Louis Wright. So he saw plenty of action, with opposing quarterbacks much more interested in testing the youngster than one of the best cover corners in the game. More often than not, Foley made them pay.
During his rookie season, the cornerback hauled in four interceptions. The following year, when he was a full-time starter on the famed Orange Crush defense that helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XII, he had three more. And then in both 1978 and ’79, he picked off six more passes. All told, that’s 19 interceptions during a four-year period at cornerback.
Nonetheless, the Broncos need Foley to play a different role. New head coach Dan Reeves had brought Aaron Kyle with him from Dallas, hoping the younger cornerback would flourish once given the chance to start in Denver. But everyone knew Foley had too much of a nose for the football to not have on the field, so Joe Collier and the defensive staff moved him to free safety.
In that spot, Foley seemed like a natural. During the six full seasons he played safety for the Broncos, he hauled in another 25 interceptions. And despite being slightly small for the position, he wasn’t afraid to step into the box and take on a running back; although, his attempt to tackle Earl Campbell was perhaps ill-advised.
By the time his career ended, Foley had picked off 44 passes, the most by any player in Broncos history. For some reason, however, he’s been overlooked for the team’s Ring of Fame, an oversight that needs to be corrected.
“Pound for pound, Foley was among the toughest Broncos ever. He was a very smart player, having played quarterback at Tulane.” – Sandy Clough
To see the rest of the Sixty Since 60 list, CLICK HERE
23. Goose Gonsoulin | S | 1960-66
In the early days of the Broncos, when wins were few and far between, and the organization was a known as the laughingstock that decked out it’s players in black and yellow vertically striped socks, they had one bright spot. During those lean times, Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin was someone the fan base could be proud to support.
During the Broncos first-ever game, the safety had an interception to help Denver get a 13-10 win in Boston. A week later, he set a team record that still stands to this day, picking off four passes in a game against the Bills. Gonsoulin’s incredible start to the season continued the next week, when he snared two more INTs. On the season, he hauled in a total of 11 interceptions, a single-season franchise record that the safety still holds today.
While Gonsoulin’s other six seasons in Denver weren’t quite that productive, he still posted some big-time numbers. Starting in 1961, the safety posted six, seven, six, seven and six interceptions, boosting his career total to 43, the second-highest number in team history.
That production didn’t go unnoticed. In 1960 and ’62, Gonsoulin earned first-team All-Pro honors. From 1961-66, he was selected to the Pro Bowl five times. And when the AFL released its All-Decade squad for the 1960s, Gonsoulin was selected to the fledgling league’s second team.
Back in the early days, when Broncos fans had very few things to cheer about, those types of accolades went a long way toward helping the franchise establish some credibility in the Mile High City.
“‘On a franchise known for great defenses, Gonsoulin was the team’s first defensive star.” – Sandy Clough
22. Trevor Pryce | DT | 1997-2005
During his first season in Denver, Pryce was widely considered a bust. He couldn’t crack the team’s starting lineup and only appeared in eight games, playing little during the Broncos run to Super Bowl XXXII. His biggest highlight from that first season was a classic “We won!” celebration captured by NFL Films on the sidelines that memorable night in San Diego.
At that point, no one expected Pryce to develop into one of the most-dominant defensive players in team history. So he serves as a prime example of why it’s dangerous to jump to a quick conclusion when evaluating draft picks.
By his second season, the former first-round selection was a totally different player. He was an every-game starter during the Broncos second Super Bowl season, providing tremendous production in the middle of the defensive line. That year, he posted 8.5 sacks and picked off a pass, showing his potential.
In 1999, Pryce established himself as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. That season, he racked up a career high 13.0 sacks, a monster number for a defensive tackle. As a result, he earned his first Pro Bowl invite and was named first-team All-Pro.
It was the start of a great four-season run. In 2000, Pryce had 12.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and 12 tackles for a loss. And the next two years, he recorded a combined 16.0 sacks. Along the way, he became a perennial Pro Bowl choice in the AFC.
A herniated disc in his back ended Pryce’s 2004 season after just two games, which signaled the beginning of the end for his time in Denver. He returned for one more year with the Broncos in 2005, but he wasn’t the same player; after a 4.0 sack season, he left for Baltimore via free agency.
When his time with the Broncos was over, Pryce had established himself as one of the best pass rushers in franchise history. All told, he had 64.0 sacks in the orange and blue, the fourth-most in franchise history.
“Very blockable in 1997. Very unblockable in 1998. He figured things out pretty quickly.” – Tom Nalen
21. Chris Harris Jr. | CB | 2011-Present
As an undrafted free agent out of Kansas, few expected Harris to make the Broncos roster in 2011. But his stellar play during training camp and preseason games earned him a spot, one that he has shown no signs of surrendering.
That first season, Harris was a spot player, appearing in all 16 games and recording one interception. But by year two, he was an integral part of a team that would post a lot of victories during the next four seasons.
In 2013, Harris helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XLVIII, but he was unable to play in the game due to injury. When Denver lost 43-8 to Seattle, general manager John Elway decided to retool the entire defense; the cornerback was one of the few holdovers.
As one of the best slot corners in the NFL, Harris helped the Broncos transform in short order. Two years after their embarrassing loss to the Seahawks, Denver boasted one of the best defenses in recent history. They rode that group, which included a secondary that would eventually be dubbed the “No Fly Zone,” all the way to a victory in Super Bowl 50.
In the history of the Broncos, few groups have enjoyed more success than that group of defensive backs. The combination of Harris, Bradley Roby, Darian Stewart, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward was as good as any in the game, a bunch of playmakers who gave the Broncos defense their swagger.
Today, Harris remains one of the best cornerbacks in football. He can play inside or outside, and has the ability to line up against any wide receiver.
To see the rest of the Sixty Since 60 list, CLICK HERE