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Garett Bolles shares number, persona with former Broncos great

Posted May 15, 2017

Keith Kartz and Garett Bolles have more than just the No. 72 in common.

Through the years a lot of different players have worn the same number, and one absolute is that everybody has a story.

Denver Broncos equipment manager Chris Valenti has assigned uniform numbers to the team's recent draft picks, and so there’s no better time to take a look at our uniform history via our top selection in the draft.

Number one draft choice Garett Bolles is a left tackle, and he will be wearing No. 72.

He will likely be the eighteenth Broncos player on the active roster to wear No. 72, and while there certainly are some who are forgotten to most fans, the legacy remains.

But in my opinion the most notable No. 72 for Denver was Keith Kartz, one of the most interesting and toughest players in Bronco history.

Kartz was a replacement player for the Broncos during the three 1987 strike games, and the free agent from Cal made such an impression that I still remember the moment when general manager John Beake told me that Kartz eventually would replace longtime center Billy Bryan as our starter.

Kartz was a real good player, tough as nails and as competitive as one could get.

He was tough for everyone, including me, his public relations director. He had been through a lot and while he loved playing the game, he wasn’t a fan of interviews.  But that was OK with me, as I learned quickly to take the press around his locker and make sure they talked to other guys representing the offensive line. 

Naturally, he was one of those linemen close to future Hall-of-Fame quarterback John Elway, bonded by the fiery, primal elements of the game.  Besides having the greatest of talent, Elway was the toughest of players, and he really liked kindred spirits.

The things Elway said he liked this year about Bolles fit his personality to a T, and so did Kartz.  

Kartz and Bolles share unique paths to the National Football League.

The story of Bolles and his background has been well documented.

Kartz’s less so, but he was a real good player but while at Cal he suffered a serious illness which he overcame, but along the way lost a lot of weight.

He was informed by the Cal coaches that he would no longer be able to play football due to his illness, and Kartz's reaction was immediate.

He made it clear that he really, really wanted to play. 

So Cal let him, despite the fact that he was by then dozens of pounds under most linemen they had.

He put the weight back on and brought unbridled passion to the field and was noted for his attitude, but he still did not get drafted.

Denver signed him as a free agent replacement player, one of more than 1,000 such free agents signed throughout the NFL in that manner.

Kartz did become Denver's starting center and played here from 1987-94, one of the longest tenures of play by any of the league's 1987 replacement players, and he was a starter in four playoff games with the Broncos, including Super Bowl XXIV following the 1989 season.

Just as there was a time when no one in the game would have ever thought that Keith Kartz would have a pro football career of any kind, so too was there a time for Bolles when this time seemed a complete pipe dream.

And so it is interesting that Bolles is noted for his passionate play. Because while he did not get that passion from the uniform number, he will share both that number and spirit with one of the toughest offensive linemen in Broncos history.

HISTORY OF NO. 72:

There have been two first-round draft choices to wear the number: nose tackle Don Latimer from 1978-83 and left tackle George Foster from 2003-06. 

The first player of note to wear No. 72 was Jerry Sturm, a tough offensive lineman who played several positions for the Broncos from 1961-66.  It sometimes seemed like Sturm needed to block everybody by himself, so it was fitting that he played all over the line. 

After Richard Tyson wore the number in 1967, Sam Brunelli took over the digits from 1968 to 1971. Brunelli was the Broncos’ first player of note from what is now the University of Northern Colorado.

Brunelli was on those Lou Saban-coached teams that laid the foundation for what the Broncos would become. 

Much more recently, Ryan Harris wore the number and was a fine player from Notre Dame. Harris is a classy guy who still represents the Broncos and the entire game in the community.