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Legend and Legacy: Orange's origin

Posted Feb 20, 2015

Orange has become one of the most easily identifiable markers of the Broncos' brand. Find out how and why the Broncos decided to adopt it as one of their primary colors.

Virtually every football fan everywhere is aware that the Denver Broncos wear orange, a color embraced by a relative minority of our nation's athletic teams.

But it was not always so. Everything had a beginning, and so too did the Broncos' association with orange.

For the first two years (1960-61) the Broncos wore the infamous brown and gold uniforms, which most fans developed a passing knowledge of when we wore them again, twice, in our 50th anniversary season. Everything about the Broncos was wretched in those first two years.

Then the Broncos brought Jack Faulkner is as head coach. A relatively forgotten figure in team history, it can be said that Faulkner's early influence on Denver history was enormous. After all, he put us in orange.

Faulkner knew the team needed a complete makeover, in image as well as on the field, and he did a fine job of that, earning American Football League Coach of the Year honors for the 7-7 1962 season.

Off the field, he held an internal (team employees only) fashion show, with various jersey colors examined by all. One of the jerseys was green, but word had it that the New York Titans were going to switch to green. Besides, Faulkner wanted the Broncos to be truly unique.

A tough former Marine whom I met in his later years when he was a personnel man for the Los Angeles Rams often scouting from my press box, Faulkner had coached in the state of Ohio for eight years, two at Miami University and six more at the University of Cincinnati.

In that time he had a chance to watch and admire Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns, and their professionalism stuck with him and embedded orange in his mind.

He made the decision to go with orange, blue and white. The Denver Post featured the new uniform look on the cover of its Sunday "Empire" magazine.

The previous uniform represented such ugliness, symbolically as well as to fashionistas, that Faulkner had them burned (except for a set of socks that found their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame) at the team's annual public scrimmage which ended training camp.

The Broncos were set to play their four preseason games on the road at Atlanta, San Diego, Fort Worth and Stockton, so the orange jersey would make its debut at home on opening night.

One of the features of that uniform was the introduction of a new helmet color and logo, orange helmet with blue—yes, blue, not white—caricature horse.

There is a story behind the logo too, of course. The design was by a local sportswriter, Bob Bowie of The Denver Post. Back in the day, at the turn of the century (no, the OTHER century), photos had not become common in newspaper use, and many writers also drew their own cartoons to illustrate stories. Bowie was a real veteran of journalism by the 1960's—yes, I knew him too—and the Broncos were not above currying favor with the local press.

The blue horse did not last, for the main reason that television was almost entirely black and white, and it looked like a hunk of mud on TV. Nevertheless, the horse was blue in '62, for the first five games.

Then, without ceremony or announcement, the helmet decal went to white.

This orange uniform made its debut on Friday night, September 7, 1962, at the University of Denver Hilltop Stadium, when the Broncos opened the season with an impressive 30-21 win over the San Diego Chargers before 28,000 fans who thought the Broncos were showing some class at last.

Future presidential candidate Jack Kemp started at quarterback for the Chargers, while legendary veteran Frank Tripucka was at the helm for Denver.

Tripucka delighted the crowd with two touchdown passes, including one to former Notre Dame star wide receiver Bob Scarpitto for 49 yards, and fellow future Ring of Famer Gene Mingo scored a touchdown and kicked three field goals on a beautiful 70 degree night.

There was no television of the game, national or local, and the Broncos had to play at DU because their home field, Bears Stadium, was still in use by the baseball team.

How things have changed. No one there that night imagined an such thing as a Super Bowl, nor that the previously (and still to be) woeful Broncos would play in it seven times, nor that tens of hundreds of millions would eventually watch the team on 60-inch TV screens.

But it all happened, and it happened in orange and blue, and the beginning of orange officially started on September 7, 1962.