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Sundays with Sacco: The 1953 Draft and our oldest Bronco

Posted Feb 28, 2016

There was no NFL Scouting Combine in 1953. In 1953, World War II had barely been over for eight years. There were just two NFL teams west of the Mississippi River—the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers—and integration had been a part of the pro football landscape for just seven seasons.

The Broncos would not be born for six years, and they would not have their first players and play their first game for another year after that.

No, there was no combine.

There was word of mouth and the occasional long distance telephone call or telegram, with the latter being very rare.

But the man who is our oldest Denver Broncos player and who scored the first touchdown in Broncos and American Football League history came out of that draft, so we can never celebrate Al Carmichael too much.

He was a talented halfback with movie-star looks, which figures, since he was also in the movies.

Carmichael was born on November 10, 1928 in Boston, which is mildly coincidental since that is where the first Broncos game was played, but his family gravitated toward the West Coast at that time of marvelous growth and expansion in America.

Like so many football players of that era, he joined the Marines first, and was lured to college by his play on service teams. Carmichael went to Santa Ana College, one of those schools that proved to be a treasure trove of talent in California.

His team reached the junior college title game, and Carmichael would move on to the University of Southern California.

Some guys really have had storybook careers, and so too did Carmichael.

In those days, a lot of USC players became stuntmen and extras in the movie business to pick up some cash--like Marion Morrison (better known as John Wayne) and Ward Bond (from Denver's East High School) had before.

So too did Al, and as soon as he got on campus he found himself in "Saturday's Hero," the John Derek football movie.

In 1953, he was in "The All-American" and scored the only touchdown in the USC Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, on a pass and run from Rudy Bukich for the Trojans' 7-0 victory.

And it does not get more Hollywood than this: Online photo documentation shows that he posed with a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe after the Rose Bowl win.

So, since word of mouth was the primary scouting tool, word of mouth took over in his case and Carmichael found himself drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round. Imagine that today: a first round draft choice selected almost sight unseen, at least in person.

They had just begun televising the Rose Bowl nationally the year before USC beat Wisconsin.

He had plenty of company in that 1953 draft, including future Hall of Famers Doug Atkins (first round), John Henry Johnson (second), Bob St. Clair (third), Stan Jones (fifth), Joe Schmidt (seventh), Chuck Noll (20th round) and eight-time consecutive Pro Bowl tackle Roosevelt Brown (27th round, 321st pick, by the Giants).

There were also undrafted stars, as usual, including linebacker Bill Pellington and defensive end Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, who never went to college at all. Both Pellington and Lipscomb went on to win a championship in The Greatest Game Ever Played.

Interestingly, Carmichael was not the only future Bronco taken in round one, as the fabled "Johnny O"--Johnny Olszenski of Cal--was chosen by the Chicago Cardinals in the first round. You can guess what number "Johnny O" used to wear--he finished his pro football career wearing number zero as a Denver fullback in 1962.

Those were the days of pure Hollywood in terms of characters.

Carmichael played for the Packers from 1953 through 1958 and led the NFL in kickoff returns twice, earning a spot in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

The 1960 Broncos draft was conducted by General Manager Dean Griffing out of the pages of Street and Smith's College Football magazine, and when he was finished drafting, he decided to sign some vets to go with his largely worthless rookie class.

Carmichael thought his football days were over when he received the invitation to play in Denver, but he was a true star on that inaugural Broncos team.

He scored that first touchdown on a 59-yard pass from fellow NFL retread—and future Ring of Famer—Frank Tripucka, and he amassed 1,535 all-purpose yards for the mustard and brown (as opposed to the future orange and blue) in 1960.

Carmichael still holds the mark as the oldest Bronco to lead the team in kickoff return average-he was 32 and his average was a snappy 26.4 yards per return.

Just to top off the year in 1960, he appeared in the legendary Kirk Douglas film, "Spartacus," very likely the only NFL player to have 1,500 yards for his team and appear in a Hollywood epic of such a scale in the same year.

In his career, Carmichael had 8,316 all-purpose yards, he later prospered in Southern California real estate, and as you might imagine, still has Hollywood good looks today.

Following his professional football career, he wrote a book, "106," by far the largest and heaviest book I have ever lifted and read, the title coming from his legendary 106-yard kickoff return touchdown while with the Packers, still the 10th longest return touchdown in NFL history. And as mentioned, he was honored post-career by entry into the illustrious Packers' Hall of Fame

I have had the privilege of meeting him once, at a press conference I scheduled in our 50th anniversary season.

Al was so dapper, from haircut to shoes and everything in between. He was all class and elegance and in total command of the room of reporters. Of course, he had plenty of experience playing before lights and cameras.

The Broncos in 2016 enter into our 57th year of play with the Super Bowl 50 Lombardi Trophy in tow, but the story of Al Carmichael reminds us that talent finds its way to a team in a lot of different ways, and sometimes a star is born even without a combine.

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