ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Denver's original No. 18 -- the man for whom the Broncos retired the number -- passed away at age 85.
The Broncos' first quarterback, Frank Tripucka, died Thursday morning in Woodland Park, N.J.
"Frank will always hold a very special place in Broncos history for what he meant to this organization and community," the Broncos said in a statement.
Tripucka helped lay the foundation from the earliest days of the Broncos -- he originally came to Denver to coach alongside Head Coach Frank Filchock. But he was also the Broncos' best option at signal caller, and ended up as the team's starting quarterback.
In 1960, the Broncos' inaugural season, he became the first U.S. professional quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards. It was his best statistical season, when he completed 51.9 percent of his passes for 3,038 yards and 24 touchdowns. He holds the distinction of having thrown the first touchdown pass in AFL history, a 59-yard strike to Al Carmichael in Boston.
He played in the AFL All-Star Game in 1962 after guiding Denver to its first .500 season. That same year he threw for 447 yards in Buffalo -- a Broncos single-game record that stood until 2000.
In his four seasons in Denver, he passed for 7,676 yards, a total that still ranks seventh in franchise history. He also ranks seventh in club history in completions and touchdown passes as well as fifth in pass attempts.
Recently, Tripucka was back in the limelight when he gave his blessing for Peyton Manning to wear his No. 18 when he joined the team in 2012.
"I have admired Peyton for a long time," Tripucka said at the time. "He is one of the all-time greats, and having him wear the same jersey that I did brings me a lot of joy."
Manning was humbled to hear that from one of the three Broncos to have his jersey retired.
"It really goes against everything I believe in being a guy who appreciates the history of football and I believe when a number is retired it should stay retired; but in talking to Frank Tripucka, I feel he really wants me to wear his number," Manning said at his introductory press conference. "It was a very humbling conversation and I am honored to wear his number, being another quarterback for the Denver Broncos as Mr. Tripucka was back years ago as the first quarterback to play here. It truly is an honor for me and I'm really following his wishes to wear it because that's what he wants me to do and I'm honored to do that."
A Ring of Fame inductee in 1986, Tripucka was an All-American at Notre Dame and played in the NFL and CFL in addition to the AFL with the Broncos.
"We are all deeply saddened by his passing this morning," the Broncos said in a statement. "Our hearts and prayers go out to Frank's wife, Randy, his seven children and the rest of the Tripucka family."