In our Broncos Legends series, we're revisiting the careers of some of the best players in franchise history with video highlights and rarely seen photos. Here's a refresher on Ring of Famer Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin's time in Denver.
When Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin entered pro football, it was originally not to be with the Broncos and it was not to be in 1960, either.
The first time Gonsoulin was drafted was in the 17th round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Giants. For whatever reason — perhaps because he was not finished playing college football — Gonsoulin did not sign with New York and re-entered the draft pool a year later. At this point, the three-year Baylor letterman had options. He was selected with the exact same pick in the 1960 NFL Draft, this time by the 49ers, and he'd also been drafted by the American Football League's Dallas Texans; he opted to begin his pro career with the AFL.
But before he'd even played a down, Dallas dealt Gonsoulin to Denver as part of a deal for fullback Jack Spikes. As he prepared to settle in with his new team, he did so at just one position. In college, Gonsoulin had played end and running back; now he would focus solely on playing in the defensive backfield as a safety.
It wouldn't take long for him to prove this was the right spot for his skill set. Prior to the team's preseason slate, the Broncos played two intra-squad scrimmages. In the first, the rookie intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Even in losses, Gonsoulin appeared to stand out clearly as a star caliber player. "Austin Gonsoulin looked good in the Bronco secondary, intercepting two passes," The Denver Post wrote after a 48-0 preseason loss. That feeling — excelling amid poor team performance — would unfortunately be something Gonsoulin would have to become accustomed to through his Broncos career.
As an original Bronco — a member of the team's inaugural season in 1960 — Gonsoulin was part of one of the most woeful franchises in the fledgling American Football League, in spite of his play. Even the uniforms — a memorable mustard-and-brown combination with vertically striped socks — carried an bad reputation.
"When we got them, I was looking around for Jim Thorpe," Gonsoulin recalled in a 1994 Rocky Mountain News story. "I said, 'My God, what time warp have I landed in?'"
Still, Gonsoulin did his best to make those jerseys look good. In his first game, he recorded two interceptions (including the first in AFL history), but his second game was even better.
"That was OK, but I got four the next week in Buffalo, which tied the all-time record, and I thought things were real easy," Gonsoulin later said. "It never was quite that easy, of course, but I well remember those six interceptions in my first two games."
Over the course of his rookie season, Gonsoulin racked up an impressive 11 interceptions, which led both the AFL and NFL. That number still stands today as a single-season franchise record for the Broncos; over the past 20 seasons, only Champ Bailey has come close (10 in 2006 and eight in 2005).
That effort earned him the first of many accolades in his pro career, as he was named a first-team All-AFL selection. "Defensive aerial thief," the Post called Gonsoulin in a caption for the story announcing the Broncos' players on the team. A separate press poll conducted by United Press International named Gonsoulin a second-team all-league player. Had the league held an all-star game, it seems likely that he would have earned that distinction too.
Over the following years, Gonsoulin established that his rookie season was no fluke, even if he couldn't maintain those same interception numbers. Between 1960 and 1965, he recorded no fewer than six interceptions in a season and earned four AFL All-Star Game selections and two All-AFL team nods.
After those six exceptional seasons, Gonsoulin returned for a seventh in 1966, but it would be his last with the team. He missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury and uncharacteristically was unable to intercept a pass all year as he moved to the free safety position, but spectators still considered it to be one of his finest seasons as he made his fifth AFL All-Star Game.
"It is my best year for making sure tackles," Gonsoulin told the Post's Dick Connor in December of 1966. "And also for carrying out my assignments."
The statistics didn't matter much to Gonsoulin as much as winning, and even though the Broncos didn't fare well in that department, he was a level-headed member of the team and a vital resource.
"Popular, quiet-spoken, he's respected by teammates and has worked hard to preserve team morale," Connor wrote.
Yet the Broncos waived Gonsoulin the following July, and he then signed with the 49ers for what would be his last season in pro football.
Despite the bitter end to his time in Denver, Gonsoulin remained a beloved former Bronco, and he continued to cherish his years spent with the team. He was one of the Broncos' four original Ring of Fame inductees in 1984, and he has been a constant inclusion on the team's anniversary all-time teams — in 1980 (for a 20th anniversary team), 2009 (for the club's 50th season) and 2019 (for the NFL's 100th season celebration).
"It's quite a thrill to see your name up in the stadium on the 50-yard line like that," Gonsoulin told the Port Arthur News in 1987 in recalling his Ring of Fame induction. "It means a lot when you think there's only four of us out of the last 25 years. I'll always remember the ceremonies. My family got to stand on the field with me, and they gave us all beautiful rings. People who see the ring think it's a Super Bowl ring."
In the decades that followed, Gonsoulin made an effort to return to Denver for alumni weekends and Ring of Fame inductions when he could, but it was his return for the 20th anniversary celebration in 1980 that stunned him perhaps the most.
"I couldn't believe that stadium, the crowd of 75,000 and the enthusiasm of all those orange-clad folks," Gonsoulin later told the Post's Joseph Sanchez. "It revived memories of my days in cramped Bears Stadium, those striped stockings we wore and the agony of some one-sided losses we endured. I was prouder than ever before that I was one of those pioneers who made all of this possible. It was a real thrill."
Gonsoulin died on Sept. 8, 2014 at the age of 76.
A look back through Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin's time with the Broncos in photos.
Second-team AFL All-Time Team member, Broncos Ring of Fame member (inducted in 1984), Broncos Top 100 Team selection, Broncos 50th Anniversary first-team selection, Second-most interceptions in pro football from 1960-67 (46), five AFL All-Star Game appearances, two All-AFL selections, 1960 interceptions leader in pro football, holds franchise record for most interceptions in a single season, second in franchise history in career interceptions, one of three Broncos to record four interceptions in a single game
Stats to know
Career stats: 108 games, 94 starts, 46 interceptions, 551 interception return yards, two defensive touchdowns
Remembering humble beginnings in the AFL
As an original Bronco, Gonsoulin got to see the franchise's earliest days before it and pro football evolved into the well-funded behemoths they are today.
It was, safe to say, unimpressive.
"When I got there, I remember thinking they were so poor," he said in 2010. "They only had three or four coaches, and when I was in high school I had six coaches. I felt like getting on a plane and coming home."
At one point early on in his career, that outcome didn't seem too farfetched. When the team traveled to road games, players were told to pack lightly, but Gonsoulin would bring everything he had.
"They were cutting guys on the road. I knew if I got cut, I didn't want to have to come back to get my clothes," Gonsoulin told the Rocky Mountain News in 2004.
"We can honestly say it wasn't about the money, because we weren't making any," Gonsoulin said in 2009. "It was about playing a game we loved."
Still, Gonsoulin and his teammates managed to have some fun. In 1987, former Broncos coach Jack Faulkner told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Ron Reid a funny story about a curfew bed check he once made on Gonsoulin and a teammate.
"There was the time, for instance, that Faulkner made a bed check and found Bob Zeman and Gonsoulin tucked in with the covers up to their chins a few seconds after curfew and only moments after the coach had seen both players sneaking back into camp," Reid wrote. "Yanking the blankets off the beds, he found each player dressed in coat, tie, slacks and shoes."
The first time Goose met Al Davis
Gonsoulin's talent was remarkable, and not just to Broncos fans. After a game against the Chargers in 1960, Gonsoulin was changing in the locker room when a man approached him with a piece of chalk.
"He said, 'Goose, what's the hardest play for you to cover?'" Gonsoulin recalled in the Rocky Mountain News decades later. "I thought he was a sportswriter. So I drew up something easy for him. [Broncos general manager Dean] Griffing yells over, 'Al, get the hell out of our locker room.' It was Al Davis looking for an edge. I saw that play a few times when we played the Chargers again."
Davis, then an assistant coach for the Chargers, would later become more well known to Broncos players, fans and staff when he became the Raiders' head coach and eventually their owner and general manager.
A brush with death
In 1980, as the team moved closer to selecting its 20th anniversary team, sportscaster Bob Martin traveled to Texas to speak with Gonsoulin. While there, Martin recalled Gonsoulin's talent — and one particular tale that stuck out in his mind — in a conversation with the Port Arthur News.
"Goose played the game as a contact sport," Martin said. "Fans remember how he used to stick it to people on the football field. He just knocked the jock off opponents for seven years. If you're a genuine Bronco fan, you'll never forget the day he tackled Billy Cannon so hard he swallowed his tongue. I was afraid Goose was going to die on the spot."
That description was apparently no exaggeration. A 1962 Post story the day after that game against the Oilers tells the tale:
Nursing the sorest finger in Denver Monday — and happy about it — was Fred Posey, quick-acting trainer for the Denver Broncos professional football team.
Posey had to jam his right index finger into the mouth of defensive back Austin (Goose) Gonsoulin Sunday when the player swallowed his tongue after a hard collision with Houston's Billy Cannon.
Normally, Posey carries an oral screw for just such an emergency, but someone snatched it from his hand as he, Coach Jack Faulkner and linebacker Wahoo McDaniel worked feverishly to save Gonsoulin's life.
Gonsoulin unwittingly bit deeply into Posey's finger, but the trainer figured it was all in a day's work and well worth whatever pain went with it.