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Broncos mourn passing of former RB and 1973 first-round pick Otis Armstrong


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Former Broncos running back and the team's 1973 first-round pick, Otis Armstrong, has passed away.

Armstrong passed away on Wednesday, surrounded by family and loved ones. He was 70 years old.

Armstrong, whom the Broncos selected with the ninth-overall pick, played eight seasons for the Broncos from 1973-1980. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and a 1974 first-team All-Pro as he recorded 4,453 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns and 131 catches for 1,302 receiving yards over his career. He also returned 37 kickoffs for 879 yards.

He ranks fourth in franchise history in rushing attempts and rushing yards, and his 1974 season represents the seventh-highest rushing total ever posted by a Bronco.

Soon after the team drafted him in 1973, then-offensive coordinator Max Coley called Armstrong "a young Floyd Little," according to a Denver Post article. Armstrong quickly identified himself as one of the fastest players on the team.

"He's on the 'blur' side of the 4.4 in the 40-yard dash," former head coach John Ralston told the Denver Post at the time.

In 1974, Armstrong's finest season as a Bronco, he started 14 games and averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 100.5 yards per game as he posted 1,407 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He was the league's 1974 season rushing leader with that total, and the mark set a new franchise single-season record that lasted for more than 20 years.

Armstrong's 1974 season was made more impressive by a late surge, as he rushed for more than 140 yards in four consecutive games to end the year.

"Right now he is probably the best back in football," Oakland linebacker Dan Conners told the Denver Post after Armstrong rushed for 146 yards to start that stretch.

The following week, after he ran for 144 yards against the Lions to cross the 1,000-yard mark for the season, future Hall of Famer Floyd Little was waiting for Armstrong as he exited the field and handed him the game ball.

"Welcome to the thousand-yard club," said Little, according to the Denver Post.

Armstrong tallied seven games with at least 100 yards that season, including a 183-yard, three-touchdown performance against Houston in Week 13.

He went over the 1,000-yard mark again in 1976, and he also made 10 starts and scored four touchdowns in 1977, as the Broncos advanced to the franchise's first Super Bowl.

Armstrong joined the Broncos after a highly successful career at Purdue University. He remains the school's all-time leader in rushing attempts, and his 3,315 career rushing yards ranked first in Big Ten history and sixth in NCAA history when he finished his career. Armstrong currently ranks third in school history in career rushing yards and second and sixth in single-season rushing yards.

His 276-yard performance against Indiana in 1972 remains the school's best mark for a single-game rushing performance. Armstrong finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting that year as he rushed for 1,361 yards, and he was named a consensus All-American and the Big Ten MVP. The former first-team all-conference player also earned the Swede Nelson Award for his sportsmanship during his collegiate career.

Armstrong was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He has also been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (2014), the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame (2005) and the Purdue Athletics Hall of Fame (1997). He also was named a member of Purdue's all-time team in 1987.

Born in Chicago and a Farragut High School graduate, Armstrong lived in the Denver area with his wife for decades after his career with the Broncos.

Armstrong's family has asked that all cards be sent to Fairmount Mortuary, 430 S. Quebec Street, Denver, CO 80247. In lieu of flowers, they have requested donations to the Otis Armstrong Scholarship Fund to honor Armstrong's memory. To donate, text GIVE to 312-809-5226.

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