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In This Week… 1965

The Denver Broncos website has continuous great content on the current activities of the team, and so I am going to do a weekly series of blogs reflecting back on some historical event that happened "in this week."

Fans can read fast, or not at all, but some might enjoy a quick look back at a historical moment that has its anniversary this week.

Back in 1965 the Broncos came very close to being sold to a group that would have moved the team to Atlanta, Georgia.

That did not happen because Gerry Phipps stepped forward, and along with his brother Allen (who was in fact out of the country on vacation at the time) bought out the other owners and literally saved the franchise for Denver.

That single moment, by the way, is why Gerry Phipps in the only  non-owner in the Ring of Fame—because Pat Bowlen put him there, because Gerry (he was always Mr. Phipps to me) saved the team.

Fans were so excited they began to buy up season tickets like crazy, which had never happened before.

The Phippses purchased the team on February 15, and by April 1 season ticket sales were at 20,000—and at the time the Broncos still played in Bears Stadium, capacity of which was 35,000—so the season ticket number was not only impressive here but was the highest total in the American Football League.

The Phippses also owned the Denver Bears baseball team, and in what seemed like a good idea at the time, on May 29—48 years ago this week—Bears General Manager Jim Burris was also named general manager of the Denver Broncos.

The logic in the appointment was that it was best if the two teams consolidated as much as possible.

So Jim Burris, who was my first boss in pro sports—but in baseball with the Bears, not with the Broncos—held dual general manager roles for two seasons, until the brothers Phipps took the first step toward franchise respectability nationally by appointing Lou Saban to the dual role of Head Coach/General Manager on December 19, 1966.

The hiring of Saban, who was given a ten-year contract by the Broncos, returned Burris to his baseball responsibilities, which Jim often told me was by far his most natural fit and a most comfortable and welcome move for him.

Jim often said those were the most taxing two seasons of his career in terms of paperwork, meetings, hassles, and dealing with characters.

As a baseball GM Burris led the Bears to several American Association championships, including one when I was there in 1977, securing my first championship ring.

Jim Burris is in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame for his legendary baseball career.

In football, the big teams continued to chew up the lesser franchises for the 1965 season, and the Broncos were as "lesser" as teams came during that time period.

The Broncos finished a woeful 4-10 in both 1965 and 1966.

The most notable character in that time period was Cookie Gilchrist, one of the great players of all time but a unique guy with a different perspective. He was All-AFL in 1965 and showed up to the team's training camp in Golden, Colorado driving a gold Cadillac.

Cookie was a great fullback and a fine placekicker as well.

Upon his arrival Burris told Cookie that the team planned to use him as both fullback and placekicker, and Cookie said something like, "That's great.  I get two separate contracts, right?  Tow jobs, two salaries?

Needless to say, Cookie never tried a field goal for the miserly Broncos, and Gary Kroner handled the placekicking all year.

Jim Burris loved to tell that story, and he had a never ending supply of tales from both baseball and football, due to his tenure as dual GM that began this week five decades ago!