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Legend and Legacy: Finding quarterbacks

Take a look through some of the Broncos' past quarterbacks drafted in their history.

Pro football fans nationwide are fully immersed in "Draftmania," and everyone is wondering how and at what positions their teams will improve.

But the position in the National Football League is quarterback. And you know it when you see it. But the trick of it is, you have to look everywhere, not just in the draft, for that elusive franchise maker.

When Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and so many others were singing "I've been everywhere, man..." in the 1960's they likely were not thinking about the draft.

However, they could very well have been describing pro football personnel people, from general managers like John Elway to the scouts who live on the road for six months of the year.

They've been everywhere, man, and they all know that talent is where you find it and you get it how you get it.

The Denver Broncos have had more success than just about any other franchise, so let's take a look at where our quarterbacks came from.

It is not always via the draft, and sometimes your number one gets it done for someone else, and vice versa.

The platinum standard for two to three generations have been John Elway and Peyton Manning, and Denver has been so fortunate to have both.

But as we all know, while each was the very first selection in the draft, Elway was taken by Baltimore, and came to the Broncos via trade, and Manning of course was the top choice in Indianapolis (the Colts have had an eerie history of big quarterback names) and signed with Denver as a free agent—by Elway, of course.

One of the greatest signings in NFL history, and the acquisition of both Elway and Manning stand, in my opinion, as two of the four greatest moments in team history.

The very first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season was the Broncos' Frank Tripucka in 1960, and Frank was a number one draft choice, all right — by Philadelphia in 1949.

But besides the Eagles, he played for Detroit, the Chicago Cardinals, Dallas Texans (the original ones, preceding even the AFL), and in Canada for Saskatchewan (twice) and Ottawa before coming to Denver.

"I've been everywhere, man..."

You never know where you get one, just grab him and hold on when you can.

Elway and Tripucka are Ring of Famers; Manning, like Elway, is a certain Hall of Famer, but the Broncos have two other Ring of Fame quarterbacks, and neither was drafted by Denver.

Charley Johnson, quarterback of the first winning season in Denver history, was acquired by trade from Houston, and Craig Morton by trade from the New York Giants.

Of course, Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler were Bronco first rounders, but both are evidence that different talents do not always work out in the original locales.

The Broncos signed Jake Plummer as a free agent and he led Denver to the 1995 AFC championship game, but every trade or free agent signing does not work out like the examples of Elway and Manning.

Former Denver head coach Lou Saban was so desperate for a quarterback, and Steve Tensi of the San Diego Chargers looked so perfect on paper, that Saban traded two number ones to San Diego for Tensi.

Unfortunately, it turned out that quarterbacks needed pass protection. Tensi never got any, and his brilliant talent just was swallowed up in a sea of recurring injuries to the body and crushing damage to a confident psyche.

Booed mercilessly by Denver fans, Tensi historically had his best games on the road. He could have been somebody, to paraphrase Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront," but the supporting cast was just so shaky on the offensive line.

Even before Tensi, the Broncos once traded an All-AFL defensive tackle, Bud McFadin, and a number one draft choice to the Houston Oilers just to "borrow" Jacky Lee for two seasons.

Really. He had to be sent back to Houston after two years. The Oilers just sent him to Denver for seasoning. He gained the cynical nickname, "Lend Lease Lee," but frankly turned out to be a bust.

Sometimes they just do.

The message is just that you never ever know for sure. You go by the scouts, the tape measure, film and eyeball test, the big game situations and interviews at the combine.

Then you roll the dice.

And sometimes it happens after the draft, like trading for John Elway, or right after free agency begins, like John Elway signing Peyton Manning.

But for those of us watching, or working and watching like I did for so many years, you cross your fingers and root for the laundry. Some guys have worn a lot of different teams' uniforms, and you hope the final line of "I've been everywhere, man..." turns out to be here and now, however that precious commodity arrived.

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