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Sacco Sez: 50 years ago, the Broncos' future was saved

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The Denver Broncos are about to go into training camp as winners of Super Bowl 50, with all the legitimate bells and whistles that accompany this fantastic accomplishment. 

But 50 years ago this month, as camp was also approaching, Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders was very busy saving the Broncos' future in pro football, and one of his most trusted lieutenants in the fight was one of my dearest friends, Joanne Parker.

Joanne and I had lunch Tuesday, along with several other individuals who collectively represent about 350 years in football, and Al Davis and the summer of 1966 were among the topics of discussion. Joanne came to the Broncos in 1967 and was a vital front office cog until 1977 and we have remained close for five decades.

But she began her career as a secretary for the Boston Patriots in 1960, the first year of the American Football League, and both Miller (then more commonly known to the public as Bob Miller) and Collier were on that same Boston staff. 

Joanne was in Boston through 1964 then decided to head to San Francisco to live.  She had already known Davis, and after a year in business she became his private secretary with the Oakland Raiders.  

In the 1960's the financial battle for players was putting a tremendous strain on teams in both the National and American Football Leagues, and the small market teams (of which Denver was certainly one) were especially vulnerable.

Al Davis was named the commissioner of the AFL and he dispatched Parker to New York to "get us some office space." Of course, the AFL already had offices, but not quite to Davis's liking.

Joanne headed east with a short checklist--it had to be the top floor of a big building, for privacy and security reasons, and his office had to be in a corner farthest away from the most common space, the reception area. 

She got with a local realtor and found a property within one day, on Madison Avenue right down the street from the New York Jets' offices. There was no internet communication then, but Joanne called Al, described the offices, and he told her to sign the contract. So she set up the offices and Davis embarked on his plan against the NFL, setting out to sign their top players and assigning them to AFL teams. 

He had made arrangements with quarterbacks John Brodie of the 49ers and Roman Gabriel of the Rams and with tight end Mike Ditka of the Bears, all in short order. But while the AFL owners had empowered the 36-year old Davis to fight a war on their behalf, calm ownership voices like Lamar Hunt of Kansas City, Tex Schramm of Dallas and George Halas of Chicago were quietly working behind the scenes to forge a peace.

The merger was announced in June 1966, and the Broncos and most other AFL teams had futures that for the first time were guaranteed. Denver was set to play the 1966 season in Bears Stadium, one of the most primitive venues in pro football, but the city had its chance to have a viable pro football future, in great part to Davis and his aggressive secretary.

Davis usually was agitated about something, and despite the merger, he felt that Hunt had betrayed him by working on a behind-the-scenes settlement of the war, and when it was announced that Pete Rozelle would be commissioner of the pro football league rather than Davis, Al returned to the Raiders and his future acrimony with the Chiefs and the NFL offices have been well documented.

Sometimes the peace is not all that peaceful, but it is still imperative to get that peace, and certainly the Broncos, among others, could not have survived without the merger.

Fifty years ago this summer, when the Broncos were playing in a structure partially made of wood, no one would have predicted that Denver would be the toast of pro football as the champions of Super Bowl 50.

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