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Sacco Sez: How the Broncos got their name


The announcement this past week that the Washington team in the National Football League will now be known as the "Commanders" ends a brief period in which the former "Redskins" were known simply as the "Washington Football Team."

Fans do not usually focus on this, but team nicknames have been changed a lot over the years. Since 1960, the Titans became the Jets, the Texans became the Chiefs (after moving to Kansas City) and, more recently, the Oilers became the Titans (after a franchise move to Nashville) and the Browns became the Ravens (after moving to Baltimore).

There have been many others down through the years.

During the World War II years the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles merged into one team and were known as the Steagles. Going way back in NFL history, the Chicago Bears started off as the Chicago Staleys, and the Portsmouth Spartans became the Detroit Lions.

One team, though, that has never changed is the Denver Broncos.

The Denver team began play in the AFL in 1960, and in the year leading up to the inaugural season, there was a fan contest to determIne the name.

"Broncos was the nickname selected out of a statewide contest by Bob Howsam, the original owner of the American Football League franchise, with the help of a group of prominent citizens as judges," Joseph Sanchez wrote in The Denver Post in 1995. "Eight entrants submitted the name, but Ward M. Vining of Lakewood was declared the official winner of the contest, based on his 25-word essay explaining why it would best fit a football team based in Denver."

While the original mustard-and-brown colors would be reconsidered, the name clearly has needed no change.

"I don't remember exactly what he wrote," Howsam told Sanchez, "but we just felt that the name represented something of the West, and it was the type of name that would be popular in Denver and Colorado. It's really worked well over the years, and now whenever you see that white Bronco on top of the scoreboard on television, you always know who's playing."

Vining's daughter Micaela Grantham was interviewed by Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2006, and she said, "He wrote that broncos were tough and typified the West."

Vining was awarded season tickets and passes to watch practices in that inaugural 1960 season, but the longest-lasting reward was the pride that carried through to everyone in the family.

"For me, the thrill was that it was such a pleasure to my father," Vining's daughter Patricia Lunn told Schwab.

Now, 63 years after the AFL began, the AFC West is the only division in football that has the same four franchises that it began with back in 1960. Those four are the Broncos, the Chiefs (after moving from Dallas to KC), the Las Vegas Raiders (after moving from Oakland to Los Angeles, back to Oakland, and now finally to Las Vegas), and the Los Angeles Chargers (who moved to San Diego in 1961 and are now back in Los Angeles).

But only one of those franchises has never changed cities nor nicknames.

In good times and in bad, with plenty of ups and downs, the Denver franchise has remained in the Mile High City as the Broncos.

Now we have a new name for the team in Washington, and here in Denver, a new coach in Nathaniel Hackett, but the Broncos go on and on, with 2022 set to be the 53rd consecutive year of sellouts at Empower Field at Mile High.

The fan base here is as passionate as any in the NFL, and Broncos Country has come a long way from when Ward Vining first suggested that Denver's neophyte team be called the Broncos.

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