Denver Broncos | News

Sacco Sez: It all starts with the first game

Before the team's road trip to Chicago for their preseason opener, the Broncos got in its 13th day of training camp practices.

The World Champion Denver Broncos will kick off the 2016 National Football League season in Chicago on Thursday night.

The start of every new season is always exciting, but most people think of the start as the first regular season game. Hence, the game at Chicago, and every other team's first game, is often referred to, inaccurately, as a "meaningless preseason game." But it never is.

It certainly is not meaningless to the young players seeking roster spots, the veterans on the bubble hoping to stay ahead of the young guys or to the coaches and personnel people making decisions that will help build a team. The team that won Super Bowl 50 was not forged the week preceding the game, but one year ago, at practices just like those this week and in games just like the one at Chicago.

History is laden with significant moments from first games just like the one in Chicago, and here are just a few examples from the Broncos' past.

Going back to the final camp scrimmage of the first year (even less meaningful than the first preseason game, theoretically) at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden in 1960, head coach Frank Filchock bemoaned his lack of talent at quarterback and asked quarterback coach Frank Tripucka to put on the pads and "give the fans a show."

Tripucka did and stayed in at quarterback for the year. He and Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas became the first passers in history to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season, and Tripucka is now in the Broncos' Ring of Fame.

In 1967 the Broncos became the first American Football League team ever to defeat an NFL team, beating Detroit in the first home game of Lou Saban's tenure as head coach.  This might have been the only preseason game in history in which the head coach literally was carried off the field on the shoulders of fans.  I was there, and you had to be there to experience the excitement.

In 1970, the Broncos kicked off preseason at Mile High Stadium for the first time ever, a 26-16 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.  It was the first game ever for the Broncos officially as members of the NFL, and fans in attendance could not have predicted the fantastic NFL success that lay before the former doormats of the AFL.

In both 1972 and 1973 the Broncos kicked off preseason in old RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C..  That stadium was not much, but consider that in Broncos' history, the first game had previously been played in Providence (Rhode Island), Midland (Texas), Atlanta (but against Houston, not the Falcons), Hilltop Stadium at the University of Denver, and Akron (Ohio), in a 1967 game officially dubbed the Rubber Bowl which Denver lost to Miami, 19-2 before 7,000 curious fans.

In 1977, fans got their first look at Craig Morton as Denver's quarterback, unaware that the preseason opening win over Baltimore was a sneak preview of the magical 1977 Super Bowl season.

In 1983, the first preseason game was the debut of John Elway at quarterback.  He played the entire second half in a 10-7 win over Seattle. I can still remember the buzz of anticipation in the Mile High Stadium crowd and press box beforehand, and the ovation, sprinkled with "oohs" and "ahs" as John trotted onto the home turf for the first time.

It was a "wow" moment, and it came in the first preseason game.

While John Elway was a past, present and forever superstar, you never know who will catch your eye, and more significantly, the eyes of Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak in Chicago.

In 2012, the preseason opener, also at Chicago's Soldier Field, was heavily anticipated as the debut of Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform — all know how that piece of history worked out.

The Broncos have thus played preseason openers at sites from Providence to Sydney, and with players as notable as John Elway and Peyton Manning, and as nondescript as many of the roughly two thousand men who donned Bronco colors for at least one preseason game, only to be cut from the roster soon thereafter.

The nobility of playing is there for every player.

However, NFL success is measured not by the cuts, but by those who go from the status of "Who is that guy?" to "I want to buy his jersey."

And that process begins this week in Chicago.