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Sacco Sez: Lots of numbers in camp, but don't forget Johnny O


The long-awaited moment is here!

Every NFL team has now opened training camp, and fans in Denver and elsewhere are filling the hillsides (or their equivalent, depending on locale), attentively watching and ultimately buying all manner of jerseys and memorabilia.

Of course, the most popular jersey in Denver is the Russell Wilson jersey, both in replica and authentic. The No. 3 T-shirts are most popular as well.

Recently, some sportswriters have written about jersey numbers, with several choosing who they think is the best player at each number for their respective teams.

Just about every uniform number imaginable is being worn by one Broncos player or another, with the exceptions of 7 (retired for John Elway), 18 (retired for Frank Tripucka and Peyton Manning), 44 (retired for Floyd Little) and 24 (not retired, but not in use after being worn for so long by Champ Bailey).

But there is one other number that quick research tells me is not being worn by any player in any camp for any team.

That is number zero.

It was once worn by a Bronco, and while he was just playing his final year of pro football here in 1962, he was a legend in his earlier college and NFL days. That player was "Johnny O," Johnny Olszewski.

I think it is safe to say that no fan or media member has ever heard of him.

He initially wore 33 and 36 as a pro but eventually switched the one number that was also like a letter, that being the first letter of his last name.

Olszewski was a fullback who played his prep football at St. Anthony High School in San Francisco and then was a scholarship player at the University of California-Berkeley. He was a great running back and kick returner for the Cal Bears, so much so that in the 1953 NFL draft he was the fourth player taken overall.

Before coming to Denver he played for the Chicago Cardinals, Washington and Detroit.

Olszewski was selected to play in the Pro Bowl following the 1953 and 1955 seasons, back in the day when the Pro Bowl was one of the highest honors that an NFL player could have.

While his given name was John, with his selection of jersey number zero, to match his last name, he was universally and just about only known as "Johnny O."

He concluded his career with the 1962 Broncos, the first Denver team to not finish with a losing record.

Olszewski played a reserve role for the Broncos, rushing for 114 yards and catching 13 passes for 150 more, including a touchdown.

He still had speed and returned three kickoffs for the Broncos in a reserve role.

And then it was over. He never played again.

His pro totals were rather humble, 4,308 total yards from scrimmage (3,320 rushing yards and 988 receiving), with 19 touchdowns. Of course, that was back in the days of the 12-game schedule, but his college stats were more dramatic.

That was back in the day when a West Coast star might have been overlooked at the other end of the country, but he was huge in California.

He remains high on the Cal lists for yards gained with 2,504, and he was inducted into the California Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.

He was known for his rushing ability, physique, speed and, above all, was one of those guys whose very name was transcendent of his abilities.

I have no idea when or if another Bronco will ever wear number zero, but once upon a time we had Johnny O.

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