As the Denver Broncos continue to have their off-season workouts, many stories are being written and broadcast about the excitement generated by new players and position battles.
Reading and listening got me to thinking back, so I thought I might mention some of my favorite memories from this time of year.
First of all, the weather. Mother Nature does not have it in for the Broncos, it is just the Colorado weather in late spring. When Mike Shanahan was head coach he eventually moved the official mini-camp to a time period just a few weeks before regular training camp began, noting that whenever it is scheduled in May, it rains or snows.
I cannot help but think of four individuals who made indelible impressions during these camps, back in the day before the National Football League and the Players Association had the same agreements as they do currently.
I remember a camp like this as the first time I got a look at Keith Bishop, by far one of the toughest and most underrated offensive linemen in Broncos history. Keith was the perfect example of the strong, silent, "man's man" from Texas, and I will never forget the first time I saw him leave a mini-camp practice field, walking toward the locker room from a hundred yards away. He had taken off his pads and was carrying them over his shoulder like a cowboy carrying his saddle in a western movie, with the different being that Keith was shirtless.
Years later, the Broncos found themselves backed up to their own one-yard line, when Bishop said in the huddle, "We got 'em right where we want 'em." "The Drive," would follow, and the Broncos would win the the 1986 AFC championship game in Cleveland.
I remember when the fastest time run by a rookie at the first-year player camp was by a guy named Steve Watson. None of the press had ever heard of him, but they all wanted to talk to him. I had a huge roster of what seemed like 50 to 60 players, and it said he went to Temple. So we all went looking for a small, quick defensive back.
After all, he had the fastest time, right?
I located him sitting against a storage shed catching his breath, and that moment is still vivid to me now. He stood up and was lithe, lean and cut at 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds. Impressive at first sight, Watson proved to be an outstanding receiver and was an excellent special teams player until he simply proved too valuable to use as a gunner.
And my final memory for this column is of John Elway. The Duke. The No. 1 draft choice and the most publicized quarterback to come out of the draft since Joe Namath.
The Denver weather was terrible for the mini camp in 1983, and the forecast was worse. So the decision was made to bus the whole team down to the Air Force Academy for the first day of drills. Hence, the first passes John Elway threw as a Bronco were not even in Denver, but at the Falcons' indoor field house just north of Colorado Springs – which remains a little-know piece of trivia.
Greatness was predicted, but he exceeded those expectations in a Hall of Fame career. Only basketball's Jerry West would also be inducted into the Hall of Fame, lead his team to a world title and then return as general manager and lead that same franchise to another world title.
Of course, also on the field at the Air Force Academy that day was an intelligent, studious young man who would spend the next nine years playing quarterback behind Elway, and who today has four Super Bowl rings as player and coach, Gary Kubiak.
Never dismiss what you read, hear or see from young players at a camp. You never know when the next Gary Kubiak, Keith Bishop or Steve Watson will be walking off the practice field.