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Sacco Sez: The Broncos' illustrious history with underdogs making it through roster cuts  


This is an exciting time for every NFL team, with final roster decisions being considered right now. That consists not only of the roster cuts but also last-minute roster additions.

And if there is one thing we know, it is that you never know.

You never know who is going to crash the roster, make it and move forward despite all odds.

Every NFL team has players who surprised everyone in training camp, and the Denver Broncos are no exception.

It has yet to be determined who will surprise everyone this year by making the roster and how dramatic that player's influence will be, but the Broncos have had their share of players like that in the past.

Chris Harris Jr. was an undrafted free agent from Kansas who earned a Super Bowl 50 ring and numerous NFL honors while with Denver, but he is merely a most recent example.

Let's take a quick look into the Broncos' past at a few other names who made their mark despite not even being given a pencil. We'll go all the way back to 1960 with a stop at 1964, but before then I will mention a few names that every fan knows.

Ring of Fame member Rod Smith was an undrafted free agent — it's hard to believe now, but no one took a flyer on him in the draft.

Also in the Ring of Fame is linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, who was the last pick by the Broncos in the 1983 draft. "When I was drafted, it was very late at night and I did not even get a call from a coach," Meck says. "Jenny Anne Cary [the personnel assistant] called me and welcomed me to Denver!"

A Hall of Fame cornerstone of our back-to-back Super Bowl teams was Terrell Davis, a late round draft choice from Georgia. I remember in training camp when head coach Mike Shanahan told me, "The press are starting to think Davis is going to make the team. He is not just going to make the team, he is going to start!"

And so he did, galloping his way to Canton.

Fan-favorite wide receiver Steve Watson was an undrafted free agent who worked his way to the Pro Bowl and was part of our 1980s Super Bowl trips, as were offensive linemen Keith Kartz and Dave Studdard.

Studdard had been drafted in the ninth round by the Baltimore Colts before being cut by them and coming to Denver, while Kartz joined us as a replacement player during the 1987 strike and was a superb technician and a very tough guy, earning a starting spot an center.

Out very first Super Bowl team had two starting linebackers who were free agents, future Pro Bowler Bob Swenson ("The California Kid") and Joe Rizzo.

Rizzo was the only NFL player in history from the Merchant Marine Academy, and Swenson was a superb linebacker who made the Broncos Top 100 Team.

Swenson was joined on the Top 100 Team by two other notable free agents, punter/wide receiver Billy Van Heusen, who still is the Broncos' all-time leader in career average yards per reception (20.5 yards per catch) and Ring of Fame member Gene Mingo, who did it all for Denver from 1960-63 after joining the team from the United States Navy.

Mingo is one of few Broncos who played service ball instead of college football, back in the day when those service teams were no match for most big time colleges.

But a list of surprise free-agent players for Denver cannot be complete without including the player known then as the "meanest man in pro football," John Bramlett. He had been a minor league baseball player in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but he did not exactly do things or behave in "the Cardinal Way," so after being booted out of their organization, he came to Denver as a linebacker candidate in 1965.

To be fair and honest, he was not only a very tough guy, but somewhat (somewhat?!?) of a bully and troublemaker.

He made the team, like a force of nature, and went to the American Football League All-Star Game and finished second to the New York Jets' Joe Namath in league Rookie of the Year voting. But Bramlett was tough to take, on and off the field, and he played just one more year for the Broncos before moving on to Miami, Boston and Atlanta.

His nickname was "The Bull," and I first met him in his retirement, after he had found religion and become both a minister and a most peaceful, charming man. Bramlett wrote a book in which he told it like it was regarding his life and conversion. The book is titled "Taming the Bull."

So from tough guys to Ring of Famers, and with plenty in between, a lot of players have shown up in Denver, taken the small chance they were given and become everything from all-stars to Hall of Famers.

The Broncos are right now in the process of finalizing their 2020 roster, and remember, you just never know.

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