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Sacco Sez: The founding fathers of the Broncos


This is our celebration of the President's Day weekend, and it seems like whenever you turn on the television there are commercials announcing the great sales to celebrate this holiday.

With that in mind, and just for the fun of it, I thought we might take a look at my opinion of who the Denver Broncos' founding fathers might be, limiting this group to just four to match America's fabled Mount Rushmore.

I am not saying these are the only great personages in Broncos history. Certainly, any fan can name as many as a couple dozen all-time greats in franchise history.

Hall of Famers, Ring of Famers, we have them all.

But again, just for the fun of it, I am listing four people who go back to the near-beginnings, or certainly to that period before the Broncos were the shining franchise that it is today.

So, minus any drumroll, my four are all Ring of Famers, and in chronological order of roles with the team, they are: Gerald H. Phipps, Floyd Little, John Elway and Pat Bowlen.

The Broncos were founded by Bob Howsam in 1959, but he soon sold his stock in 1961 to Empire Sports, a consortium of nearly 20 local businessmen.

But the Broncos were on shaky financial ground from the moment of conception, and by late 1964, the consortium had had enough red ink.

The team was about to be sold to an Atlanta group (this was before the Falcons), and the Broncos' ownership group met downtown to discuss that option. Then Gerry Phipps put a stop to the discussion. With a seven-figure loan in hand, he bought Empire Sports' 52-percent share in the Broncos, thus giving him and his brother Allan nearly 100-percent ownership and saving the Broncos franchise for Denver.

It was Pat Bowlen's personal decision to put Gerry Phipps into the team's Ring of Fame, and I remember the young owner saying, "Without Gerry Phipps, there are no Broncos, I do not own a team in Denver and we are not sitting here today."

That was the absolute truth, so Gerry Phipps is my first founding father.

Next came Floyd Little, Ring of Famer, Hall of Famer, and the first number-one draft choice ever signed by the Broncos, following the 1967 draft.

Besides being perhaps the best back in pro football during his era, Little was a team captain every year (nine years from 1967-75) and earned the nickname, "The Franchise," given to him by sports columnist Dick Connor of The Denver Post, and by this author.

Over the years, when people have asked my how fast Floyd was, I have always answered that his speed was very good, especially considering he was carrying an entire time zone on his back.

And his greatness as a player has always been exceeded by his leadership and personal qualities.

So, Floyd Little is my second founding father.

The third one might seen too current, for it is John Elway, but that is only because he has been the face of the franchise for so long that we sometimes lose sight of how long ago his time here began.

John was drafted by Baltimore (the Colts) and traded to Denver in 1983, so this is his 37th year in the Mile High City. Just fathom for a moment that this is the 60th year of play for the Broncos, and Elway came here before season number 24.

That is a long run, defined by a Hall-of-Fame career in which he not only reached the halls of Canton, but any debate places him among the half-dozen greatest quarterbacks of all time and hence among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And when he could have left for any and all beaches, he didn't. Elway stayed here in retirement and when Pat Bowlen beckoned him home to run our football operations, he did so, and guided the team to two more Super Bowls, winning one.

Before Elway, one losing Super Bowl appearance. With Elway, as quarterback or general manager, seven trips and three world championships.

I do not think one is stretching fact by saying John Elway has been the face of both the franchise and the city for what is now four decades.

So, John Elway is my third founding father.

My fourth is a given, and it is Pat Bowlen.

I won't even bother to recite the now well-known litany of accomplishments as owner of the team, but instead I will just note than nothing happens without the owner.

He provides the money, and also, theoretically, the direction, the fire, and the passion. Only in Pat's case, it has never been theoretical, but as real as real can get.

He has led in all those ways and more, including being the father of Sunday Night Football on a national level, and the driving force behind a beautiful stadium that has been the home for his Broncos for nearly 20 years.

Pat came here just one year after Elway, and they put a stamp on this team together.

A Ring of Famer, like the other three on this list, Mr. B will take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year as well.

This is the celebration of the 100th year of the National Football League, the 60th year of the team (with Pat Bowlen in his 36th year of ownership), and the 50th year of the Broncos' home sellout streak.

And it is the year Mr. B goes into the Hall of Fame.

So, Pat Bowlen is my fourth founding father, having taken this franchise to levels unimaginable when he first arrived on the scene.

These are my founding fathers of the Denver Broncos, and while many fans have different favorites, it is not possible to downplay the impact of each of these four on pro football in the Mile High City.

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