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Sacco Sez: The greatest Valentine's Day present ever for Broncos Country

Allan Phipps and Gerald Phipps, seen together as part of an undated photo of the board of directors for Rocky Mountain Empire Sports.
Allan Phipps and Gerald Phipps, seen together as part of an undated photo of the board of directors for Rocky Mountain Empire Sports.

Before we put a wrap on Valentine's Day for 2021, how about if we take a look at the greatest Valentine's Day present that the residents of Broncos Country have ever received.

In this case, the gift is not roses or dinner, jewelry or well wishes. The gift came 56 years ago and set in motion everything that has come after that moment.

It was on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 1965, when Gerry Phipps saved the Denver Broncos for the city of Denver. His Valentine's Day gift was the Broncos themselves.

The first owner of the Denver Broncos, back in 1959, was Bob Howsam.

Within a year, Howsam had included a group that totaled nearly 20 of Denver's most prominent citizens, including his brother Lee and brothers Gerald and Allan Phipps.

But we have documented many times that the Broncos were terrible in those first several seasons, and the financial losses matched those in the standings.

Lots of losses, lots of red ink.

There were suitors for the Broncos from other cities, notably Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, and in the winter of 1965 there was a group in Atlanta that was offering what then was big money (reputed to be as much as $6 million) for the purchase of the Broncos.

And for those who do not know, these things can happen very fast when money is pushed to the center of the table.

I can remember reading The Denver Post daily for updates on the discussions — remember, there was neither the internet nor talk radio in those days — and it was reported that the Broncos' ownership consortium was meeting at a downtown hotel.

Gerry Phipps was the son of U.S. Senator Lawrence Phipps, and his mother founded the Denver Symphony, so the family had a long-standing commitment to the city and whatever might help make the city great.

The Broncos were awful, as Phipps well knew, his brother Allan was overseas on an extended vacation, and the other owners wanted to sell and get out from under the albatross of pro football ownership.

The discussions reached a head on Valentine's Day, and Phipps made an impassioned plea: What if he and his brother bought everybody out? Would the other members settle for coming out even and the Broncos stay in Denver?

They said yes. It was on Valentine's Day, 1965, when Gerry Phipps called the ownership representative in Atlanta to tell him the Broncos were no longer for sale. He and his brother Allan had purchased the team.

Gerry and the other owners worked out the details on Feb. 16 and 17, and the Phipps brothers owned the Broncos.

They actually purchased 52 percent of the stock of Empire Sports at that time, thus giving them virtually 100 percent ownership and saving the Broncos franchise for Denver. And let's repeat the last phrase in that sentence — "saving the Broncos franchise for Denver."

There were several immediate and long-term ramifications to that move, the single biggest Valentine's Day sports transaction in Colorado history.

Up until that point, the football team had not exactly been considered a civic treasure. But the move by Gerry was like a medical shock to the system.

On March 5, there was a record single-day sale of 941 season tickets. The season ticket drive goal of 20,000 sales was reached on April 1, and the final total reached 22,000 by May 1.  

In terms of perspective, in their first five seasons, the season ticket totals had only reached 8,000 once and the average annual total was under 6,000.

The Atlanta Falcons came into the National Football League as an expansion franchise shortly thereafter, the Broncos reached sellout status at old Bears Stadium and then at newly named and expanded Mile High Stadium, and the pro football merger was announced in 1966.

And Denver had a seat at the table, thanks to Gerry Phipps.

I personally will never forget the day in 1978 when Gerry paid a visit to our Denver Bears offices and told the Bears' general manager (my boss, and a member of the Broncos board of directors), "I am moving Jim Saccomano over to the Broncos in our PR department."

Nor will I forget the moment at a Ring of Fame meeting in May 1985 when Pat Bowlen made his only personal suggestion for membership in the Ring. "It would mean a lot to me, as owner, for us to put Gerry Phipps in the Ring of Fame this year."

He added, "No Gerry Phipps, no Broncos."

So Gerry went into the Ring of Fame in 1985 and the Broncos went on to fantastic success under Pat Bowlen, going to their first Super Bowl under Mr. B. the following season.

The Broncos have had great team success and have elevated the sports and civic status of Denver and the entire Rocky Mountain time zone with their fabulous success.

But it did not begin until the team was saved for Denver. 

Thanks much for the Valentine's Day gift, Mr. Phipps.

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