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Sacco Sez: Training camp tales from Broncos history

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The Denver Broncos are on the verge of opening one of the most highly anticipated training camps in team history.

Just recently, 9NEWS' Mike Klis reported that in a team-bonding effort, veterans will join rookies and other younger players at the team hotel for camp. Watching the published reports thus far, this seems like a team that has bonded so far and all indications are that the veterans are embracing the concept.

It's not always been the case that the team stay together during camp, as each coaching staff takes different approaches. But decades ago, that was how the team operated — but not out of choice.

Back when the Broncos began in 1960, their first training camp was at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. Those first two camps were memorable mostly for their spartan nature. The players did not have their own rooms, but rather slept on cots in the school gym.

The meals were best described as hash served by the dining staff and notable as being whatever the Broncos could afford, which was next to nothing.

The Broncos had a coaching staff of three, including head coach Frank Filchock, and his practices very much resembled touch football games back then. I realize the reader might say this cannot be, but it was.

The team trained at Colorado State University in Fort Collins from 1962-64, a decision by new head coach Jack Faulkner, who also presided over the team changing colors to orange and blue and who created the first playbook in Broncos history.

But they were back at Mines for the 1965 and 1966 seasons. Of special note was that Denver Bears (the Triple-A baseball team) general manager Jim Burris served in the same role for the Broncos during that period, in an effort for the team to save money. It did not work out.

The team moved out of its headquarters at the Quonset hut and into the 5700 Logan address in 1967, and they had training camp at team headquarters from 1967-71.

So this is not the first era in which the team had training camp at headquarters. All the players stayed at the Merchandise Mart Hotel, from which they could easily walk to practice.

Lou Saban was the head coach, and he deserves special citation for bringing the franchise out of the stone age, but he had a lot of work to do. They had never had a winning season to that point.

I remember driving over to watch the training camp practices there, and there was genuine excitement to be able to see the team up close. Fans, like I was at the time, could stand next to the chain-link fence of the facility and see all, hear all and develop real emotional bonds with the team.

I remember well that Adams County officers initially ticketed every car because every car was parked illegally. That prompted the Broncos to place a call to an unelected but powerful Adams County official (and in terms of full disclosure, a relative) saying that it was harmful to our newly growing fan base. Sure enough, Adams County sheriffs arrived and took all the tickets off all the automobiles. No one who parked there for practice was ever ticketed again.

When Lou gave up the ghost and resigned, the Broncos reached out to the West Coast and hired John Ralston, who was here from 1972-76.

In his first four seasons, he decided that training camp should be in California, at Cal Poly-Pomona. The Broncos did not have many (or any) fans at training camp practices then, but it was the height of professionalism at the time in pro football.

They returned to Colorado and to CSU from 1976-81, and those were the first camps that I attended as an employee.

Those were tough guys and a tough era. When the Broncos' first playoff team and Super Bowl team was being built, the Broncos were trying to make a trade for former CU Buffalo Mike Montler, who was unhappy with his current team, the Buffalo Bills.

When Denver completed the trade, Montler rode his bike from his Boulder home to Fort Collins. Before college, he had served a hitch in the United States Marine Corps, and he looked like a Marine. Only bigger. I remember when he played at CU, he looked like a man among boys, which really was pretty accurate.

A great guy, he took over the offensive line and started for the first Super Bowl season, including all playoff games.

In 1979, we had a kicker named David Jacobs, a 12th-round draft choice from Syracuse. He was a nice young guy, which those who know me know that "nice young guy" is a euphemism meaning that was the extent of his abilities.

Jacobs was having a fine camp before the veterans showed up. Nice practices, nice newspaper articles. Then came the arrival of kicker Jim Turner, snapper Bobby Maples and holder Norris Weese. I was there when Turner congratulated Jacobs on his success and announced that it was all over. The next day all the snaps and holds for Turner were perfect, and they were quite the opposite for Jacobs.

He was soon gone. In those days, a rookie had to overcome a lot to take the job of a popular veteran. It was intimidating and not an easy task.

I can remember the nights of curfew, and of players breaking curfew.

Defensive end Lyle Alzado did it often, always after bed check had been completed, and he made a point of squealing his brakes when he drove out of the parking lot.

I can remember head coach Red Miller asking the coach who had done bed check if everyone was in their rooms at the time of bed check. Receiving an affirmative answer, they continued with their meetings. The dominant philosophy of the time was that if someone could play, his level of play determined what was tolerated.

The Broncos trained at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley from 1982-2002, by far the longest consecutive stint at one location. We moved camp to our team headquarters in 2003, and it has remained there ever since.

It marked a new era of professionalism and tranquility in the NFL, and fewer stories of fewer characters here and elsewhere.

But one thing has been a constant throughout, and will be again: There are a lot of meetings and a lot of practices, but the teams with the best players win. And the teams with the best quarterbacks win the most of all.

That pretty much describes the 2022 Broncos, which is why that hillside from which fans watch practice will be packed this year, and the adjacent team store is already gearing up for massive business.

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