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Sacco Sez: Why the Broncos owe the Dodgers


While the Los Angeles Dodgers are here to play the Colorado Rockies for the opening weekend of the MLB season, I doubt that many fans are aware of the connection the Dodgers — in this case the Brooklyn Dodgers — had in Denver getting a pro football team in the first place.

This is a true story, and it all happened between 1950 and 1959.

The minor league Denver Bears baseball team were owned by Bob Howsam, who took over running it by the age of 30 at around the start of the decade.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers were seeking a new stadium in Brooklyn. At around the same time, Texas millionaire Lamar Hunt was calling and meeting regularly with National Football League and Chicago Cardinals officials about buying the Cardinals and moving them to his beloved Dallas.

No luck.

Hunt was rebuffed at every turn by the NFL.

Then came 1957, and a lot of stars came together in the sky. Pro sports would never be the same.

The Dodgers decided to move cross country to Los Angeles, and all the better to continue a geographic rivalry, the New York Giants joined them in going to California, moving to San Francisco. Just like that, New York City went from two National League teams to zero. The fan base was crushed, and many fans remain bitter to this day.

But loss also brings opportunity.

A group of minor league baseball officials decided to form a third major league, the Continental League, with key franchises in New York, Houston and one in Denver.

In anticipation of that, Howsam built an expansion to Bears Stadium in the form of the now-famous south stands. His park now would be able to seat about 25,000, and by the end of the decade, it would seat much more than that.

Meanwhile, Hunt had given up on the NFL and was beginning to put together his own football league, the American Football League.

Elsewhere, the lords of baseball were getting very nervous about the competition that the Continental League would bring, so they decided to expand, delivering new franchises in several of the cities that the Continental League planned to serve, included New York and Houston — but not Denver.

Of course, this blew the Continental League out of the water and left Howsam with a white elephant stadium. The league soon disbanded, especially with New York soon to receive a new National League team, the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, aka the Mets.

Howsam's decided the solution was to expand the season — in this case by adding a football season. He thought that if he could get into Hunt's new football league he could mitigate the financial costs of his stadium expansion, which had already been concluded.

So Howsam met with Hunt at Denver's Brown Palace Hotel, and it was agreed upon that Denver would have a franchise in the AFL.

This was in 1959, when the Dodgers won the World Series, and a year before the Broncos and Mets began. The Mets, by the way, incorporate Dodgers white and blue, and Giants black and orange into their team colors.

And Howsam went on to work first for the St. Louis Cardinals and then as the legendary general manager of the legendary "Big Red Machine," the Cincinnati Reds.

I had several opportunities to meet and talk with his later in life, including when we put up a plaque to Bob at Empower Field at Mile High.

He was not only the Broncos' founder but a kind, gentle and sincere man. Bob Howsam was a career baseball man who created what became one of the leading franchises in the NFL.

The Broncos had rough early years — actually, a rough first decade — before ascending to the championship greatness that they long had and to which fans expect them to soon return.

But when you are watching the Rockies take on the Dodgers, either from Coors Field seats or from the comfort of your living room, temper your vitriol toward the Dodgers with memories of 1957, when they had a legitimate role in the genesis of the Denver Broncos.

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