ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Whenever the Denver Broncos play the New England Patriots, some of us cannot help but think of the myriad connections between the two franchises, the common bond which they share over six decades.
The original owners, Bob Howsam in Denver and Billy Sullivan in Boston, were two of the eight men dubbed "The Foolish Club" for their investment in the American Football League.
That original investment was $25,000 by each man, in the form of a letter of credit. Quite a chance from today.
Howsam was owner of the Denver Bears baseball team (my first sports employer), and Sullivan had been the public relations chief at Notre Dame.
Now, of course, Pat Bowlen and Robert Kraft preside over billion dollar franchises and each man is a legitimate candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame—Mr B in particular, in my opinion.
These two teams played the very first game in AFL history against each other—interestingly, the Broncos also had played our very first preseason game, hence, the first game in team history, versus the Patriots as well.
Gene Mingo, one of the Broncos' newest Ring of Famers, made history by returning a punt for the winning touchdown in that first game.
Mingo of the Broncos went on to lead the AFL in scoring in 1960 and 1962, while Gino Cappelletti of the Patriots led the AFL in scoring in 1961, 1963 and 1964.
The Broncos will face the Patriots in Gillette Stadium this week, a fabulous facility in the lines of all modern National Football League structures today.
But aside from Gillette and the previous Patriots home, Foxboro/Sullivan Stadium, the venue in which the Broncos and Patriots most often played, amazingly, was Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox.
The two teams played at Fenway for five straight years.
In those early years they played the Denver games in Bears Stadium, where the east stands were a structure made entirely of wood.
Literature from the day suggests that the Patriots literally took the cask from home games to the bank in a cigar box, and the players for both teams rushed to cash their checks as soon as they received them.
Both teams now are annual contenders for the world championship, but the early history of both was devoid of titles.
When the Broncos went to the Super Bowl for the first time, following the Orange Crush-sparked 1977 season, the head coach was Red Miller.
Red of course had previously been an assistant on the Denver staff, but he had most recently been the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.
Then, when Red was the Broncos' head coach, one of the young men who worked for him back in 1978 was Bill Belichick, now the legendary coach of the Patriots!
A fine quarterback in the Patriots' early years, during the 1960's, was Babe Parilli ("The Sweet Kentucky Babe") who had been a college legend at Kentucky. Then, when the Broncos went to the Super Bowl for that first trip, Red's quarterback coach here in Denver was Parilli.
Much has been made of the rivalry between future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
A tremendous rivavly, for sure, but just one of the string of connections that tie together these two AFL originals.
When kickoff happens Sunday, there will be a sellout crowd as always seems to be the case—the Broncos at home are in our 45th year of consecutive sellouts—and a national television audience with the number one CBS broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the action for many millions of viewers.
The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are among the jewels of the National Football League today. And The Foolish Club sure does not look very foolish any more.