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Sundays with Sacco: Houston ... again

It happens very quickly once the National Football League preseason schedule begins. Teams go from no games played to a headlong dash into Saturday night in week two.

In the case of the Denver Broncos' visit to Houston this week, it is an obviously big moment as head coach Gary Kubiak returns to his home town as the leader of a team other than Houston for the first time.

But that got me to thinking, and I found it very interesting how many seminal moments, for Denver and myself personally, involve the city of Houston.

The Broncos' Ring of Fame honors those who have most impacted the franchise to be cemented in team history. (All photos from Denver Broncos photo archives unless noted as from AP Images)

Of no note to anyone but me, the very first professional game I ever saw was a minor league baseball game at Bears Stadium against the Houston Buffs. And fort most readers that might be the first reference they have ever read to the pro baseball team in Houston that preceded the Colt 45s, who preceded the Astros. That game was before Bears Stadium even had the south stands.

But after they were built and as the American Football League was founded, many are unaware that Lamar Hunt actually had an official "co-founder" of his new league, that being Bud Adams of Houston, who owned the Oilers franchise (later the Tennessee Titans).

In fact, the actual press conference announcing the formation of the AFL took place not in the Dallas offices of Lamar Hunt but in the headquarters suite of Bud Adams' oil empire in Houston.

Soon into the Broncos' existence (almost immediately, actually), when the AFL's Rocky Mountain entry was experiencing financial problems, several owners floated the idea of abandoning Denver for some other city. But Bud Adams quickly joined with Hunt in making it clear that the AFL would stay the course in Denver.

So every Broncos fan should say a quick, "Thanks, Bud."

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A very legitimate case can be made that Bud Adams has been overlooked as a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, particularly in light of both Hunt and fellow founder Ralph Wilson both having been elected.

On December 4, 1977 the Broncos clinched the first playoff berth in what has become an illustrious history, and of course it was via a win over Houston in the Astrodome.

I shall never forget the steamy 1978 night (even in the Astrodome, it seemed) of my very first game with the Broncos, a preseason contest against the Oilers and their rookie running back, future Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.

I still remember droplets of sweat actually falling within my shirt, the second shirt of the day, during the postgame press conferences.

Another Houston connection is that the August heat is always stifling, whether the head coach on the Denver side is Texas native son Gary Kubiak, or when the Oilers were led by fellow native Bum Phillips, minus his trademark cowboy hat (because he mother taught him never to wear a hat indoors)!

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When Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway was still in the midst of his Hall-of-Fame career he quarterbacked "The Drive II," a stirring 98-yard drive in a divisional round playoff game at Mile High Stadium in 1991, and of course that contest was against none other than the Oilers, themselves quarterbacked by future Hall of Famer Warren Moon. And of course who held for the game-winning kick but Gary Kubiak.

Of course, the connections go on and on. The Broncos just played a game before Warren Moon, who is the color announcer for the Seattle Seahawks.

And by the way, the radio booths in Seattle provided a matchup of two players who were active as NFL wide receivers as far back as 1976. Dave Logan of KOA was a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns in 1976 while the Seahawks' play-by-play voice Steve Raible was a rookie from Georgia Tech on that very first Seattle team in 1976.

Raible has been with them ever since, and he and Logan are two of the three play-by-play men in the NFL who played for their respective teams (Jimmy Cefalo of Miami is the third).

Not only does Kubiak return to Houston this weekend, but so does Alfred Williams, recruited out of Houston to the University of Colorado, where he helped lead the Buffaloes to an NCAA national championship before doing the same for the Broncos in the back-to-back Super Bowl championship years of 1997 and 1998. He returns as the color commentator on the channel 9 telecast.

But the story is Gary.

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A Houston native who stayed well within his roots, he was a tremendous quarterback at Texas A&M before being drafted by the Broncos in 1983, starting an association with the Mile High City that spanned the roles of player on three AFC championship teams, offensive coordinator on those magnificent Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII teams, and now a return to Denver. And this week it's a return to his Houston roots as the head coach of the Broncos.

It's amazing how so much of the Broncos comes back to Kubiak and Elway, but how so too Houston and its people have played major roles in Denver professional football.

In the NFL, as in life, the cycle does not shoot out into space, but it rather spins around and continually ties the pieces together.

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