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Sundays with Sacco: Patriot days

Relive the Broncos vs. Patriots series history with photographs dating to the first game in AFL history on Sept. 9, 1960.

One of the things that develops naturally when a team is as successful as the New England Patriots have been for the past two decades is that fans think of them only as they are now. The memory reflex for the past gets weaker.

But there has indeed been a past, a long and interesting history that the Denver Broncos and New England (née Boston) Patriots have shared, starting since the franchises were born in 1960.

This is the 50th meeting between the Broncos and Patriots, combining regular and postseason play.

They met in the first game in American Football League history, as many fans know.

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The kickers in that first game were Broncos Ring of Famer Gene Mingo and Gino Cappelletti for the Patriots. Gino did radio for many years, and it was a personal joy of mine to bring the two old kickers together at the center of the field as honorary captains when we played each other here in the 50th anniversary season of the AFL.

While we both play in beautiful new stadiums now, the two teams have faced each other in Bears Stadium (which was in Denver), University of Denver Hilltop Stadium (long since torn down), Mile High Stadium, Boston University Field, Fenway Park (yes, and four times, at that), and we have even matched up in preseason play in Providence (Rhode Island), Jacksonville (way, way before the Jaguars) and even at Ute Stadium on the University of Utah campus.

The Broncos are 28-21 overall (regular and postseason games) and 19 of those wins have come here in Denver.

In fact, over a span of 30 years from 1969 through 1998, the Patriots never won in Denver and the Broncos beat them here all 11 times they played.

Fans also now recognize the stylish uniform of today, but some might remember that the Pats once wore red as their primary color in a red, white and blue combination that featured one of the most popular and unique logos in pro football -- the muscular, determined patriot militiaman in the center position about to snap the football.

The first coach in Patriots history was the much traveled Lou Saban, who coached the team in 1960 but was fired midway through the 1961 season.

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He went on to win two AFL championships as head coach of the Buffalo Bills and was the Broncos' general manager and head coach from 1967 until 1971.

Saban is rightly credited as the first coach in Denver history to elevate the entire franchise to a league-wide level of respectability, even though the team's first winning season would come following Saban's tenure here.

They started off as the Boston Patriots, of course, but changed their name to New England Patriots in 1971.

The original owner was a former Notre Dame public relations man, Billy Sullivan, who, like all AFL owners, "bought" his team with a $25,000 letter of credit and was one of the original eight AFL owners, dubbed "The Foolish Club."

None of them looks very foolish today.

The development of the Broncos as one of the cornerstone franchises in the National Football League had a strong Patriot connection, as Red Miller, who led Denver to Super Bowl XII in that very first playoff season in 1977, came to the Broncos (his second stint in Denver) from the position of offensive coordinator in New England.

Red's quarterback coach back in 1977 was Babe Parilli, "The Sweet Kentucky Babe" of Kentucky fame, who started his pro career in the 1950s and was the Boston quarterback from 1961 through 1967.

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In 1978, my first year with the Denver Broncos, future Broncos general manager John Beake shared an office at the very back of the 5700 Logan Street "complex" with an extremely bright young coach named Bill Belichick.

John has had an NFL career that began with his first days with the Kansas City Chiefs in the late 1960s, included five Super Bowl showings as the Broncos GM and most recently has been involved in being a consultant for the league office, while Bill has gone on brilliant success and fame with the Patriots.

But I still remember the two men sharing that tiny office at the old facility.

In the current era, of course, these matchups feature premiere teams and have often been thought of as "Manning vs. Brady," but so much more came before, even though those early days are obscured by the spectacle of the game today.

But before now came to be, there once was then.

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