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Way Back When: Big Al, from a Bengal to a Bronco


There are not many people in the Denver area who are known by just their first names, or by a nickname.

One of these certainly is former Broncos defensive end Alfred Williams, now a prominent radio personality in the Mile High City.

He is one of those guys of whom one can say, "Alfred said this," or "Big Al said that."

In the Denver world of sports, you never have to say, "Alfred who?"

Most readers know that Colorado is the adopted home state for Alfred, Denver is his home and the Broncos are his team.

But it did not start out that way. His pro career began with the Cincinnati Bengals, but before that, when he was a high-school star in Houston, he was considering college visits and offers.

"I really was not considering the University of Colorado, but decided to stop over on the way to a visit to Arizona," Alfred recalls. "From my first drive to Boulder, the mountains in the background on a spectacular sunny day, and then the architecture at CU, I was hooked forever. Obviously, I did not go to Arizona, or anywhere but CU."

Seldom has anyone fallen for a region more completely than did Alfred.

He had a star-studded career at CU, where he was a member of the Buffs' national championship team, and his fondest wish as the NFL Draft approached was that he would be playing for the Denver Broncos.

But for the moment, that was not to be.

He was drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals, and he had four solid seasons in Cincinnati with 26.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. With free agency as part of the NFL landscape, Williams left the Bengals in 1995 and played one season with the San Francisco 49ers.

"The Bengals were very good to me," he says, "but I had it in my head that I wanted to get back to Denver. That first year, the strongest offer came from the 49ers, but I signed just a one-year contract. I had a different desire."

But one year later, Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan was looking for a pass rusher in 1996 and Alfred's desire to play in Denver was well known.

I remember when Alfred made his recruiting visit, complete with his larger-than-life personality. It did not take long for Shanahan to be captivated by Williams. The Broncos coach felt that Alfred not only had great potential as a player, but as a leader on the team.

Mike liked to have a leader in every position group, and he felt that Alfred Williams could be that guy on Denver's defensive line.

"I wanted to be here," Williams said after signing with the Broncos. "That's what it boiled down to. I'm thrilled I'm here now. It's been a long time in the making."

He was prophetic when he added, "I'm here to stay. I'll retire here, and my kids will grow up here."

He is now a bedrock of the community and the media, and a star among the alumni of both CU and the Broncos. But before he became Alfred Williams, radio star, he proved Shanahan correct in evaluating his potential.

Over his first eight games with the Broncos Alfred had 8.5 sacks. He finished the year with 13 and earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

The following two seasons did not reach that individual peak for Alfred, but he was a pivotal part of the Broncos' back-to-back world championships.

Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII will stand forever in the game's history. It is very difficult to win the Super Bowl and almost impossible to go back-to-back.

In that famous 1997 Divisional Round game at Kansas City, Williams recorded two sacks of quarterback Elvis Grbac and the Broncos won by four, setting up the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh and eventually Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers.

"Going into that Super Bowl game, the feeling in our building was entirely different from the so-called betting odds that had us as 13-point underdogs," Williams says. "We just knew what kind of team we had and what kind of game we expected to play."

The Broncos made history by upsetting the Packers, went undefeated for nearly a calendar year, beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII the following year, and Alfred was part of team history and Denver history as well.

He retired as a two-time Super Bowl champion, a one-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro player, and in retirement has been named to the Broncos Top 100 Team and the Broncos' 50th Anniversary Team.

Williams has always had great perspective, and when I interviewed him for my "Sideline Stories" television show, he said, "When your pro career starts, you are working to be proficient at your craft. That was what I was doing in Cincinnati.

"Then I learned a lot more about how to play football in San Francisco. By the time I got to Denver, I was a good football player, so my confidence level was absolutely through the roof.

"In Denver, I was happy, I was confident, and I was very excited, I brought a lot of energy to the locker room and the playing field for the Broncos.

Alfred brings that same excitement and ebullient personality to his radio audience daily.

His career path took him from Houston to CU, and from the Bengals to the Broncos, but Denver has always been his home, and he is a treasured son of the Mile High City.

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