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Way Back When: The tale of the Broncos' history with the Rams

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This week's game will be played before the usual sellout crowd at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, but it’s worth looking back to the Broncos’ history with the Rams.

The teams are more intertwined than you may think.

Let’s begin with the time when the Broncos traveled to Los Angeles.

In two years, the Rams will move to their spectacular new stadium which will feature all the glitter and glitz that is symbolic of L.A. — but they played in far more modest quarters back in 1972.

That was the first time the Broncos made the trip west to play the Rams. Denver won, 16-10, and there was a cavalcade of future Ring of Famers and Hall of Famers in that contest.

The Broncos had Hall of Famer Floyd Little and Ring of Famers Haven Moses, Charley Johnson, Billy Thompson, Jim Turner and Paul Smith in their lineup that day, while there were three future Hall of Famers on the opposite side of the line, literally.

One half of the Rams defensive line went to the Hall, namely Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood, along with guard Tom Mack on the offensive side of the ball.

Youngblood was very competitive.

Not only did he famously once play a game one a broken leg, but years later when he was a radio announcer for the Rams, and when we met up once, I was wearing one of my AFC Championship rings.

"Jim, how the heck can you stand to wear that loser's ring?" said Youngblood, in a reference to the fact that we had lost the Super Bowl in question.

The Rams were the team of Deacon Jones and the Broncos of Richard Jackson, with each of them getting credit for developing the head slap, a move later outlawed by the NFL, largely due to the great success Jackson and Jones had delivering that brutal blow.

Jones is often credited by historians for the head slap, but he himself said frankly that he got the move from Jackson. The Ram and Bronco had great nicknames too, as you cannot top "Deacon" and "Tombstone," the monikers by which each was commonly known.

When the legendary pro football writer Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z" as he’s more commonly known) named his 50-year pro football all-star team, he put Jones and Jackson at the two defensive end positions.

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The Broncos and Rams were also pioneers as the league aimed to end segregation. The Broncos, of course, are the team that had the first African-American quarterback in the game — Marlin Briscoe in 1968 — but many fans might not realize the Rams broke the color barrier in the NFL the first year they played in Los Angeles, featuring both Kermit Washington and Woody Strode in a roster move as big for society as it was for pro football.

That was in 1946, the beginning of the first Golden Age era of pro football. That spanned a full decade and set the foundation for pro football being named the most popular sport in America starting in the early 1960s.

Fans will also see two teams with classic logos playing each other this week

The Broncos' horse has become all one needs to see for identification purposes, but some fans might not know that the first helmet logo ever was the Rams' horns, and they were both designed and painted by halfback Fred Gehrke.

Fred went on to become the Broncos' general manager in 1977, leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl that year and hiring me the next, for which I am forever grateful.

For his invention of the helmet logo and other significant contributions (the face mask and sideline kicking net) to the game, Fred Gehrke is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Pioneer Award winner.

He told me that when he and his teammates ran out onto the Coliseum field wearing the helmets with his newly painted Ram horns, the crowd was caught totally unaware by the sight.

“The 92,000 spectators went ‘ooh’ and 'aah' like they were watching a fireworks display,” Gehrke said. “It gave us players goose bumps, and I looked over and saw a great smile on [former Rams owner] Mr. [Dan] Reeves' face. It made me very proud."

And it was one of the great uniform developments in the history of football.

This week, the Broncos will take on the Rams with a chance to develop some new history.

There is plenty of glitz to Sunday’s matchup, as Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller goes up against a Rams team that features one of pro football's highest scoring offenses, with stars at all the skilled positions.

The Los Angeles defense is led by Wade Phillips, who was our defensive coordinator for our great Super Bowl 50 win.

Those are just some of the many connections that will never fade in this matchup between two of pro football’s most storied teams.

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