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3 things you probably didn’t know about the Broncos

An original American Football League team

1965 Broncos uniforms

#1. The origins of why they were originally yellow and brown with those hideous vertically striped socks

During the infancy of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960, several owners who had wanted to purchase an NFL expansion team were turned away from the established league and told that they were not going to expand. Until the AFL began, that is.

1960 Broncos electric football pieces home and away uniforms

Meanwhile, five of those men had agreed to become owners of new AFL clubs. The fourth franchise granted was for Denver, Colorado. Today, the population is 2,862,000, but back then it was just over 809,000. The original owner was Bob Howsam who owned the Denver Bears, a AAA minor league baseball team of the Detroit Tigers (now called the Denver Zephyrs). Howsam, his father Lee and his brother Earl built a stadium for the baseball Bears called Bears Stadium (later renamed Mile High Stadium).

In 1959, Howsam paid for expansion of Bears Stadium to accommodate Denver getting a Major League baseball club in the newly-formed Continental League. But when that folded, Howsam was now faced with huge debt and still had a minor league team without any expectations of larger crowds. So, he sought out a pro football franchise and bought an AFL club christened the Broncos to help fill seats during a second season.

However Howsam, now financially strapped, operated the Broncos on a shoestring financial spreadsheet and cut corners any possible method. For uniforms, he bought used equipment and uniforms from a defunct college All-Star game played in Tucson, Arizona called the Copper Bowl. The color scheme of the uniforms was brown and mustard yellow, but the most prominent spectacle was the now famous vertically striped socks.

There were two sets of unies bought which the Broncos then used for home and away games: yellow jerseys with brown numbers, brown pants with two slim yellow stripes, and yellow/brown vertical striped socks; white jerseys with brown numbers with brown pants with two slim yellow stripes plus white/brown vertical striped socks. The helmets were brown with a single white stripe coupled with white jersey numbers on the sides. This uniform ensemble was used for 1960 and 1961. A player nameplate was added for 1961.

The Broncos for most of their AFL life were perennial bottom-feeders. When Jack Faulkner became head coach and GM in 1962, he ordered the uniforms and especially the socks to become history in a bonfire prior to a game. For 1962, the colors were changed to burnt orange, white and academy blue.

Getty Images

In 2009, the Broncos wore the browns and yellow uniforms for a home game against the New England Patriots and the brown and white road unies against the San Diego Chargers for the 50th Anniversary season of the original AFL clubs. Many players twisted the vertically striped socks around which gave a barber pole effect.

This uniform combination is arguably one of the worst looking uniforms in the history of professional football.

#2. Had plans to move from Denver to Atlanta

Every AFL club lost money that first season in spite of minimal television revenue, but a majority of the owners were wealthy and could withstand the losses. Howsam was not one of those men. The Broncos traveled as second-class citizens and would often practice on high school fields. After just one season, Howsam backed out as owner citing huge losses. A group of investors led by Gerry Phipps, Carl Kunz, and other minority partners took over the franchise. The Broncos were now tenants of Howsam at Bears Stadium.

The Broncos only averaged 17,019 fans per season for the first four years and then attendance reached dead last in the league en route to consecutive 2-11-1 seasons in 1964-1965. Before the 1966 season, just under 8,000 season tickets had been bought.

At this point, in 1965 the Broncos’ minority partners wanted to sell the team with Phipps the largest stockholder. The partners knew of an investor group from Atlanta that had tried to purchase the Chargers after the 1961 season and relocate the club to Georgia. Atlanta had hosted three AFL pre-season games in the past including the Broncos vs. the Houston Oilers in 1962 and drew large crowds.

The City of Atlanta was ripe for professional sports and were about to get the Milwaukee Braves Major League team in 1966. Pro football was next on the agenda.

The Denver minority owners partnered together and formed a majority voting block even though Phipps, a building contractor, was not on board with the proposed sale. Negotiations went on for several months with Atlanta and the sale seemed imminent.

In the 11th hour, Phipps brought in his brother Alan to buy out the entirety of shares of the minority owners.

The Phipps brothers reminded the City of Denver that a pro football franchise was a valuable civic asset and gave the city nationwide recognition, even with a losing record. To them, it didn’t make any sense to continue to lose funds annually in a city that didn’t care whether the team stayed or not. Atlanta still remained a viable play.

And the Phipps’ wanted more from the fans - they wanted results. The Bronco boosters rallied and sold 23,000 season tickets (third highest in the AFL) to ensure the club would remain in Denver.

#3. NFL didn’t want Denver as a franchise

The NFL had stated in 1958 and 1959 to many wealthy men that wanted an NFL expansion team that their league was good with 12 clubs and no thank you.

When these same men began their own league as the AFL, the NFL suddenly placed a franchise in Dallas and Minneapolis, with plans to add Houston and a city to be named later. Of course, all three of these cities were granted AFL franchises.

The idea was to squash the new league before it could get any traction. So, a plan was devised. The NFL expansion committee offered these AFL owners either minority shares in existing NFL clubs or in one incident their own expansion team. Only the Minneapolis ownership group took the NFL’s offer.

The NFL offered to the Dallas AFL owner shares of the new Dallas NFL team. To Houston’s owner, his own expansion team. With the Los Angeles Chargers owner, stock in the Los Angeles Rams.

The AFL league founder, Lamar Hunt, owner of the Dallas Texans, made a counter offer to the NFL: accept all eight AFL franchises intact.

The NFL made a counter of their own. They would accept the Dallas and Minneapolis franchises for 1960, then enter Houston in 1961 and then Boston in 1962. But the NFL had zero interest in the Los Angeles and New York franchises since the established league already had teams there and would create a territorial issue.

1960 program vs. the Los Angeles Chargers

And then there was the Denver and Buffalo clubs. The NFL’s stance was that Buffalo was too cold of a region to become sustainable, and that the Denver area was just too small.

Hunt made one last attempt to get the NFL to accept all teams in their respective locations with the same ownership groups, but was rebuffed.

Denver, despite being the nation’s 23rd largest city in 1960, began play as the AFL Broncos. This franchise participated in the AFL’s very first game, a 13-10 win over Boston, and was the first AFL team to defeat an NFL club in 1967 with a 13-7 victory over the Detroit Lions in the first common preseason of the two leagues.

In 1970, the two leagues merged into one; and the NFL opened its arms wide to welcome the Broncos into the fold.