The Denver Broncos, with Bob Howsam as their principal owner, are named a charter member of the American Football league, August 14. Dean Griffing is named the team’s first general manager. The Broncos’ first selection in the AFL player draft is Roger LeClerc, a center from Trinity (Connecticut).
Frank Filchock, is named the first head coach of the Broncos, January 1. The team is placed in the AFL’s Western Division with the Dallas Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, and Oakland Raiders. The Broncos’ first training camp opens in July at Colorado School of Mines. The team plays its games in Bears Stadium, primarily a baseball facility with limited seating capacity. After losing all five of their preseason games, on September 9 the Broncos win their first regular-season game (and the regular-season debut of the AFL), defeating the Patriots in Boston, 13-10 before 21,597. In their first home game, 18,732 watch the Broncos beat Oakland, 31-14. Attendance grows worse, dropping to 5,861 for the final home game, a 30-27 loss to the New York Titans. The Broncos finish the season 4-9-1.
Bob Howsam and his father, Lee, sell their stock to a new syndicate headed by Cal Kunz and Gerry Phipps. Kunz is named president. the offense is built around the passing of quarterback Frank Tripucka and end Lionel Taylor, who had been cut from the Chicago Bears but who develops into one of the top AFL receivers. Taylor sets a new pro record with 100 pass receptions. The team’s record is only 3-11, and at the end of the year Frank Filchock is released as head coach.
Jack Faulkner, who has coached under Sid Gillman at the University of Cincinnati and with the Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers, is named head coach. He is also given the added assignment of general manager after Dean Griffing is dismissed. Faulkner changes the team’s colors from brown and gold to orange, blue, and white. The team’s vertically striped socks, objects of some ridicule, are burned at a public ceremony. In Faulkner’s first regular-season game, the Broncos stun the Chargers, a team they never have beaten, 30-21 before a crowd estimated at 28,000. When Denver defeats Houston, 20-10, before a record crowd of 34,496 at Bears Stadium, it runs its record for the year to 6-1. The Broncos’ weaknesses become apparent, however, particularly in the defensive secondary, and the team slumps badly the second half of the season, finishing with a 7-7 record. Lionel Taylor again leads the league in receiving, with 77 catches. Faulkner is named AFL coach of the year by both wire services, and home attendance is up more than 100 percent over the previous year.
Jack Faulkner initiates a youth movement, managing to sign some top draft choices for the first time in the history of the franchise. Veteran Frank Tripucka retires, leaving Denver with a critical problem at quarterback. Mickey Slaughter, a rookie from Louisiana Tech, gets the first crack at the job but soon is sidelined with a concussion. John McCormick, a rookie from Massachusetts, is next. He injures a knee and is out for the year, October 13. Don Breaux, formerly a taxi-squad player at San Diego, shares the job the rest of the season with Slaughter. Fourteen rookies play regularly on a team that finishes the season 2-11-1. Fullback Billy Joe is named rookie of the year, and Lionel Taylor leads the league in receiving for the fourth consecutive year.
Jack Faulkner, desperate for a quarterback, completes a trade with Houston for Jacky Lee, who comes to the team on a two-year, lend-lease agreement. To get him, the Broncos have to give up Bud McFadin, their all-league tackle, and a high draft choice. A nine-player trade with the New York Jets, designed to bolster Denver’s sagging defense, doesn’t work out and pressure begins to build. Speaking before a game against Boston, Faulkner, whose team was winless, says the game was “the most important of my career.” He proves prophetic. Denver loses and Faulkner is fired. Mac Speedie, the team’s receivers coach, is appointed to take over on an interim basis. The Broncos react by outscoring Kansas City, 33-27, in a wild first game for Speedie. The Broncos then revert to their losing ways and wind up 2-11-1.
A serious split occurrs at the ownership-management level as attendance begins to drop. Cal Kunz and his bloc of majority stakeholders become convinced the Broncos are a losing proposition and attempt to sell. Cox Broadcasting Company tenders a reported $4 million offer and announces it plans to move the franchise to Atlanta. Gerry and Allan Phipps, owners of 42 percent of the club, make what turns out to be the most important decision in the history of the franchise. They decide they want the team to remain in Denver. They buy out the holdings of the other $1.5 million. The brief threat of the team moving out of town triggers a tremendous response from the citizens of the city. Ticket sales boom at an unprecedented rate. Two major trades—for Kansas City halfback Abner Hayes and Buffalo fullback Cookie Gilchrist—generate even more interest, and by May 1, the season-ticket figure reaches 22,000, an all-time high. Although Gilchrist and Haynes both help, the team finishes 4-10. Attendance, however, increases to an average of 31,398, a record for an AFL Western Division team. Six of the seven home crowds top 30,000.
Legislation is passed creating a Metropolitan Stadium district in Denver. Voters are informed a four-county metropolitan region will vote on building a multimillion-dollar all-purpose stadium before March, 1967. One of the major provisions of the bill is that tenants—the football Broncos and baseball Bears—sign a 10-year lease. Internal problems, which seem to follow Cookie Gilchrist as stubbornly as opposing linebackers, surface again, with Speedie and his top offensive player finally reaching a point of no return. Gilchrist, a holdout, is traded to Miami. The Broncos feel the effects of his absence in the first game of the season. Houston beats them, 45-7, and the Broncos fail to generate even one first down. A week later, a 24-10 loss to Boston, Speedie resigns. Ray Malavasi, the line coach, is named the interim head coach. Late in December, Lou Saban is signed to a 10-year contract as coach and general manager.
Voters turn down the stadium bond issue, but Broncos fans immediately organize a fund-raising drive to improve Bears Stadium and keep the team in Denver. Floyd Little, the Syracuse All-America running back, becomes the first number-one draft choice ever to sign with the Broncos. Denver beats Detroit, 13-7, in a preseason game; it is the first time an AFL team wins a game over an NFL team. The Broncos give up two number-one draft choices to San Diego for quarterback Steve Tensi. The season-ticket count reaches a record of 24,650. A single-game attendance record is set when 35,565 watch Denver lose to the New York Jets, 38-24. Building toward the future, Lou Saban starts as many as 15 rookies during the season, which the Broncos finish at 3-11.
The civic drive to raise $1.8 million ends successfully and the city of Denver receives the stadium as a gift after the purchase of the facility from Empire Sports, by a non-profit group. Construction begins on a 16,000-seat upper deck that will raise capacity to 50,000. Another new season ticket record of 27,348 is reached. The Broncos draw more than 50,000 for the first time, when 50,002 watch Denver and Oakland play, November 10. Bears Stadium is officially renamed Denver Mile High Stadium. On the field, the Broncos win five games behind the play of Floyd Little and quarterback Marlin Briscoe, the first black to play regularly at quarterback in the AFL.
The Broncos start the season with victories over Boston and the New York Jets. Floyd Little has a 166-yard rushing day, the top single-game yardage figure for an AFL back, October 19. But injuries slow the Broncos. Steve Tensi is bothered by a bad knee. Little misses five games with shoulder and knee problems. He finishes fifth in the league in rushing (729 yards), after leading it before his injuries. A 13-0 win over San Diego at Mile High Stadium is the Broncos’ first shutout ever. They finish the season 5-8-1.