Would you think a guy who never threw more touchdowns than interceptions in his career would ever get his number retired? I would have said, "Hell no", before I learned that Mr. Francis M.J. "Frank" Tripucka did. The Denver Broncos have retired exactly three jerseys in its storied history. The two obvious ones of John Elway's #7 and Floyd Little's #44 stood out, but then I noticed that ole #18 was retired long before both.
In the coming weeks, Guru will be doing his run down of the greatest Broncos ever to wear certain numbers. It promises to be a very good series, but I can guarantee that his 18th post will be quite dull. Since only one guy has ever worn the number.
Frank Tripucka was an All American in 1948 while playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, going 9-0-1 that season finishing #2 in the nation. He was drafted number one overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1949 draft, but the Eagles traded Tripucka to Detroit before the season began.
He struggled to make an impact in the NFL, posting dismal numbers early in his career and was completely out of the NFL by the end of his fifth season. He soon found a home in far away Canada, playing for the Canadian Football League's, Saskatchewan Roughriders for seven seasons.
It was there that he teamed up with another future Bronco in head coach Frank Filchock. He played quarterback for Filchock until his seventh season when he hung up his cleats and became an assistant coach for Filchock through the 1959 season.
One of the strangest stories I've ever found in any pro sport involves Tripucka and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The CFL had limits on the number of foreign players each team could have, so Tripucka was a coach because of that limit. However, with two games to go in the 1959 season all three quarterbacks went down with injury so Coach Filchock decided to play Tripucka anyway in spite of the rules. Both games were forfeit in advance, but after losing the first one 20-19 to the Edmonton Eskimos they went up against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers where Tripucka led the Roughriders to a "loss" with a final score of 37 for Saskatchewan to 30 for Winnipeg in one of the strangest victories I've ever heard of. I can't imagine the NFL ever forfeiting games in advance.
With the American Football League being founded in 1959, many new jobs were available for coaches and players who languished in the restrictive CFL and other amateur leagues. Frank Filchock was hired as the coach for the Denver Broncos and he brought Tripucka along with him as his assistant coach. The team was so poor and the players so bad that Tripucka was starting at quarterback by the end of training camp and went on to become the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 3000 yards in a season.
The Denver Broncos of this era threw the ball a lot and half the time the ball was being throw from Tripucka to Lionel Taylor. This rather average quarterback was able to get this ragtag group of subpar players to play beyond their ability for the four seasons he played. He was named to the AFL All-star team in 1962 after leading the Broncos to their first .500 record of 7-7. This feat would not be duplicated again until the early 1970's.
Frank Tripucka holds several team records which include the most passing yards in a single game of 447(Record broken in 2000 by Griese and then again in 2003 by Plummer, thanks for the catch on that Guru!) against the Buffalo Bills in September of 1962 and he also shares the team record with 5 touchdown passes in a game also against the Bills in October of 1962. He also holds the lesser distinction for throwing the most interceptions in a single season when he threw thirty-four in the 1960 inaugural season. Tripucka was enshrined in the Ring of Fame at Mile High Stadium in 1986 and remains an important part of the organizations past. The most recent data I could find reports that Frank Tripucka is a retired beer distributer who lives in New Jersey.