Ten Broncos have worn #42 in the history of the franchise. Three Halfbacks, two Running Backs, one Defensive Back, a Fullback, a Cornerback and a Wide Receiver. Here is the list of candidates:
Ryan Torain RB 2008
Detron Smith FB 1996-2001
Leonard Russell RB 1994
Muhammad Oliver CB 1992
Billy Van Heusen P/WR 1968-76
Lonnie Wright DB 1966-67
Odell Barry HB 1964-65
Al Frazier HB 1961
Albert Romine HB 1960
At first glance, no one player really stands out from this list, but let's throw it at the wall and see what sticks.
Albert Romine played the Left Safety position for the Broncos in 1960. He appeared in 14 games that year, making 3 interceptions and returning them 69 yards.
Al Frazier was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 20th round (240th overall) of the 1957 NFL Draft. He played in Denver for 3 years from 1961-63, appearing in 31 games at Halfback, Flanker and Returner. Frazier rushed for 278 yards, 2 touchdowns and caught 58 passes for 1,010 yards and 7 touchdowns. As a return man, Al had 26 punt returns for 305 yards, an 11.7 average and 1 touchdown. He returned 44 kickoffs for 1,077 yards, a 24.5 average and 1 touchdown. Frazier had a great year as a returner in 1961. He ranked 2nd or 3rd in all return categories.
Odell Barry was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 19th round (145th overall) of the 1964 AFL Draft. He played 26 games as a Wide Receiver/Return man during the 1964 and 1965 seasons. Odell rushed for 26 yards on 5 carries and caught 6 passes for 42 yards. He fared better running back punts and kickoffs, returning 37 punts for 359 yards, 1 touchdown and 73 kickoffs for 1,856 yards, a 25.4 average. Barry led the league in Punt Return touchdowns, Kick Returns and Kick Return yardage in 1964.
Lonnie Wright played at Left Safety for the Broncos in 1966 and 1967. In 26 games, Lonnie had 5 interceptions and recovered 2 fumbles. He also caught one pass, losing 2 yards on the play.
Muhammad Oliver was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 9th round (249th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft. He appeared in 3 games in 1992, returning one Kickoff for 20yards.
Leonard Russell was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 1st round (14th overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft. He won the AP Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and played with the Patriots for 3 years before joining the Broncos for the 1994 season. Russell started all 14 games at Running Back, rushing for 620 yards and 9 touchdowns on 190 attempts. He also caught 38 passes for 227 yards.
Ryan Torain was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round (139th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. The All Torain Vehicle, fractured his elbow in that 1st year, missing 3 months. He started his first NFL game on November 6, 2008 against the Cleveland Browns. He began the game well, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. In the second quarter, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament landed on Injured Reserve. Torain was waived/injured by the Broncos in August 2009 and subsequently reverted to Injured Reserve. The Broncos released Ryan shortly after that with an injury settlement.
Sam Brandon was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round (131st overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft. He had a 5-year career at Safety with the Broncos from 2002-06. Sam started 12 out of 63 games, with 101 Tackles, 1 interception, 13 pass deflections, 2 Forced Fumbles and 2 Fumble Recoveries.
Detron Smith was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 3rd round (65th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft. He played 6 years with the Broncos, starting 2 of 60 games. Detron paved the way for a couple of Terrell Davis' 100-yard performances, but mainly backed up Howard Griffith at Fullback. Where he really excelled, was on Special Teams. Smith was known as a high energy player who would sacrifice his body serving as the wedge-buster on kickoff coverage. He led the team in Special Teams Tackles in 1998 (15) and 1999 (16). Overall, he rushed for 17 yards on 5 carries and caught 12 passes for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith also returned 11 Kickoffs 140 yards, a 12.7 average. Detron made the Pro Bowl in 1999 and won 2 Super Bowl Rings with the Broncos (Super Bowl XXXII in 1997 & Super Bowl XXXIII in 1998).
Detron's Pro Bowl trip and two Super Bowl Rings speak volumes toward this distinction, but I'm going to go with a pioneer that helped the Denver Broncos develop into a successful franchise. With that in mind,
The Greatest Bronco to Wear #42 is...
Billy Van Heusen P/WR 1968-76
Billy Van Heusen was a Punter and Wide Receiver for the Broncos from 1968 to 1976. He joined the team as a free agent out of Maryland in 1968 for $12,000.
Van Heusen played for nine years in Denver, starting 38 of 109 games and averaging 41.7 yards per punt. He also caught 82 passes for 1,684 yards, 11 touchdowns and also rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Billy led the league with 87 Punts for 3,732 yards in 1970. A swift receiver who ran with strength after catching the ball, Van Heusen replaced Bob Scarpitto as Denver's punter in 1968 and had a 43.8 yard average that ranked 2nd in the league.
The Broncos had a losing record in his first five seasons with the team, but in 1973 the Broncos went 7-5-2 for their 1st winning season in franchise history. Denver would repeat that feat two of the next three years on its way to Super Bowl XII in 1977. Unfortunately, Van Heusen wouldn’t get to enjoy that reward. The Broncos cut him just as training camp began in 1977. Billy has been a season-ticket holder since his playing days and absolutely loves watching the Broncos.
MHR gives a Mile High Salute to Billy van Heusen as the Greatest Bronco to wear #42.