Last fall, MHR's Colby Mueller convinced several of us to watch some games from the Canadian Football League. Colby currently resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but he grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Hence his enthusiastic fandom for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It was entertaining to watch CFL football, given some of the interesting differences between CFL and NFL games -- such as, the referees using bright orange flags instead of yellow ones and some of the looser rules regarding men in motion. But I'll let you discover those differences for yourself, should you be so inclined.
What is of interest in this article, is that the Broncos had a "Canadian Connection" long before Colby became a member of MHR. In fact, Denver's Canadian Connection existed long before Colby was even born.
Take a jump & discover the "Canadian Connection."
Connection #1 - Head Coach Frank Filchock
Filchock came to the Broncos after a successful stint as a coach in the CFL. In 1953, he served as not only the head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but also the Roughriders starting quarterback. He retired as a player following the 1953 season, but continued to coach the Roughriders until 1957. He spent the 1958 season as the head coach of the Sarnia Golden Bears in the Ontario Rugby Football Union before returning to the CFL as the backfield coach for the Calgary Stampeders in 1959. His CFL teams made the playoffs in eight ouf of the nine years he was coaching. He was named the head coach of the newly formed Denver Broncos on January 1, 1960.
Connection #2 - General Manager Dean Griffing
Griffing was brought in as the Broncos' general manager in 1960. He was considered by many to be the most experienced GM in the AFL during it's rookie season. Griffing got an early start on managerial duties. Two years after his college graduation (in 1934), Griffing became the general manage and coach of the the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. He held that position from 1936 to 1943. He did stints with the Toronto Argonauts (1944) and the Calgary Stampeders (1945-57) before returning to the Roughriders in 1958. During his times with the Roughriders, Griffing became acquainted with Frank Filchock. Following his second stint with Saskatchewan, Griffing spent time as the Executive Director of the Optimist Bowl -- this was a game held in Tucson, Arizona and was not an NCAA Division 1-sanctioned bowl game). He returned to professional football when he answered the call to become the first general manager of the Denver Broncos.
Connection #3 - Backfield Coach Jim Cason
Cason had been a safety at LSU and played for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers (1948-52, 1954) and Los Angeles Rams (1955-56). He spent one season (1953) in the CFL where he played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, under the direction of Frank Filchock. After his time with the Rams, he spent two years running an insurance business before joining Filchock's Broncos staff.
Connection #4 - P/QB George Herring
Herring was the product of a small college -- Southern Mississippi. He handled both quarterbacking and punting duties there. Though he was drafted by the NFL, Herring opted to spend two seasons in Canada, where he played for the Vancouver Lions (now BC Lions) and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He handled both quarterbacking and punting duties for each team and was a leading punter both seasons.
Connection #5 - T Gordy Holz
Holz was a roommate of Bob McNamara (we'll read about him a little later) in both college and professional football. Holz spent time playing in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While playing in the CFL, Holz played both ways. He came to the Broncos through a trade with the Boston Patriots for center Larry Cundiff. Holz started at LT for Denver in 1960, then became the starting RDT from 1961-63. He was with the Broncos, but not a starter in 1964, then finished his career in 1965 with the New York Jets.
Connection #6 - DE Chuck Gavin
Not much is known about Gavin. He was one of Denver's starting defensive ends from 1960-63. He spent 1959 in the CFL, playing for the Vancouver Lions.
Connection #7 - WR Jim Greer
Greer had made the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles, but recorded no statistics. He played one season with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL before joining the Broncos in 1960. He played just one season with the Broncos.
Connection #8 - LB Buddy Alliston
Alliston was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1956 but never played for them. He spent time in the CFL - though no specifics could be found, he was described as 'veteran of the CFL." Alliston came to the Broncos through a trade with the Oakland Raiders.
Connection #9 - LB Pete Magnum
Magnum played one season for the New York Giants (1954-55) before serving with the US military in 1956. He returned to football in 1959, playing in the CFL before joining the Broncos in 1960. This would prove to be his only season as a Bronco.
Connection #10 - RB/WR Bob McNamara
McNamara was voted the MVP of the Minnesota Gophers in 1954. Though he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1955, he opted to sign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. He played for Winnipeg from 1955-58. Unfortunately, his career was mostly marred by injuries. The Blue Bombers waived him in 1958. He returned to professional football in 1960 when he joined the Denver Broncos. McNamara was a starting WR in 1960 and caught 7 passes before being switched to CB in 1961 where he intercepted 7 passes. 1961 proved to be his final season.
Connection #11 - FB Dave Rolle
Rolle earned the Broncos' starting fullback position in 1960 -- his only NFL season. Prior to joining the Broncos, Rolle had spent a season playing for the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL.
Connection #12 - DB Johnny Pyeatt
Pyeatt was unique in that he never played football in college. After serving with the US military, Pyeatt played two seasons in the CFL -- where he was a leading WR and outstanding DB -- before joining the Broncos in 1960. He was a starting CB in 1960, but only appeared in 3 games in 1961 -- his final NFL season.
Connection #13 - LB Dave Strickland
Strickland played four seasons in the CFL. He had played WR in both college and the CFL, but was changed to the offensive guard position by Frank Filchock, due to his speed. As a Bronco, he was moved again, this time to quarterback.
Connection #14 - QB Frank Tripucka
Tripucka started out as an NFL product. He had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st round of the 1949 NFL Draft. He was subsequently traded to Detroit where he spent the 1949 season. He next played three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals. He then moved to Canada for seven seasons in the CFL. He joined Frank Filchock in 1953 as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Following the 1958 season, Tripucka was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders but was able to return to Saskatchewan as a coach during the 1959 season. Tripucka was recruited in 1960 by Filchock to be an assistant coach for the newly formed Denver Broncos. During a preseason game, the story goes, the Broncos quarterbacks were performing so dismally that Filchock had Tripucka suit up and play quarterback. He became the Broncos' starting quarterback from 1960-62 and was with the Broncos in 1963 -- his final season as a player.
Connection #15 - Assistant Coach Ken Carpenter
Carpenter joined the Broncos in 1961. A standout player from Oregon State University, Carpenter played RB for the Cleveland Browns. When his head coach refused to allow him to play both way, Carpenter moved to the CFL and joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He served as the Roughriders head coach in 1959 and joined the Broncos about halfway through the 1960 season.
Connection #16 - WR Jack Hill
A graduate of Utah State University, Hill joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1957. He played for the Roughriders through the 1960 season. He was hampered by injuries during the 1960 season -- a time during which Frank Filchock and Dean Griffing were actively seeking to acquire him. In 1961, the Roughriders sold his contract to the Broncos. 1961 proved to be his only NFL season.
While I am certain that there are other Broncos who have spent time in the CFL, it was interesting to note how many coaches and players from the CFL became part of the foundation upon which the Denver Broncos were built.
Sadly, the Canadian Connection was severed in 1962 when the Broncos replaced head coach Frank Filchock with Jack Faulkner. Faulkner subsequently got rid of Dean Griffing and took over the general manager's duties himself. Almost all of the 1960-61 Broncos with CFL experience were not on the team in 1962. Only Tripucka, Holz and Gavin made the roster under Faulkner.
So . . . the next time you hear someone suggest watching a CFL game, don't just snicker and think it's beneath loyal NFL fans . . . remember, if not for these coaches and players, our beloved Broncos might not have been around long enough to become the team that we know and love.