Who was the best Denver Broncos player of the 1960s decade?

Justin Edmonds

It's that time of the year for list making, so I thought it would be fun to find out who the best Denver Broncos player was from each decade.
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The Denver Broncos of the 1960s were a laughingstock of an organization. Few teams lost as many games in a ten year span as those Bronco teams did, but it wasn't all bad. There are a handful of Denver Broncos greats from those tumultuous years, but which of those players was the greatest of the decade?

With each of these posts, I will present the players I think could be in the conversation of the greatest of the decade, but it will be YOU who will decide who receives the honor of being the greatest Broncos player of that specific decade.

Nominees for the 1960s

Out of all of the decades, the slimmest of pickings obviously came from this decade. There were a lot more good players than great players, so I decided to go with a couple of members from the Broncos Ring of Fame for this decade.

Lionel Taylor (1960-1966)

When I first started blogging for Mile High Report back in 2008, I started a series of posts called "Forgotten Broncos" and many of the players from the 1960s found there way to my desk. I will link to those posts if I can find them, but please forgive the horrifyingly terrible formatting skills I had back then. Out of all of those players I profiled, I felt Lionel Taylor was the biggest Hall of Fame snub of them all.

As the Denver Broncos only real offensive threat, he was mostly triple covered whenever he was on the field, which only makes his statistical dominance all the more impressive. After being discarded by the Chicago Bears, Taylor found a home in Denver in the AFL's inaugural season. From there, history was made.

1959 CHI 8 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0
1960 DEN 12 92 1235 13.4 12 80 102.9
1961 DEN 14 100 1176 11.8 4 52 84.0
1962 DEN 14 77 908 11.8 4 45 64.9
1963 DEN 14 78 1101 14.1 10 72 78.6
1964 DEN 14 76 873 11.5 7 57 62.4
1965 DEN 14 85 1131 13.3 6 63 80.8
1966 DEN 14 35 448 12.8 1 29 32.0
1967 HOU 8 18 233 12.9 1 23 29.1
1968 HOU 9 6 90 15.0 0 35 10.0
Career Stats 121 567 7195 12.7 45 80 59.5

You can see why Frank Tripucka found his way into the Ring of Fame simply by looking at Lionel Taylor's career stats as he was never more effective at getting the ball than when "The Trip" was taking snaps from under center. Once Tripucka retired, a picture of instability emerges that severely affected Taylor's own ability to make a difference on the field. Even so, his 503 catches in a six year span stood as an NFL record until Sterling Sharpe broke the mark in the early 1990's - and Sharpe had fourteen more games with which to do it.

In my mind, Taylor gets the vote for his longevity and effectiveness to catch every ball thrown his way, while taking a beating with every one of those catches. His most famous quote when asked about the beatings he took, he said, "If you catch the ball, it only hurts half as much when you get hit."

Austin Gonsoulin (1960-1966)

Austin "The Goose" Gonsoulin was a rowdy, hard drinking tough guy that epitomized the kind of players who played on the defensive side of the ball back in those days. He is also one of Mile High Report's most revered former players who was the first in a long line of great Bronco players at the safety position.

His greatness is shown by the fact that he was among just four former players to be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984. His eleven interceptions in 1960 remains the longest-standing record in the Broncos record books and it is one that may never be broken - even with the 16 game season. He took could be considered a Hall of Fame snub, because the stats just don't lie.

Austin Gonsoulin Brian Dawkins Steve Atwater Billy Tompson
Seasons 8 14 11 12
Games 108 183 167 179
Interceptions 46 34 24 40
Return Yards 551 515 408 784
Touchdowns 3 2 1 3
Forced Fumbles * 32 6 *
Sacks * 21 5 *
*Forced Fumbles and Sacks were not recorded in these years.

This is an issue I have with many AFL players. The only AFL players the NFL shows any respect are those who won championships with their teams, which is why you'll see zero Bronco players representing the AFL in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Based on Gonsoulin's success in the 1960s, he is definitely worthy of considering as the greatest Bronco of the 1960s.

Floyd Little (1967-1969)

"The Franchise" as Floyd is known as, was the very first draft pick the Denver Broncos ever signed out of the first round of the AFL/NFL Draft. For his entire career, he played behind one of the worst offensive lines in NFL history, yet still wowed the fans of Denver enough to help spawn Broncomania. He also saved the franchise in 1967 from moving out of Denver.

Mile High Report led a long two year charge to get him into the Hall of Fame that culminated into his induction in 2010. It really started with a long time member of MHR, firstfan, who really opened my eyes to what Floyd Little actually meant to this franchise as I was born several years after he retired. From that first post in 2008, interest evolved into a full blown "MHR Denver Broncos Hall of Fame Committee" of fans who began to lobby hard for Floyd Little to the voters. From that first post, MHR member, studbucket, kept us all informed with posts herehere, and here of the progress made that ultimately ended with Floyd Little in the Hall of Fame. Now if only we could get that same zeal going for Randy Gradishar.

Rushing Stats Receiving Stats Punt Return Stats
1967 DEN 13 130 381 2.9 14 1 7 11 1.6 15 0 16 270 17.0 72 1
1968 DEN 11 158 584 3.7 55 3 19 331 17.4 66 1 24 261 11.0 67 1
1969 DEN 9 146 729 5.0 48 6 19 218 11.5 67 1 6 70 12.0 52 0
1970 DEN 14 209 901 4.3 80 3 17 161 9.5 39 0 22 187 8.5 24 0
1971 DEN 14 284 1133 4.0 40 6 26 255 9.8 74 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
1972 DEN 14 216 859 4.0 55 9 28 367 13.1 40 4 8 64 8.0 29 0
1973 DEN 14 256 979 3.8 47 12 41 423 10.3 50 1 1 7 7.0 7 0
1974 DEN 14 117 312 2.7 22 1 29 344 11.9 72 0 4 34 8.5 17 0
1975 DEN 14 125 445 3.6 19 2 29 308 10.6 66 2 0 0 0.0 0 0
Career Stats 117 1641 6323 3.9 80 43 215 2418 11.2 74 9 81 893 11.0 72 2

In any case, Floyd Little was deserving not because of his stats, but because of how good he was in spite of the void in talent around him. Much like Lionel Taylor, Little was able to excel even though he was the focal point of every single defense he faced.

Throughout his career, Floyd Little had the honor of playing behind twenty-seven different starting quarterbacks in his 9 year career. So before you make any comments about how his stats are unimpressive, do a little division and realize just how impressive those stats are considering how much instability Little was faced with. Even the great Barry Sanders only had to contend with 11 different starting quarterbacks in his ten seasons in the NFL.

Vote for the best!

There are three contenders I personally consider worthy of the honor. The only other two Broncos I think are worthy of mentioning that played in this decade would be Frank Tripucka who provided the Denver Broncos with their only successes as a team in the 1960s and Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, whose head slap was nearly as impressive as the late Deacon Jones. If only his knees had held up for a full career.

So, who is the best Denver Broncos player of the 1960s decade? Vote in the poll below.

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