Yet another Ring of Fame class has been completed. The Class of 1986 was an important one as we honored three men who each played a significant role in shaping the identities of their respective teams. They may not have been the best Broncos ever to don a uniform or even close to being Hall of Fame-worthy, but those things don't matter when it comes to the impact on Broncos history each had.
The first two years since Pat Bowlen instituted the Ring of Fame, the Broncos inducted four of the greatest Broncos Legends of our early history, as well as an owner who stepped in to keep the Broncos in Denver back in the 1960's. 1986 became the Class that would honor the less-heralded Broncos whose impact may have been greater on the team's success during their times than the legends who were honored before them.
Many of you may wonder why Kyle Orton is wearing the #8 rather than the #18. The reason is that a man who was enshrined into the Ring of Fame in 1986 wore the #18 for three seasons as a Bronco. His name, Frank Tripucka. He played for almost two decades in the NFL, CFL, and AFL. His final four seasons as a player were spent in Denver from 1960-1963. He led a pass-happy offense that lost a lot of games, but he and Lionel Taylor hooked up for a league-best 192 times over two seasons and helped the Broncos to their only .500 season of the team's first 13 years in existence. Their 7-7 record in 1962 was almost enough to earn a playoff berth, but in the end that would be the only season they came close to breaking .500 for a long time.
Frank Tripucka would retire in 1963 and the Broncos would struggle to win four games for the next ten years. Tripucka's number would eventually be retired ,and even though his meaning to the team in those early years has mostly been lost over time, we can all appreciate that he helped ensure the team's future successes. Tripucka helped to lay the foundation of Broncomania in the hearts of many youngsters who used to catch the practices and games from a nearby hill. It is fitting that no player will ever wear the #18 again.
|Frank Tripucka's Bronco Stats|
Paul Smith was drafted by the Broncos in 1968 and would go on to become the first player in Broncos history to spend a full ten seasons with the team. Smith would also become the foundation of the Orange Crush defense. He would be the mentor to the talented guys that would be drafted in the early 70's.
Paul Smith would languish for half of his career on a team that was trying desperately to find its identity. The old workhorse would be a major part of transforming the team from league doormats in the late 60's to AFC Champions a decade later. Smith would retire a year after reaching the Super Bowl in 1977.
Sadly, Paul Smith passed away due to complications with pancreatic cancer in March of 2000. He will forever be remembered as a dominant interior lineman for the famous Orange Crush defense. Not bad for a ninth-round draft pick out of the original American Football League.
|Paul Smith's Career Bronco Stats|
Charley Johnson's contribution to the Denver Broncos was far more than the meager stats he accumulated. Johnson instilled a winning attitude with the players and the organization as a whole. He was instrumental in snapping a twenty-game losing streak to the Oakland Raiders in 1972. He also led the team to its first winning season in franchise history in 1973 with a 7-5-2 record.
The Denver Broncos had over two dozen starting quarterbacks in the ten years between Frank Tripucka's retirement and the arrival of Charley Johnson. Though Johnson only played for the team for three seasons, he set the standard for QB play in Denver for decades to come. After Johnson, the Broncos would find stability at the position for nearly two and a half decades. A quarterback carousel would not return to Denver until after John Elway's retirement.
Charley Johnson would be the first Broncos quarterback to end his tenure with the team with a winning record, at 20-18-3 as a starter. It may not look like much, but that was for a team that had a winning percentage of .286 in the franchise's first twelve seasons.
|Charley Johnson's Bronco Stats|
Which Bronco great, besides Floyd Little, who was inducted in the first three years of the Ring of Fame, is the most Hall of Fame worthy?
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