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DRAFTING A FRANCHISE: The 1961-1964 Denver Broncos

With Denver having successfully signed but one contributing draftee in the inaugural 1960 season, the Broncos looked to build on that success. It's been said that the Broncos have never drafted as high as they will in 2011. That statement is not entirely true. In the NFL, they've never drafted as high, but in the AFL the Broncos were no stranger to top picks in the draft order.

The early 1960's brought the Broncos first blockbuster trade and a few notable players to Denver. Though Denver would draft three Hall-of-Famers during this period, none would be Broncos. Stick with me after the jump to learn more about the Denver Broncos draft ups and downs during this time.


In 1960, the Denver Broncos finished last in the league and were awarded the first overall pick in the 1961 Draft. Bob Gaiters (HB, New Mexico State) would, like so many before and after him, opt instead to sign with the NFL. He would spend two seasons as a San Francisco 49er before finishing his career with the Broncos in the 1963 season.

The highlights of the 1961 draft were few and far between. When the Broncos selected Jerry Hill (RB, Wyoming) with the 9th overall pick in the 2nd round, it was probably for the best that Denver wasn't able to sign him. Due to his successful career in Baltimore wearing #45, it's widely believed that he was the namesake of Colt 45. Imagine how silly Billy Dee Williams would have looked repping something called Bronco 45.

(Colt 45 Commercial With Billy Dee Williams (via Chrisdorph)

Things just kind of work out the way they're supposed to I guess...

The "greatest" Broncos to actually sign with the club following the 1961 draft, were Dale Evans (HB, Kansas State) and Phil Nugent (DB, Tulane). Evans amassed zero stats in five games and would (I'm guessing here) be constantly mistaken for Roy Roger's wife, the popular singing cowgirl of the same name. Nugent, the gem of the draft, racked up 7 interceptions for 77 yards, but only appeared with Broncos for the 1961 season. Following that year, he was out of football. With such a notable rookie season, one can only wonder why.


With the #2 overall pick, Denver selected future Hall-of-Famer, Merlin Olsen (DT, Utah State). Because the AFL threat was gaining ground, the Rams lured Olsen to Los Angeles with a near unheard of rookie contract worth $50,000 over two years (which was much more than the $12,000 that was the yearly average at the time). Olsen would go on to be a 14 time Pro-Bowler and 5 time First Team All-Pro for the Los Angeles Rams.

Few draftees made the 1962 roster. John McGeever (DB, Auburn) would play with the Broncos until 1965 when he would move on to become a member of the Miami Dolphin's inaugural team. Jerry Tarr (WR, Oregon) would only last the 1962 season. The last notable player from the 1962 draft was Jim Perkins (T, Colorado) who would play with the Broncos until 1964.


In 1963, the Broncos would sign more prospects than ever before. Future Ring-of-Fame quarterback Frank Tripucka and other original members of the 1960 squad were starting to show their age. The lack of a running game had rendered the Broncos a woefully one dimensional team whose only threat came from the air. This is also the year Denver would discard (burn) the vertically striped socks and become "predominantly orange" (or as I like to say, "predominantly awesome").

By now it was no secret that the Broncos were incapable of signing any of their high profile draftees. Governor Steve McNichols was enlisted to help the effort. Ray Poage (TE, Texas) and Tom Nomina (DT, Miami of Ohio) both received letters from Governor McNichols and one of the players, Nomina, was impressed enough to sign with Denver. He would be a Bronco for two years before going to Miami of Florida to play for the Dolphins.

In an attempt to solve the aging quarterback problem, the Broncos drafted Mickey Slaughter (Louisiana Tech). The non-existent running game was infused with a little youth when Billy Joe (RB, Villanova) and Charley Mitchell (HB, Washington) were both brought on board. Mitchell would play for four years before finishing his career in Buffalo. Billy Joe would be traded at the end of the following season.

Slaughter, Joe, and Mitchell were the first sizable draft signings in franchise history. Others that donned the orange and blue that year were Thomas Janik (DB, Texas A&M-Kingsville), Anton Powers (DT, Florida) and Hewritt Dixon (RB, Florida A&M). The "jewel" of this bunch was Dixon who played with the Broncos for three seasons. Janik would last two and Peters would only play in 1963.

What's probably most notable about this draft, besides the fact the Broncos were able to sign more players than it ever had before, was the fact that Denver was very mobile. For the first time in its history, it appears that the Broncos maneuvered around the draft to select their guys. However, this could also be a result of other teams looking to get their guys and the hapless Broncos were the perfect target of which to take advantage.


In the 1964 draft, the Denver Broncos traded (1960 free agent acquisition) Bud McFadden (DT/LB/OG/OT, Texas) and their 1965 first round pick to the Houston Oilers for Jacky Lee (QB, Cincinnati) who had been a solid back-up for George Blanda since the AFL was founded. Recent draftee Mickey Slaughter was injured following Frank Tripucka's hasty mid-season departure in 1963 and so it was thought that Lee would add much needed depth. On the surface, this looked to be a great trade for the Broncos, but below the surface, however, it was quite possibly the most short-sighted trade in Broncos history. Why? The trade agreement stipulated that Jacky would return to the Oilers after playing two seasons in Denver. Though we gave up a pick and a player, we were only loaned this quarterback for two years. Can you imagine the uproar that such a maneuver would cause today?

Besides the lopsided trade above, the 1964 draft is notable because Denver would draft two future Hall-of-Famers - Paul Krause (DB, Iowa) and "Bullet" Bob Hayes (WR, Florida A&M). Neither of them would sign with the Broncos.

The jewel of this draft was Al Denson (FL, Florida A&M) who would play with the Broncos until 1970, being elected to the AFL Pro-Bowl in 1967 and 1969. He was drafted by the Eagles and Denver in the sixth round of both drafts, but chose to sign with Denver.

Other notable pick-ups were Ray Kubala (C, Texas A&M) who would play with the Broncos until 1967. Odell Barry (WR, Findlay) and Charlie Parker (G, Southern Miss) would last for two seasons. Matt Snorton (TE, Michigan State) and Don Shackleford (G, Pacific) would enjoy only the 1964 season.

Make no mistake; the Broncos clearly struggled with the draft in their early years. Though, what transpired in the 1965 draft as a result of the Jacky Lee trade could possibly blow your mind.

More on that next time!