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Denver Broncos Greats . . . By The Numbers: #18

Frank Tripucka QB 1960-63

Frank "The Trip" Tripucka is the only player to wear #18 in the history of the franchise. According to Jim Saccomano of the Broncos, Tripucka's number was retired at a ceremony at Bears Stadium -- which later became the Original Mile High Stadium -- shortly before his retirement in 1963. It was the first number ever retired by the Broncos. Only John Elway's #7 and Floyd Little's #44 have joined Tripucka's number in retirement.

After the jump, let's find out some more about the Bronco's first quarterback.

Francis (Frank) Joesph "The Trip" Tripucka was raised in New Jersey and went to college at Notre Dame. In college, he played behind great quarterbacks (Frank Dancewicz, George Ratterman and Johnny Lujack). He was part of a ball-control offense which did not requirement him to throw very many passes -- though he was described as being a pocket passer with a strong arm.

In 1949, Tripucka was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, but was traded to the Detroit Lions before ever playing with the Eagles. He spent one season with the Lions before ending up with the Chicago Cardinals for three seasons. He played six games for the Dallas Texans to end his NFL career.

Tripucka moved on to the Canadian Football League after the NFL, where he played quarterback for seven years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders under the direction of head coach Frank Filchock. When Filchock was selected as the Broncos' first ever head coach, he brought Tripucka with him to be an assistant coach.

The story goes that the Broncos were playing a preseason scrimmage at the Colorado School of Mines and quarterbacks George Herring and Tom Dublinski couldn't "hit the broad side of a barn." Filchock convinced Tripucka to play quarterback to finish out the game so that the fans in attendance could be treated to a decent showing. Tripucka agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let's take a look at some of Tripucka's accomplishments as a Bronco:

He started 37 out of 44 games for Denver, compiling a 13-25-1 record. It has been claimed that Tripucka did not have a playbook to work from and was often seen drawing plays on the ground in the huddle. Tripucka reputedly referred to his offensive line as the "watch out" line since that is what they would yell as the defenders charged past them.

During his career as a Bronco, Tripucka completed 51.8% of his passes for 7676 yards. He threw 51 touchdown passes and was intercepted 85 times. Tripucka's longest pass completion was 96 yards. He only managed an average of 6.0 yards per attempt, however. His Broncos career passer rating was 55.9

Now, at first, this appears to be a rather undistinguished career. Consider something first: He was the first ever quarterback for a team that was part of a brand new professional football league which was competing for players and fans with the NFL which was had been around for nearly forty-years.

According to the Denver Broncos Media Guide, some of Tripucka's statistical bests include (not counting 1963 where he appeared in only 2 games):
Best W/L Record 6-7-0 1962
Best Completion Percentage 54.5 1962
Highest Number of Passing Yards 3038 1960
Highest Number of Touchdowns 24 1960
Lowest Number of Interceptions 21 1961
Best TD-to-Int Ratio 1:1.42 1960

When compared to the rest of the fledgling AFL, we find that Tripucka was: 1st in completed passes (1960 & 62, 4th in 61), 1st in passing yards (60 & 62, 6th in 61), 1st in passing yards per game (60 & 62, 6th in 61) and 3rd in completion percentage (60 & 62, 4th in 61). Tripucka was voted into one Pro Bowl (1962) and was voted to the All-Pro 2nd Team in 1960.

Tripucka held a number of Broncos records early on and continues to rank high in many passing categories:

He ranks 4th in 300+ yard passing games with 5 (one was for over 400 yards), standing behind John Elway (40), Brian Griese (12) and Jay Cutler (10).
Tripucka was the only Bronco quarterback to pass for over 3000 yards in a season until Craig Morton surpassed his record in 1981.
He held the record for the most passing yards in a game (447) until Gus Frerotte threw for 462 yards against San Diego on 11/19/2000.
Tripucka held the record for the most career completions (662) until Craig Morton threw 907 between 1977 and 1982.
He held the record for the most career touchdowns (51) until Charley Johson (1972-75) threw 52 during his time as a Bronco.
Tripucka held the record for the most touchdowns thrown in a single season (24 thrown in 1960) until John Elway threw 25 touchdowns in 1993.
He is the co-holder of the record for the most touchdowns thrown in a single game (5), a record he holds with John Elway and Gus Frerotte.
Co-holder of record for most TDs in a game (5) with Elway and Frerotte.

There are two very notable, unbreakable records held by Tripucka:

(1)He was the first AFL quarterback to throw a touchdown pass.

(2)He was the first professional quarterback to throw for over 3000 yards in a single season.

Lastly, Tripucka was inducted into the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1986 along with QB Charley Johnson and DE Paul Smith.

Frank Tripucka -- Greatest to Wear #18