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Denver Bronco Greats... By the Numbers: An Interview With #15 - Marlin Briscoe - Part II

Marlin Briscoe was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 14th round (#357 overall) of the 1968 draft.  When negotiating his contract, Briscoe stipulated his desire for a three-day tryout at quarterback before agreeing to sign as a defensive back. When starting quarterback Steve Tensi broke his collarbone and the other quarterbacks performed poorly, Briscoe became the first starting African-American quarterback in the history of the NFL. After just 11 games, he was nominated and became the first runner-up for Rookie of the Year. The Denver Broncos released him from his contract before the start of the 1969 season.

He was recently named as Mile High Report's Greatest Bronco to Wear #15.

What follows is Mile High Report's interview with Marlin Briscoe.  His is truly an amazing story that offers incredible insight into what Denver Broncos and pro-football were like in the late 1960's.  

For Part I of the interview, click HERE

…and now Part II of the interview with the greatest Denver Bronco to wear #15: Marlin Briscoe.


Jess Place:  Now with your numbers, the focus of this interview is we've kind of gone through all the numbers for the Denver Broncos and have picked the greatest Broncos for those numbers.  And so you are the greatest Bronco that wore number 15.

Marlin Briscoe:  Well thank you.  But Tim Tebow wears 15 doesn't he?

Jess Place:  I believe so, but he's still got a little ways to go, I think, before he eclipses Marlin Briscoe.

Marlin Briscoe:  Thank you.  I appreciate it.

Jess Place:  What are your thoughts on Tim Tebow wearing #15 and that being your old number?

Marlin Briscoe:  Well I watched [his] last two years in college, very impressed with how he handled himself on the field.  I know they talk about his mechanics throwing the ball, but the guy's a winner and he has these innate intangibles that you can't judge with a stop watch or by the eye of a throwing motion.  I was always impressed by him. 

I think I still have the Denver Bronco rookie record for the most touchdown passes in a season.  And I thought that-- [if] Elway and some of those guys didn't break it, I thought that given the opportunity, if [Tebow] got to start, especially if they play 16 games, [...] he would have a chance of breaking the record.  I just happen to think that given the chance he might be a productive player at that position and now that he's got number 15, I was thinking that hopefully he'll live up to that number.

Jess Place:   With any luck, yeah.  What did you think when you received the #15?  I saw that I guess Lou Saban placed the jersey in your locker and that's how you found out you were going to play quarterback.

Marlin Briscoe:  Well yes, I was coming off that hamstring injury and I was finally healing and while I was on the mend, Steve Tensi had gotten injured and they brought in some of those quarterbacks. There were eight quarterbacks in that three day trial that I had participated in and I think it was two or three of them got an opportunity to replace Steve with no success.  And as a matter of fact I think the Broncos, during the last couple of preseason and then into the regular season had not scored a touchdown -- the offense wasn't being very productive. 

So the situation I was in, they were either going to have to put me on their roster or cut me.  So, I was just getting ready to go back to practice. I think it was the first day that I was going to go back to practice. So, I go to my locker and in my locker is this # 15.  Well I immediately thought that I was cut. I figured that somehow the Broncos needed a quarterback and because of the lack of production with the quarterbacks that they had and so I figured they had traded for another quarterback.

Jess Place:  So they had given your locker essentially to someone else.

Marlin Briscoe:  That's what I thought.

Jess Place:  Oh my.  

Marlin Briscoe:  And see back in those days, to be honest with you, I think that if you went to your locker they wouldn't tell you you were cut, they'd take your jersey.  And that was the myth or the rumor of how the Grim Reaper would come and get you.  So when I opened my locker and saw the #15, I immediately thought that I was cut and I just kind of stared at it and I was kind of-- for lack of a better word, I was kind of sad because I thought that I had worked so hard to make this team and seemed like I had made it, and now with this #15 in my locker my dreams of being a professional football player were being dismantled. 

At that point, I turned around and there was Lou Saban and he said, "My friend," that was how he used to address players back in the days, "My friend," he says, "You see that number 15 in your locker?"  And I said, "Yeah," and I was waiting for him to spring the bad news.  He said, "That's your number, you're now our quarterback."  And all of a sudden man, my leg really got healed, my heart started to palpitate.  You know, being a quarterback, I couldn't show too much emotion, quarterbacks have to maintain a cool about them.  But basically inside I was tingling all over.  I went out that afternoon as a quarterback.  The most interesting thing is to go from #45 to this number #15 in the afternoon practice as a reaction to the players to see me trot out on that field it.  At that point I was their backup quarterback.

Jess Place:  So they didn't know, they just saw you come out on the field in your new number.

Marlin Briscoe:  Yeah.  They saw me come out on the field.  And, you know, like Al Denson and Crabtree and those receivers, I had worked with them in that three day trial, so they knew what I could do.  But the linemen weren't there for the most part and the defensive backs weren't there, because it was basically a skeleton passing.  So I had to go in that first day and prove that I could play, that I could contribute. [...] When I ran out there, I had to exude confidence in order to show that I could be a leader even though it was my first time out there with the entire team. 

Jess Place:  Let me just back up here just a bit.

Marlin Briscoe:  Sure.

Jess Place:  What was your quarterback preparation like from your three day tryout and after?

Marlin Briscoe:  Well like I said it was no real preparation. From the cerebral playbook standpoint, it was all passing and footwork.  So when I went in on that field, the first time after Lou Saban showed me my jersey, I had no experience, in terms of the playbook strategy during the course of a game. 

In a home game against the Boston Patriots, September 29th, 1968, Steve Tensi broke his collar bone and Marlin Briscoe was called in to take his place at quarterback. 

Marlin Briscoe:  I think I had a total of maybe eight plays going into that game.  I never figured I was going to go in.  I didn't have any playbook arsenal to take into that game.  [...] I think Joe DiVito was ahead of me. I had no preparation, they didn't give us-- we didn't run plays in that three day camp.  It was basically they were looking to see how we threw the ball, our command coming out of the huddle and that kind of a thing.

Jess Place:  They just kind of handed you a ball and said, "Go."

Marlin Briscoe:  "Go."  And so that first week I had no inkling that I was going to even play.  And with ten minutes left, they sent me into the game. Here I am with no real arsenal from a tactical standpoint.  So I just went out there and played college ball, just ran it through.  I just used innate ability and never lost faith in myself.  I wasn't nervous or anything.  I think my players were more nervous for me than I was because I went out there, "You're going to be okay.  You're going to be okay, just-- " and I said, "Let's go."  And I guess they saw that I wasn't nervous and they calmed down.  

[...] I knew that I didn't have that many [pass plays], so I was just going to run it and throw it.  My first pass - I knew that I needed to complete my first pass.  I said, if anything, I need to complete the first pass to get me going and get the fans going, get the team going and I was able to do that on a slant.  I call a safe play, threw a slant to Eric Crabtree, went 22 yards and then we just kept going down the field; we scored, got the ball back, went all the way down and scored.  Time ran out, but the fact that I was able to move the team in those two drives with a limited, a very limited play menu, I think that was impressive to the team and the coaches to be able to do that when, in the entire game, the quarterback that had a game plan couldn't score.  So it was quite a revelation that day for the team and myself.

Jess Place:  It must have been something.

Marlin Briscoe:  Yeah, it was and the response from the fans and the media was great, it couldn't have been better.

Jess Place:  What was that like at the stadium, your first time going into Bears Stadium, Mile High Stadium?  How did that feel?

Marlin Briscoe:  Well as a quarterback, because I had been there as a defensive back, like I said I was a starter.

Jess Place:  Was it any different being the quarterback?

Marlin Briscoe:  Oh yeah, yeah.  It's different being a quarterback.  Defensive back you have a different mindset.  As a defensive back you're out there to destroy people.  We had to be able to tackle, defend against wide receivers; we had to take on guards on sweeps.  So it was more physical; your mind is more physical as a defensive back, which I had to revert to.  And then as a quarterback, [...], you're the leader - you got to be calm. You can't get overly excited. You got to make right decisions. You've got to be in control of the huddle. Pretty much, you got to be oblivious to the crowd - you can't play into the hands of the crowd.  So as a quarterback I didn't really notice the crowd. 

I went out there to do a job and I wouldn't have let the intimidation of a large crowd in.  [...If a] quarterback wins, he gets the credit, if they lose he gets the blame.  I do know that.  But, I got a heck of a response during the game and of course after the game. Glowing response from both the fans and the media and my players, so everything was intact. [...] Even though we didn't pull the win out, we almost did.

Jess Place:  Well, you caused some excitement. Could you speak a little bit about your relationship with Lou Saban?  I know he called you, "My friend," but there at the end, suddenly something happened.  What was it that happened that caused you to have to move on?

To be continued...

Keep your browsers pointed this way for Part III of Mile High Report's interview with Marlin Briscoe!

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Marlin Briscoe's story is currently being developed as a major motion picture.  THE MAGICIAN chronicles Marlin's successes, struggles and triumph over racism and substance abuse throughout his life.  His is an inspirational and historic story that every football fan should know.  For more information on the movie, go here.  To visit the Marlin Briscoe store, go here.