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Little Known Facts: Denver "The Premier Comeback Team"

60s Unis
60s Unis

One of the things you can do, if you are interested in the Broncos early history is peruse the Denver Broncos Media Guides -- they were called "Press Guides" during the Broncos' early years. Every Media Guide and Game Book from the very first game to the most recent game are available for free on Denver's official website ( They're filled with lots of interesting tidbits.

Something that caught my eye as I was skimming the 1962 Broncos Press Book was the following quote:

"The Broncos have established themselves as the premier 'comeback' team in professional football . . . on Oct 23, 1960, they trailed the Boston Patriots 0-24 with 17:50 left to play but won 31-24 . . . Five weeks later the Buffalo Bills held a commanding 7-38 lead with 19:17 to go when the Broncos caught fire and emerged with a 38-38 tie . . .

The statement that the Broncos -- after two seasons of play -- had established themselves as the "premier comeback" team sparked my curiosity. Were the 1960 and 1961 Broncos the best comeback team in professional football?

Take a jump & take a look

I want to start out by pointing out two things: I started by amending my original question slightly. I thought I would start by looking to see if the Broncos had been the best comeback team in the AFL -- I lacked the time and resources to take a look at every professional football game played in 1960-61. So I opted to narrow the parameters of the search to the eight teams of the AFL.

I'd also like to point out that this study defines a "comeback" as a game in which a team had trailed by one or more points as they entered the fourth quarter and were able to either win the game or force a tie. Thus a win in which a team fell behind 3-0 in the first quarter but went on to win 28-3 did not qualify as a comeback. With those two criteria in mind, I found the following things.

The Denver Broncos, in the twenty-eight games of the 1960 and 1961 seasons, executed four comebacks:

On 9-18-60, the Broncos were playing in Buffalo. The Bills had taken a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter when CB Jonny Pyeatt returned an interception 40 yards for the winning score. Denver 27, Buffalo 21.

On 10-23-60, Denver had fallen behind the Boston Patriots 14-24. Frank Tripucka completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to Al Carmichael to close the gap to 21-24. An 8-yard pass from Tripucka to Lionel Taylor gave the Broncos a 28-24 lead. Gene Mingo added a 9-yard field goal to close out the scoring and give Denver the 31-24 victory.

On 11-27-60, the Broncos hosted the Buffalo Bills. They fell behind 14-38 going into the fourth quarter. An 80-yard touchdown pass from Tripucka to Taylor cut the deficit to 21-38. The two connected for a second touchdown pass -- 35 yards this time -- to narrow the score to 28-38. FB Don Allen cut the lead to the 3 (31-38) on a 1-yard run. A 19-yard field goal by Gene Mingo gave Denver the tie at 38-38.

On 10-15-61, Denver was facing off against divisional rival Oakland. After falling behind 14-24, Frank Tripucka rallied the Broncos with a 26-yard touchdown pass to WR/RB Al Frazier to bring the score to 21-24. Jack Hill tied the game at 24-24 with a 10-yard field goal. Hill then gave the Broncos the win with a 27-yard field goal for a final score of 27-24.

Now the question becomes, "How did the other seven teams of the AFL fare during those first two seasons?"

We noted above that the Broncos executed four comebacks during their first two years. Honesty, compels us to recognize that three other AFL teams were able to pull off the same number of comeback wins.

The New York TItans
In 1960, the Titans had three comeback wins. They came back from a 14-17 deficit versus Denver (9-23-60) to win 28-24. They turned a 10-13 deficit versus Buffalo into a 17-13 win (10-16-60). On 12-11-60, they rallied from a 24-28 deficit to score a 31-28 victory. The Titans fourth comeback came in 1961 when they turned a 14-17 deficit into a 21-17 win.

The Boston Patriots
The Patriots had one comeback win in 1960 when they rallied from being down 14-24 to defeat the Titans 28-24 on 9-17-60. Their second comeback came on 10-29-61 when they changed a 7-17 Dallas lead into an 18-17 Patriots' victory. Coming back from a 13-17 deficit against Oakland (11-17-61), the Patriots won 20-17. Boston's final comeback came on 12-3-61 when they overcame a 14-17 Denver lead to win 28-24.

The Los Angeles Chargers (1960)/San Diego Chargers (1961)
All four of the Chargers' comeback wins occurred when the team was based in Los Angeles. On 9-10-60, they came back from a 7-20 deficit versus Dallas to win 21-20. Against Oakland (12-4-60), Los Angeles overcame a 3-point deficit (14-17) for a 41-17 victory (yes, you read that right, the Chargers trailed 14-17 at the end of three quarters, then put up 27 fourth quarter points). A week later (12-10-60), they over came a 27-33 deficit to defeat the Broncos 41-33. For a third week in a row (12-18-60), Los Angeles had to comeback from three points down (33-36) to secure the win (50-43).

Among the other four teams of the AFL, we find that Buffalo had 3 comebacks -- vs Houston 19-24 to 25-24, vs Houston 7-12 to 22-12, and vs Dallas 10-20 to 30-20. Houston executed two comebacks -- vs Boston 20-21 to 37-21 and 28-31 to a 31-31 tie. Oakland also had two comebacks -- vs Houston 7-13 to 14-13 and vs New York 14-24 to 28-27. The Dallas Texans pulled off just one comeback during those two years when they turned a 1-point deficit (34-35) to Oakland into a 42-35 victory.

On the one hand, it is hard to regard the 1960-61 Broncos as the "premier" comeback team of the AFL when three other AFL teams had the same number of comeback wins, it should be noted that the Broncos had to overcome double-digit deficits in three of their four comebacks. New York never had to overcome more than a four point deficit while Boston trailed by ten in two games that they went on to win and Los Angeles only had one deficit bigger than six points in their four comebacks. So, I guess, in one sense, we could say that the Broncos were the best comeback team in the AFL during those two years. The table below shows the deficits each team had to overcome for their comeback wins (deficits are listed in the order the games were played):
Team Comebacks Deficit Deficit Deficit Deficit
Denver 4 1 10 24 10
New York 4 3 3 4 3
Boston 4 10 10 4 3
Los Angeles/San Diego 4 13 3 6 3
Buffalo 3 5 5 10 x
Houston 2 1 3 x x
Oakland 2 6 10 x x
Dallas 1 1 x x x

You make the call: Were the Broncos the best comeback team in the AFL in 1960 & 1961?

Go Broncos!!!!!