Once upon a time, there was another professional football team in Denver that played at old Mile High Stadium.
The Denver Gold.
With sudden word last week that the long defunct USFL would revive itself with some of the original franchises from that storied early-80’s league, this former Gold fan got excited. Okay, in all fairness, I was all of 6-years old when the league folded. However, I was gifted a really nifty Denver Gold tee shirt in my twenties that I wore until it fell apart.
With all the expansion football leagues that have populated over the years, I have been so disappointed that the XFL, AAF, World Football League, and United Football League all decided not to showcase a franchise from Denver. It’s no wonder all these attempts to bring football into the spring were crushing failures.
While it remains to be seen if the Denver Gold will indeed be one of the franchises that will be revived, fans should be prepared to know about them just in case. Like their NFL counterpart, the Broncos, the Denver Gold started off as team that was strapped for cash and, also like the early Broncos, had trouble attracting talent. The general nostalgia for the league comes from players like Gary Zimmerman, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, and Jim Kelly playing for the Los Angeles Express, New Jersey Generals, Memphis Showboats, and the Houston Gamblers.
Ultimately, the league’s first operations chief, John Ralston, got in touch with local real estate magnate Ron Blanding, an old friend from his days as head coach of the National Football League’s Denver Broncos. After some pleading, Blanding agreed to sign on.
The first couple coaches for the Gold were instrumental in that Super Bowl XX run of 1977.
The Gold attempted to utilize some of the goodwill established by the more established Broncos by involving former Broncos players and coaches in the Gold organization for the Gold’s inaugural 1983 season. Blanding and [Red] Miller had known each other for years, dating to Miller’s tenure as coach of the Broncos. Miller stocked his Gold roster with a number of former Broncos players. He also tapped his former starting quarterback with the Broncos, Craig Morton, as his offensive coordinator. Morton became head coach after Blanding fired Miller in the middle of the 1983 season.
Unfortunately, the Denver Gold never had much success compared to other USFL teams. In 1983 they went 7-11 and in 1984 they went 9-9. When the USFL moved from spring to fall, to directly compete with the NFL, the Gold’s improved play went unnoticed in 1985 by the Broncos-focused fans. That year, the Gold mustered an 11-7 record, but were annihilated in the quarterfinal playoff against the Memphis Showboats.
Before the USFL’s ultimate collapse in 1986, the Denver franchise was in serious jeopardy of moving to another city.
With the Gold’s viability destroyed by the USFL’s planned move to a fall schedule in 1986, Spedding announced in November that he planned to move the Gold to Portland, Oregon to take the place of the departed Portland Breakers. However, just three months later, Spedding sold the Gold’s player contracts to the Jacksonville Bulls. Although the move was billed as a merger, Spedding retained the Gold’s intellectual properties. He seriously considered joining Bassett’s proposed spring football league before Bassett’s failing health prevented that league from launching. Instead Spedding, Bassett, and the USFL as a whole were doomed by the ill-advised attempt to move the playing season to the fall in 1986 in direct competition with the more-established NFL.
So could the Denver Gold be back in 2022? Currently, no returning teams have been announced. For my own selfish reasons, I hope they do come back. I loved that old Denver Gold t-shirt.
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