If you look up at the Broncos Ring of Fame, you’ll see early quarterbacks Frank Tripucka and Charley Johnson, but in between them there was a quarterback who electrified Broncos Country, made history, and set records in the process.
I have never been shy about my admiration for former Broncos quarterback Marlin Briscoe. If you search the annals of Mile High Report, I am sure you can at least a dozen articles I’ve written on him since I became a staff writer in 2011. I had always thought it was so amazing that my team, the Denver Broncos, had been on the forefront of change in the NFL... and disappointed that Marlin wasn’t given a larger opportunity to make more history.
As a fan growing up in the 1980’s, you just never heard about Marlin. Never heard of his 1968 record-setting rookie season playing alongside Floyd Little. It wasn’t until much later that I became aware of Marlin’s legacy as the NFL’s first black starting quarterback. There were no plaques. No coaching fellowship. Nothing in the Ring of Fame.
Here was something fans could be proud of from an era of Broncos history where there wasn’t that much to celebrate. Why was Marlin put aside in such a way? Why was he only given one year? What happened to him after he left?
In 2006, I was working as a Development Executive for a small film and television company in Los Angeles. I was always on the lookout for stories that would make a great show. At the time, I was enthralled by Marlin’s story and wanted to see if there was any way I could help make something of it.
After some sleuthing, I found out that a company named West Omaha Films had already been working on a filmed adaptation of Briscoe’s life story. I reached out to Terry Hanna who, along with John Beasley and David B. Clark had been working with Marlin to get the project moving.
Most people in my position would have just moved on to find other stories to tell, but I so loved Marlin’s story that I made myself available to Terry if there was anything I could do to help. From time to time, I would check-in and get get updates on the progress of the film. In 2010, Gregory Allen Howard, the screenwriter of Remember the Titans had come aboard to rework the script. Sports agent superstar Leigh Steinberg and Warren Moon’s Sports 1 Marketing had partnered with West Omaha Films. It looked like the Marlin Briscoe movie was really going to happen.
It was Terry who made the introduction for me when I became a staff writer here at Mile High Report. When Marlin agreed to let me interview him, I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, a fan of his story, his play, of Marlin Briscoe the person, and I could ask him literally anything.
For two hours, he sat on the phone with me as we chronicled his singular year with the Broncos, Floyd Little, Lou Saban, and his ultimate release from Denver. He was friendly, forthcoming, and patient with me as I asked him literally everything I wanted to know. Here was a person that played a major part in NFL and Broncos history... and he talked to me willingly for over two hours.
In 2011, that interview became a four-part series that was published as part of our Greatest to Wear series wherein he was named the greatest Denver Bronco to wear #15. Since then, I’ve written numerous articles keeping Marlin’s story out there. It’s been a couple years since I last spoke to Terry, but when I did he was still hopeful about the film.
Marlin Briscoe passed away on Monday at the age of 76.
Ordinarily, when a player passes away, I take the time to detail their life and contribution to the Denver Broncos. One article that every site writes that are interchangeable. Not this time. Not with Marlin Briscoe.
I’m writing this today to make one more plea to get the Marlin Briscoe movie made.
Marlin’s one year with the Broncos is historic, his back-to-back Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins as a wide receiver were something, and his time playing with OJ Simpson and the Buffalo Bills was notable, but it was his life after football and the redemption story that followed that make Briscoe’s story so movie-worthy.
After leaving the NFL, he became addicted to cocaine, homeless, and was in and out of jail numerous times. When Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins beat the ever-living snot out of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, Marlin watched the game from inside a San Diego jail.
When Briscoe died on Monday, his life was in a very different place than it was in the 1980s. With addiction behind him, he rebuilt his life in service to others. In a complete reversal of his troubled past he became the director of the Boys and Girls Club and founded a football camp for kids. His athletic accolade were also acknowledged as he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and had a statue of him unveiled in 2020 at his alma mater, now the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
The Broncos went on to finally acknowledge his legacy with a plaque that hangs on the stadium near the entrance to the team store. Less than a year ago, they created the Marlin Briscoe Diversity Coaching Fellowship designed to provide coaching opportunities for those underrepresented within the NFL coaching ranks.
Marlin was an amazing person with an amazing story to tell. The movie about his life deserves to be made.
Let’s tell the story of Marlin Briscoe.