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Broncos’ great Gene Mingo gets some much-deserved air time on NPR’s ‘Only a Game’

It’s a great week to remember “The Forgotten Legend.”

Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

At the end of a week in which our nation saluted one of the most pioneering African-Americans in U.S. history in Martin Luther King Jr., it seems appropriate to also celebrate one of the most pioneering African-Americans in pro football and Broncos history - Gene Mingo.

Long before Aqib Talib made No. 21 a “number to watch” in orange and blue, Mingo made it a “number to look out for” in brown and gold as he punted, kicked, returned kicks, ran over defenders and even caught passes in the very first days of the Broncos as well as professional football.

Mingo was finally inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2014, and though he’ll probably never garner the attention he deserves for what he brought to the AFL and NFL and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he got some thoughtful media attention Saturday when NPR’s “Only A Game” highlighted the AFL and NFL’s first African-American placekicker in a fitting tribute on Boston’s WBUR.

Check it out:

So let’s remind ourselves what Mingo meant to us as well as to pro football - but perhaps more importantly, to African-American athletes today who enjoy a much friendlier environment from their team cities, fans and even teammates because he played at a time when white and black athletes may have been equal on the football field but were not treated as such off of it.

Known often as “The Forgotten Legend,” Mingo was officially on the Broncos’ roster as placekicker from 1960 to 1964 - the first African-American placekicker in professional football. But he was one of the most versatile players on the team, and what he’s often most remembered for in Broncos’ lore is his 76-yard punt return against the Boston Patriots in the AFL’s first game Sept. 9, 1960. Though Mingo wasn’t planning to be a punt returner, injuries earlier in the game meant he was called up.

And as he became known for, Mingo delivered.

“I can still see it now,” Mingo told last November. “I made like I was making a move to my left, then back to my right. I picked up my blockers and just ran down the sideline. When I got there, I was so tired that I couldn’t kick the extra point. I kicked a big divot out of the ground. My leg was dead.

“When I was going down the sideline and I could see the coach and some of the guys waving me on, that was one of the best feelings. Here’s a kid who did not go to college and now he’s starting a pro career than nobody really expected him to have, let alone score the winning touchdown on a punt return. That can never be broken.”

Mingo unofficially played seven different positions for the Broncos, and former Broncos’ PR stalwart Jim Saccomano once told Mingo he had scored seven different ways for the Broncos. Mingo recalled the story in a radio interview recently and said he “wasn’t even sure what all those ways were.”

During his first four seasons with the Broncos, Mingo was third in pro football with 375 total points, leading the AFL in scoring in 1960 and 1962. Named an All-Star in 1962, Mingo was the only player in AFL history “to tally scores of 50 yards or more by rushing, receiving, passing, punt return and field goals.”

Saccomano described Mingo as a “multi-talented weapon during the formative years of the franchise.” Though he went on to play 10 seasons in the AFL/NFL with stints in Oakland, Miami, Washington and Pittsburgh, Mingo always considered Denver his team - “The Broncos will always be my team.”

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