The Broncos were born with the American Football League, but out of a proposed third major baseball league that never got off the ground: the Continental League.
With Bob Howsam the driving force, Denver was one of the cities to join the proposed third circuit until Major League Baseball reacted by quickly expanding to Houston, relocating the Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul and returning the National League to New York City. That led to the quick death of the Continental League, and left Denver with little else on which it could hang its sports hat.
With Bears Stadium expanding by 8,000 seats, Howsam knew he needed a big-league tenant for what had been only a minor-league stadium. The American Football League came along at the right time.
In the same summer that Denver was connected to the Continental League, the city and Howsam were on much firmer footing as part of the AFL’s “Foolish Club,” the group of eight original owners who grew impatient with the NFL’s deliberate attempts at its own expansion and wanted their piece of a pro football pie that was only beginning to grow.
The Broncos were one of the original eight AFL teams. But the team was run on a tight budget under Howsam and other early owners, the Broncos could only spend what they took in. Their first uniforms — complete with vertically striped socks — were hand-me-downs. They couldn’t afford to get into bidding wars for top-flight college talent.
The team struggled. Attendance lagged. But Denver residents and business leaders knew what kind of treasure they had in their first big-league team. Multiple ticket drives helped save the team, expand Bears Stadium and prevent relocation to Atlanta.
On the field, the Broncos didn’t break .500. But in their first seven seasons, the Broncos overcame a lack of resources to survive, ensuring that Denver would be a big-league town.
“They said, ‘This is not going to work,'” Howsam’s son, Robert Jr., said a half-century later. “Yeah, if you win a world championship, we’ll give you some support. A Super Bowl wasn’t even created yet. But he just said ‘Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.'”