The first American Football League organizational meeting is held in Chicago. Denver, with Bob Howsam as its principal owner, is named as a charter member along with New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Houston.
As the Broncos began their journey in the American Football League, they did so with one hand tied behind their backs compared to their competition.
Some teams, like Bud Adams’ Houston Oilers and Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans, had budgets without limits. Their owners were wealthy, and would spend above and beyond to win. The Broncos did not have such resources under original owner Bob Howsam. Unlike Adams, Hunt and other owners in the new AFL, Hoswam’s business was sports. The Broncos’ budget was to be determined entirely by what they could take in.
Their first headquarters building was a converted Quonset hut— “just like the Marines would have had,” Howsam said decades later. The players wore garish mustard-and-brown uniforms purchased from the Copper Bowl, a postseason all-star game held in Tucson, Arizona. Those uniforms came to symbolize the hardscrabble existence of the original Broncos.
“They were the ugliest-looking things you ever wanted to see,” quarterback Frank Tripucka recalled. “The sizes were very small. I had to cut the armpits in order to be able to put the jerseys on top of my shoulder pads, in order to raise my arm up.”
The color scheme was bad enough, but the vertically striped socks — brown-and-yellow for home games; brown-and-white for road trips — capped the uniform, as it was, and made the Broncos the butt of sartorial jokes.
“They made you look like a peg is what they did,” said safety Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin. “You had these broad shoulders because of the pads and then you had these up-and-down striped socks. It was unique, put it that way.”
But despite their limited resources, the Broncos put forth an entertaining product. General manager Dean Griffing’s background in the Canadian Football League proved invaluable in trying to be competitive with an ironclad financial bottom line. He reached back into his CFL roots for the Broncos’ first head coach, former Saskatchewan Roughriders sideline boss Frank Filchock. They called on another ex-Roughrider, Frank Tripucka, to be the Broncos’ first starting quarterback after he appeared set to retire; he had closed out the 1959 season as the Roughriders’ interim coach following a brief stint with the Ottawa Rough Riders. They brought in players left and right.
“There were 120 guys in camp that first year,” Gonsoulin said decades later. “I pulled a hamstring at one point and thought that was it. Guys would get cut or traded on the road, so I’d always bring a full suitcase, just in case.”
It was a ragtag team, even by the standards of the fledgling circuit. But by July 1960, the Broncos were gathering at training camp. Major-league professional sports had come to Denver. Although no one realized it at the time, the truth is that the city and the entire Front Range would never be the same again; this cowtown on the high prairie was about to grow up.
Howsam, his brother Earl and Griffing did not use budgetary constraints as an excuse; they did their best with what they had. Given that such an ethos is a rallying cry of some successful baseball franchises in the 21st century, it is appropriate that eventually Howsam would become one of that sport’s finest executives, building the famed “Big Red Machine” as the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager in the 1970s.
“Those owners were behind the team, even though we didn’t have as much money as a lot of the other organizations had,” said original Bronco Gene Mingo 49 years later. “But they did throw us what they could and they backed the team as best they could.”