|9/11||at san diego chargers||31-34|
|9/24||at boston patriots||27-10|
|10/3||new york jets||16-13|
|10/10||kansas city chiefs||23-31|
|10/24||at buffalo bills||13-31|
|10/31||at new york jets||10-45|
|11/7||san diego chargers||21-35|
|11/14||at houston oilers||31-21|
|12/5||at oakland raiders||13-24|
|12/19||at kansas city chiefs||35-45|
Saving the franchise
The 1965 season was more of the same on the field. But off of it, the Broncos had hope that blossomed from the threat of moving the team.
As Gerald Phipps told Sports Illustrated at the time: “I had visits from two very fine men—Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets and Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills. They tried to convince me the Broncos ought to get out of Denver for the good of the league. They considered Denver a detriment to the AFL, and at the time they were right.”
The Broncos had sold just 7,996 season tickets for the 1964 season, in which they went 2-11-1 for a second consecutive year. To this day, these remain the two worst seasons in team history, and they came at the worst possible point: when the club was still fledgling, and fragile. A stiff economic gust would be enough to knock down the entire operation, even with the increased television money from NBC set to transform every AFL club’s bottom line.
But the Phippses declined Atlanta’s offer on Valentine’s Day, 1965. A day later, having taken out a seven-figure loan, Gerald Phipps turned to Cal Kunz and offered $1.5 million for the 52 percent of the franchise controlled by Kunz and the investors he represented. On Feb. 16, the Broncos announced that the Phippses had 94 percent of the team, and that it would stay in Denver.
Denver responded to the Valentine with unbridled love of its own. Knowing what would be lost if the Broncos had left, a ticket drive set a goal of 20,000 season tickets. They moved fast.
The Broncos took a novel approach to reach that goal. Instead of turning to corporations, they focused on fans who became the heart and soul of the organization. This wouldn’t be like Green Bay, where locals own shares of the Packers, but the fans felt invested. Local businessmen like construction magnate Nick Petry led the way. Denver-area banks got involved to help finance their season-ticket plans.
“I’d rather sell 1,000 individuals one ticket each than sell 1,000 tickets to one big company,” Petry said in 1965. “A sidewalk and country-road alumni is what we want. When it is snowing or the team is not doing well, the individual fan who has bought his own ticket will be at the game.”
The goal of 20,000 season tickets was hit by April, in a stampede to spend unseen since the Gold Rush days. The number would eventually climb above 23,000. The on-field performance was much the same for the short term, but attendance rocketed from dead last in the league in attendance to fourth, with a 31,398 average that nearly doubled the previous year’s total.
The Broncos were in Denver to stay.