In January of 1964, the Broncos and the Jets completed an historic nine-player trade, the largest that had ever been made in the AFL.
“Lend-Lease” Lee and lean times for the team
The Broncos needed a quarterback for the 1964 season. They got one — albeit in a unique way — and not on a permanent basis. How it went down encapsulated all that was going awry for a team that finished 2-11-1 for a second consecutive year, which led to dwindling season-ticket sales and attendance.
Thus, Lee became known as “Lend-Lease Lee.”
It’s not a moniker he liked then — or decades later, for that matter. But it symbolized where the Broncos stood at that point. He wouldn’t have played in Houston because of the presence of veteran George Blanda, so the Oilers shipped him to Denver so he could get experience.
It didn’t do anything to help the perception of the Broncos. Some in pro football considered the AFL a minor league anyway, and a deal like this gave the appearance that the Broncos were a farm team within it.
Broncos coach Jack Faulkner was Lee’s position coach at the University of Cincinnati, so he thought he knew what he was getting. But Lee never panned out as he hoped, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (11) in 1964.
Faulkner was fired after Lee and the Broncos stumbled to an 0-4 opening, having won just two of 23 games after the 7-2 start in 1962. Mac Speedie took over, and Lee fell out of favor; by 1965, he was a reserve, starting just one game behind Mickey Slaughter and John McCormick.
Lee started 10 of the first 11 games in 1964, but fell out of favor under new coach Mac Speedie, and started just one game in the 4-10 season of 1965, with Mickey Slaughter and John McCormick starting the rest. He went back to Houston in 1966, with the Broncos still in the same spot — among the AFL’s cellar-dwellers.