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.

1965 Schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/11 at san diego chargers 31-34
9/19 buffalo bills 15-30
9/24 at boston patriots 27-10
10/3 new york jets 16-13
10/10 kansas city chiefs 23-31
10/17 houston oilers 28-17
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
11/21 oakland raiders 20-28
12/5 at oakland raiders 13-24
12/12 boston patriots 20-28
12/19 at kansas city chiefs 35-45

March 5, 1965
Record sale of 941 season tickets in one day

Season ticket drive goal of 20,000 sales reached

1965 offense

Pos Player Starts
se lionel taylor
lt bob breitenstein
lg jerry sturm
c ray kubala
rg bob mccullough
rt elden danenhauer
te hewritt dixon
te al denson
fl bob scarpitto
qb mickey slaughter
qb john mccormick
hb abner haynes
hb charlie mitchell
fb cookie gilchrist
fb wendell hayes

Dec. 12, 1965: Broncos conclude home season with total attendance of 219,786, an average of 34,398 per game. Both the total and average attendance were AFL Western Division records.

December, 1965
Tackle Eldon Danenhauer, Split End Lionel Taylor and Fullback Cookie Gilchrist named to the all-AFL team

1965 defense

Pos Player Starts
le ed cooke
lt ray jacobs
rt charlie janerette
re max leetzow
re leroy moore
llb tom erlandson
mlb jerry hopkins
mlb ed cummings
rlb john bramlett
lc willie brown
lc jim mcmillan
rc john mcgeever
ls miller farr
ls john griffin
rs goose gonsoulin

Record: 4-10
Fourth place, AFL west