Remembering Pat Bowlen

Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

Broncos legend Rod Smith is interviewed by the media beneath the portrait of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. The Broncos faithful turned out by the thousands to say goodbye to Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who died of Alzheimer’s June 13. A 5-hour open house was held at Broncos Stadium at Mile High June 18.

This game’s for Pat Bowlen and Champ Bailey.

And for the 100 best players in the Broncos’ 60-season history, who also are being honored this weekend.

Including these eight – Frank Tripucka, Austin “Goose’’ Gonsoulin, Dave Costa, Cookie Gilchrist, Bud McFadin, Paul Smith, Lyle Alzado and Darrent Williams – who have passed away, and the oldest, at 84, of the former and current Broncos – Lionel Taylor and Eldon Danenhower.

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Al Carmichael, who died last month at 90, also should be recognized. In the last newspaper interview the then eldest-living former Broncos player gave, he told me: “I feel like I’m 60.’’

Carmichael spent six years in the 1950s with the Packers before unretiring to join the upstart Broncos in their inaugural 1960 season. The running back held the distinctions of catching Southern Cal’s winning touchdown pass in the ’53 Rose Bowl; the longest kickoff return ever in the NFL (106 yards), and the first Broncos and AFL touchdown – a 59-yard reception from Tripucka in an 13-10 victory over the Patriots.

“I didn’t know what it meant until late in the season,’’ he said. “I had my best year of pro football in 1960 (seven touchdowns) and fell in love with Denver,’’ he said. A severe knee injury ended his career in ’61.

But Carmichael started another pulsating phase of his life by becoming a Hollywood actor and stunt man in more 50 movies and TV shows. He was the stand-in double for Burt Lancaster (“Jim Thorpe, All-American’’ and “Elmer Gantry’’), Kurt Douglas (“Spartacus’’ and “Birdman of Alcatraz”) and Clint Eastwood (“Rawhide’’).

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“They told me if I would fall off a horse, I’d get an extra $50,’’ he told me. “I learned how to ride.’’

He performed as a cowboy, a soldier, a gangster, a Roman gladiator and a football player (three movies).

Of the 49 Broncos on the initial roster with Carmichael, five will be saluted Sunday during the Broncos’ game with the Titans (who began life as the Houston Oilers in 1960). The Broncos lost twice that season to the Oilers and twice more to the New York Titans (now the Jets).

Joe Namath, who is celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of his “guarantee’’ triumph in Super Bowl III, told me recently on my podcast that he hated playing in Denver.

He made only five appearances at old Bears/Mile High Stadium in his 13-season career with the Jets and the Rams and was 2-3.

Defensive tackle “Dave Costa gave me the worst (legal) hit of my entire career’’ in 1969. While Broadway Joe lie on the turf, “I could hear the entire crowd (of 50,583) cheering.’’ The Broncos won, 21-19.

Costa was an AFL All-Star in his first three years with the Broncos before the merger (1970).

In 1969 he finished with 12 sacks, including the monstrous hit of Namath.

“I’d like to have about 12 more like Costa,’’ coach Lou Saban said. Sadly, Costa died when he was 71 in 2013.

He will be missed with others Sunday.

Tripucka, a Ring of Famer, was one of only three Broncos whose number (18) is retired. Goose Gonsoulin, also a three-time AFL All-Star, retired as the league’s interception leader with 43 and became an original Ring of Fame inductee in 1984.

The late Paul Smith, who was with the Broncos for 11 seasons and is in the Ring of Fame, ended up with 55.5 sacks and was a starter in Denver’s first Super Bowl, as was Alzado, the extreme-team defensive end.

The Broncos’ Good Guy Award is named in memory of cornerback-returner Darrent Williams, who, after just two outstanding years with the Broncos, was murdered on Jan. 1, 2007.

Twenty-eight players of the top 100 Broncos are in the Ring of Fame with coaches Dan Reeves and Red Miller and owners Bowlen and Gerald Phipps

The 29th, Champ Bailey, will be added to the exclusive Ring of Fame Sunday. He and Bowlen were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 21 – joining Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little and Terrell Davis.

At least nine others of the Broncos’ elite 100 belong in Canton.

On Sunday the Broncos will win (the 501st victory in regular season and postseason) for Pat, Champ and the approximate 1,600 players in franchise history.

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