The Worst Teams of All Time, Part 18: The AFL Broncos

This is a post in an ongoing series, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field.

Before I talk about how good the Broncos are nowadays, I just need to preface everything by showing you all that no matter how awful the Broncos were in the AFL, their uniforms were unquestionably the worst. Here are the nearly-identical throwbacks they wore recently:

AFL Broncos Uniforms

*Dry Heave*

Okay, got that out of the way. The Broncos today are a force in the AFC, led by an undeniably aging and fragile Peyton Manning, but winners of the AFC in 2013 and a playoff lock in 2014. The Broncos won the Super Bowl in the 1990’s, got there three times in the 1980’s, got there once in the 1970’s, and never achieved a winning season in the 1960’s, where they resided in the AFL. In 10 seasons, the Broncos finished with a putrid record of 39-97-4.

Howsam Bob 6181.89_HS_NBL

A man by the name of Bob Howsam was the first ever owner for the Broncos, and he only managed the team for a single season, 1960. This was their founding season, and although it couldn’t have been very good, there was success down the road…right?

In their inaugural season, the Broncos finished 4-9-1. They started 4-2, but collapsed and lost their final seven games and tied one with Buffalo. The offensive numbers for the AFL are never that terrible, but it’s inexcusable for a team to turn the ball over 52 times, 35 of which were interceptions, have your starting quarterback lead the team in rating with 58.9 and the defense give up 28.1 points per game. 

But that’s exactly what they did. The Broncos were also pummeled into giving up 171.8 rushing yards per game.

In 1961, the Broncos pretty much kept everything the same, including incompetent head coach Frank Filchock. The results weren’t much better from the previous year, and although the Broncos started 3-4, they crash-landed to a 3-11 record.

When I said offensive statistics were never bad for the AFL, I lied. This team had bad stats, and presumably even worse performance. 34-year old Frank Tripucka started 10 games at quarterback, winning 3 of them while passing for only 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns and 21 interceptions while somehow completing less than 50% of his passes despite throwing only less than 350. Tripucka was not nearly the worst quarterback on the team, far from it.

George Herring

George Herring started 4 games, losing all of them while completing 44.1% of his passes (amazing considering he only threw 211) for 1,160 yards…

5 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

I’m not even sure how you manage that. 22 interceptions in four starts equates to more than 5 per game. His adjusted yards per pass attempt stands at a pathetic 1.3, and his overall performance puts his rating at a solid 30. Even though Herring was also the team’s punter, doing that poorly can’t really be forgiven.

The running game was horrible, as the leading rusher (Donnie Stone) carried the ball 127 times for only 505, 4 touchdowns and a respectable 4.0 yards-per-carry average. There wasn’t anything respectable about the rest of the running game, though, as it only netted 1,104 yards on 332 collective carries, a 3.3 yards-per-carry average as a team.

Collectively the backs and receivers accounted for 4,108 yards and 33 fumbles, which equates to a fumble every 124.4 yards of offense. The team only managed 272.2 offensive yards per game, which means they fumbled twice or more times on average.

Math and football are so fun together, aren’t they?

The turnovers were a problem in the passing game as well, for those of you who noticed, and the grand turnover total for the team accumulated to a hideous 68, a record that hasn’t been broken by any team since.

The defense doesn’t look poor statistically, holding opposing rushers to 3.8 yards-per-carry and only allowing 198.9 passing yards per game, but allowing 432 points in a 14-game season tells me that it wasn’t exactly a stout unit. The team, a bumbling mess of turnovers and ineptitude, finished 3-11.

After the awful season was over, Frank Filchock was fired, and those nauseating uniforms were also done away with, being ditched after just two mercifully short seasons. The orange and blue that we know today was brought in prior to the 1962 season.

There isn’t very much notable about the 1962 team apart that the turnover onslaught continued, as the team threw 40 interceptions and brought their grand total to 52. The other eye-catching thing about the season was that they finished 7-7…after a 6-1 start. I’ve already done my Top 10 Collapses list, and I wish I had at least given this team a spot or an honorable mention. That’s unbelievable.

1963 Broncos

The Broncos were a hot, steaming mess in 1963, primarily thanks in part to their untalented players and their long-lost chemistry with head coach Jack Faulkner. Denver started 2-2, but went winless in their final 10 games of the season, tying with the Jets. They were pasted 59-7 and 52-21 by the Chiefs, and were crushed 58-20 by the Chargers in the season’s final week.

The Broncos set a slew of different records in 1963, but predictably, none were very good. The team gave up a staggering 473 points, the most in the history of the AFL and the second-most all time for a 14 game schedule. That’s 33.7 per game.

The team’s passing game would have made Sid Gillman weep. They only threw for 177.6 yards-per-game, extremely low considering the pass-happy style of the league. However, receiver Lionel Taylor led the league with 78 receptions.

I forgot to mention: Denver couldn’t stop the pass either. They allowed 240.4 yards-per-game, picking off only 15 passes and

ALLOWED 40 TOUCHDOWN PASSES.

Even for the AFL, that’s just…wow. That record still stands after 51 years, not even teams like the 1981 Colts could break that mark of defensive stupidity.

The Broncos tried four different quarterbacks as starter. Only two, Mickey Slaughter (1-5-1) and John McCormick (1-2) could win. Frank Tripucka in particular had lost his luster, completing only 7 of 15 passes for 31 yards, no touchdowns and 5 interceptions in two starts. His rating stood at 13.9 at the end of the season.

The kicking was also not very good, as Gene Mingo connected on only 16 of 30 field goals.

For some reason, Jack Faulkner wasn’t fired after the horrible 2-11-1 season. However, four games into the 1964 season, he was put out of his misery, with the Broncos sitting at a laughable 0-4.

A guy by the name of Mac Speedie was brought in as the interim man, and he guided Denver to a 2-7-1 record. The team’s offense was stuck in a tar pit all season, averaging only 3.7 yards-per-play and throwing over twice as many interceptions than touchdowns (14-32). Somehow, they passed for even fewer yards than 1963, averaging only 144.3 per game. In their average game, Denver was beaten by two touchdowns.

Cookie Gilchrist

In 1965, in order to jump-start their stagnant offense, Cookie Gilchrist was brought in from Buffalo, exchanged for FB Billy Joe. Gilchrist was the dude, powering the Bills to two AFL titles and great success. He was still a bruising runner in Denver, wearing #2 because he said he could do Billy Joe (who wore #3) “one better”. To his credit, he did just that, carrying the ball 252 times for 954 yards and 6 touchdowns.

However, Gilchrist couldn’t overcome a mistake-prone passing game, one that only produced 18 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. All of this piled up to yet another losing year, a 4-10 finish under Mac Speedie.

John McCormick

A big problem here, and probably the cause of Denver’s losing, were the quarterbacks. These were guys who were probably truck drivers or special teams players, not cut out to be quarterbacks, and the worst of them was arguably John McCormick. In four miserable seasons as a Bronco, his final being 1968, McCormick only passed for 17 touchdowns to 34 interceptions. That’s double.

In 1966, the main two quarterbacks for Denver were McCormick and Max Choboian, and I can’t really tell who was worse. McCormick finished the year with a miserable 35.2% completion rate (!), 993 yards, 6 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 5 starts for a 30.9 rating.

Choboian, on the other hand, finishing with a 50.3% completion rate for 1,110 yards, 4 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a rating of 49.9.

The passing game was atrocious in 1966, netting only 142.5 yards-per-game while tossing 12 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. The running game could only accumulate 1,173 yards as the Broncs tumbled to another 4-10 finish, with defensive troubles to compliment their hideous offense, giving up 27.2 per game to the offense’s 14. Mac Speedie was fired after an 0-4 start.

Lou Saban

In 1967, Lou Saban was hired after the incompetent coaches in 1966 were fired. In an exhibition game (what we now call “pre-season”), the Broncos stunned the NFL’s Detroit Lions 13-7 to become the first AFL team to beat an NFL team. Despite this, the regular season began well, with a win over the Patriots. The success then collapsed completely, with the Broncos losing their next three by a combined score of 124-45, including a 51-0 demolition at the hands of the future AFL champion Raiders.

Cookie Gilchrist was no longer “the dude”, limited by injuries and only appearing in one game, carrying the ball 10 times for 21 yards, and catching a single pass for -4 yards.

The team’s three new quarterbacks did a much better job than the horror show that preceded them. Steve Tensei led the team to three wins, and although his stats were poor, they weren’t as disastrous as McCormick and company. The passing game netted 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, although only 40.1% of passes thrown by the team were completed. The running game was still pretty bad in terms of yardage, but did net 10 touchdowns.

The offense was slow, although better than previous years, but the defense usually cost team games. They allowed 29.2 points-per-game, while the offense could only muster 18.3. The Broncos finished 3-11 in 1967.

After the 1967 season, the helmets were changed from orange to blue, in what would remain the color until 1997.

1968 started badly, with threats and rumors of the Broncos possibly relocating to Birmingham, Atlanta, and Chicago. The team was kept in Denver, as was Lou Saban, and Denver was lifted to their best season since 1962. Although the Broncos were beaten by nearly 11 points per game, they rose above their 3.5-10.5 estimated win projection to finish 5-9.

The team tried four different men at quarterback, including Marlin Briscoe, who at the time became the first African American to ever start a game at quarterback in the history of professional football. Briscoe started 5 games and won two, throwing for 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, he attempted 224 passes and didn’t even complete 100, which brought his rating down to a cringeworthy 62.9.

Steve Tensei also won games for Denver, going 3-3 as a starter, but his 5 TD – 8 INT ratio wasn’t enviable. Jim LeClair and *sigh* John McCormick didn’t have as much luck, going 0-3 as starters while throwing 1 touchdown to 6 interceptions combined.

Floyd Little 2

Floyd Little became the last player as of 2014 to lead his respective league in rushing for a last place team. Little carried the ball 158 times for 584 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging only 3.7 yards-per-carry and fumbling 6 times.

1969 was the last year of the AFL, and was one of Denver’s better seasons while they were there. They finished 5-8-1, losing their average game by 3 points. Not great, but definitely an improvement from their other teams of the decade.

Steve Tensei proved himself to be a manageable quarterback, throwing 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions for a grand rating of 68.1.

Floyd Little again had a great season, carrying the ball 146 times for 729 yards and 6 touchdowns. He only fumbled twice this time around.

Despite the losing record, Denver lost some close games that could have put their record at least 7-7 if things had gone their way, but instead they suffered through another losing season and finished in last place in the AFL West for a 6th consecutive season.

After the merger, the Broncos didn’t enjoy success until 1976, as they posted a 9-5 record but failed to make the playoffs. Between 1969 and 1975, the Broncos won only 34 games and lost 45 (tying 5).

In 1977, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl but lost to a great Dallas team, and have been enjoying (more or less) good success from that point forward.

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