Demarcus Walker Jersey

For a guy who fancies himself a ‘living legend’ on Twitter, DeMarcus Walker‘s NFL career has been far short of epic, especially when you add in the fact that he was a 2017 second-round pick of the Denver Broncos. Walker has been an unquestionable disappointment thus far.

In two seasons with the club, Walker’s been a healthy scratch in 19 out of 32 possible games. We’ll get into the ‘why’ of that impotence shortly.

With the Broncos investing another premium draft pick in a similar D-line ‘tweener’ in Dre’Mont Jones last month, questions have arisen as to how (if) Walker fits in with Vic Fangio. Walker’s fate will be decided by Fangio, but the coach’s opinion will ultimately be determined by the player’s effort and performance during OTAs, training camp and preseason action.
Following the fourth practice of OTAs, Fangio spoke about how Walker has performed and adapted to the new coaching staff and scheme.

“I’m not sure yet, but I do think that he’s working extremely hard,” Fangio said on Monday. “I think he’s making progress and ultimately with D-Line and O-Line you have to have the pads on to see. I like where he’s at. I like where he’s at emotionally too. I think he’s in a good spot emotionally. He’s probably matured in the last couple of years and were going to see what he has or doesn’t have here come training camp.”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Fangio is giving Walker an opportunity to start from square one with him. Fangio garnered headlines immediately following his hire when he revealed his reluctance to go back and watch Broncos film on any player — unless it was a player the team had to make a decision on in the offseason.

Fangio didn’t want to create any preconceived notions and wanted to give each player as fair an opportunity as possible to start anew in his scheme. Walker could be a huge beneficiary of that philosophy, if indeed the former Florida State standout has gotten his head right.
There have murmurings that Walker’s had a sense of entitlement as a pro and has lacked maturity, which hasn’t jibed well with D-Line Coach Bill Kollar. But if Walker’s first two years in the league weren’t enough cause for him to eat some humble pie and kind of re-center his mindset, maybe nothing will.

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Fangio alluded to that when he referred to Walker’s “emotional” status, saying that he’s in a good place there. That should be encouraging to fans who want the Broncos to get a return on their second-round investment. Walker’s work ethic has also been questioned in the past, which makes Fangio’s remark all the more positive.

Walker wasn’t a great fit to begin with in the 3-4 scheme the Broncos ran under former DC Joe Woods. Drafted at around 280 pounds, Walker was too small to hold up as a true 5-tech defensive end and too big and heavy to hang out in space as a stand-up outside linebacker.

However, with Fangio bringing his 4-3 under scheme with him to Denver, Walker projects as a much better fit — but it’s still not perfect. Walker can overcome that with the correct mindset and hard work.

The kid hasn’t always shown the best motor but where he lacks in that department he’s made up for it with a knack for being around the ball and making plays. Walker’s detractors will argue the point, but go watch his college tape at FSU and the few games he’s appeared in as a Bronco.
He’s got a nose for the ball and heading into year three, if he makes the 53-man roster — which is no sure thing — he could help the Broncos push the pocket as an interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs. Walker’s best fit would be in a traditional 4-3 system where he could line up as the weakside defensive end and rush the passer.

He’ll have to figure out a way to make himself valuable and indispensable to Fangio. The ol’ coach is never going to B.S. the media and fans at the podium, like some of his predecessors and colleagues around the league. What you see is what you get with Fangio, and if he chooses to answer a question, he’ll do so honestly and succinctly.

His remarks on Walker are encouraging but it’ll all come down to training camp when the Broncos put the full pads on and start hitting. That’s when Fangio will know whether DeMarcus Walker can be salvaged and whether there’s a place for him on this team.
Meanwhile, Dre’Mont Jones will be pushing Walker from the rear, which could have a positive effect on Walker. The Broncos need both Walker and Jones to pan out, as all three of the team’s projected D-line starters will be free agents in 2020.
The ‘Fangio bump’ should trickle downhill to Walker, if Walker is anywhere near the player the team thought he was when they invested a high-round draft pick in him. Walker will have to capitalize on the opportunity to be coached by Fangio but if he works out, the Broncos’ defense could be all the more dangerous.

With Von Miller already leading the charge, over the last three draft hauls, the Broncos have thrown Bradley Chubb, DeMarcus Walker and now Dre’Mont Jones into the mix at the point of attack. On paper, that collective of pass-rushing talent should give Fangio all sorts of options on gameday, if the latter two pan out.

DaeSean Hamilton Jersey

As a rookie, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton caught passes in seven games.

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 15: Briean Boddy-Calhoun #20 of the Cleveland Browns tackles DaeSean Hamilton #17 of the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on December 15, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

He started five contests and tallied at least five catches in four different games.

He hauled in 30 total catches for 243 yards — an average of 8.1 yards per catch — and scored two touchdowns.

None of it was good enough for the 2018 fourth-round pick from Penn State.

“It was actually just a little bit below the standard that I had for myself,” Hamilton said Tuesday. “Obviously, I was rookie last year so I didn’t know what to expect essentially, but I had big goals and big aspirations for myself.

“… The standards and expectations that I set for myself last year, at least in my standards, I didn’t meet them.”

He started the season behind both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas was dealt to the Texans ahead of the November trade deadline, and Sanders was injured ahead of the Broncos’ Week 13 game against the 49ers. Sanders’ injury elevated to Hamilton to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Courtland Sutton, and it gave the former Nittany Lion his first real opportunity.

Making his second start, Hamilton caught seven passes for 47 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco.

Even as Hamilton began to find more opportunities — he was targeted at least eight times in each of the final four games of the season — he still dealt with a nagging knee injury that he suffered against the Cardinals in Week 7.

Hamilton did not play again until a Week 10 game against the Chargers, and he said Wednesday he felt the effects through the end of the season.

“The knee was still bothering me,” Hamilton said. “I was probably playing at like 70, 80 percent in those last couple games. It wasn’t too much longer after the Chargers game [in Week 17] that the knee started to feel a lot better. Now I’m coming out here it feels great. The last four or five games, I probably felt it the most.”

Hamilton said the injury made him feel like his rookie season was cut short.

He’s healthy now, though, and he spent this offseason training to get his body prepared for a 16-game season.

That’s left him ready to make an impact for a team that didn’t pick up a wide receiver in free agency and waited until the sixth round to pick one in the draft.

Regardless of whether Sanders is ready for a Week 1 contest against the Raiders, it’s clear Hamilton should see a role similar to the one he adopted toward the end of the season.

“Even if [the Broncos] don’t have that sense right now, I have that sense for myself,” Hamilton said. “I paid attention to the draft just as much as anyone else did. Them not picking a receiver until later wasn’t really anything that I was worried about. I just knew, coming off last season, that I just wanted to basically go after that and be 10 times better this season. Whatever position that puts me in, if I perform during training camp, coach is going to see that I have a lot more reliability and he can put more reliability on guys like myself and Courtland going forward. I took notice of it, but I’ve just been working the same way as if I was a rookie. I’m trying to continue to make my mark and make a splash on this team myself.”

Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello’s system could give Hamilton the opportunity to make that splash. Hamilton said he’s running more routes this year than he did as a rookie and that Scangarello has put him in a position to “find open spaces.” That, Hamilton said, gives him the chance to use his football IQ.

And Hamilton doesn’t sound like a player who is going to let this opportunity go to waste.

“I’ve played football all of my life,” Hamilton said. “It’s something that I have really invested the majority of my time in. Whether I’m at the facility or whether I’m at home, really one of the only things I think about is football and stuff like that and being successful at what I do. It’s really just my motivation and I guess my mindset that I’ve always had that I’m going to do whatever it takes. I need to do whatever it takes, so that I can live up to the goals that I set for myself, the high standards that I want to go at for myself.”

Josey Jewell Jersey

Ever since Vic Fangio arrived as the 17th head coach in Denver Broncos’ history, fans and media alike have questioned whether the roster features the prototypical off-ball linebacker that the defensive wizard’s scheme demands.

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The Broncos have two incumbent starters at off-ball linebacker — Todd Davis and Josey Jewell. Jewell is entering his second season as a pro, after the Broncos selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Iowa.

Jewell’s rookie campaign was promising. He started nine games in place of an injured Brandon Marshall, which was more playing time than the team brass likely expected Jewell to receive as a rookie.

Fast forward to year two, however, and Jewell is now learning a new defensive scheme under Fangio’s watchful eye. The good news for those who doubt Jewell’s fit with Fangio’s scheme is the fact that Fangio liked Jewell in the 2018 draft and studied his tape as a potential fit in Chicago.

With the Broncos kicking off the second week of OTAs, Jewell addressed whether he’s a fit for Fangio’s scheme, which typically demands it’s off-ball linebackers to be speedier and able to turn around and run in coverage.

“I hope so. Only he can answer that one,” Jewell said on Monday. “I definitely hope that’s what he’s looking for. I’m definitely working on a lot of parts of my game here today and through these OTAs.”

Since Fangio took the job in Denver, the coach has been asked multiple times about Jewell. Each and every time, Fangio has lit up at the mention of Jewell’s name — in so much as the brusque, all-business Fangio lights up over anything.
There’s little doubt to me that Fangio believes Jewell is a fit for his scheme. Jewell is a very similar player as former Wisconsin stand-out, and San Francisco 49ers third-round draft pick, Chris Borland.

Borland was selected and groomed by Fangio to take over for the then-recently retired Patrick Willis. Jewell’s skill-set and measurables bear a striking resemblance to Borland’s. However, Borland ended his NFL career early due to concerns about concussions, with no small amount of media attention.

But in the one year he played under Fangio in 2014 — the coach’s final campaign in San Fran — Borland totaled 107 combined tackles (84 solo), a sack and two interceptions, while only starting eight games. Jewell’s going to be just fine in Fangio’s system but there will be differences in responsibilities and assignments, compared to last season.

“There are just small tweaks,” Jewell said. “We are still running the same style of defense if you want to say that. There are just different types of coverages, different kinds of drops, different kinds of man alignments and stuff like that. It’s small little tweaks and different communications styles.”

Fangio’s base scheme shares the same type of attacking philosophy that the previous regime inherited from Wade Phillips. At the coverage level on the back seven, however, it’s very different and very multiple — for a reason.
“With a bunch of different coverages that he has and the way he disguises things, sometimes a quarterback is not going to know what you’re in and not going to know where to pick on you at,” Jewell said. “Say you’re in Cover-3 and he thinks you’re in man or something like that. He’s not going to be able to pick it out and know exactly where to go right away and have those quick throws.”

Although Fangio has 19 years of NFL experience as a defensive coordinator, his specialty is the linebacker position, where he started. That means that Broncos’ LBs Coach Reggie Herring occasionally gets a little help and additional input from his boss during practice. Jewell and the linebackers love it, though.

“Maybe he walks by us a couple extra times during practices,” Jewell said. “I don’t know (laughing). He might say a couple more things here and there. I think the criticism is good when we pretty much have two linebackers coaches like that. We have Coach Herring and then we get a little extra from Coach Fangio if he feels the need. I think it’s good we’re getting two sets of eyes on us and really getting a lot of work.”

Herring has his own bonafides, having won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015 and surviving now another coaching regime. There’s a reason Fangio chose to retain him in Denver to coach his pet-project position.
At the end of the day, fans shouldn’t worry about Josey Jewell fitting with Vic Fangio. They are a fit. And call it a ‘bold prediction’ if you want, but the second-year linebacker is poised to have a phenomenal and productive season under Fangio’s tutelage.

Like all Broncos’ defenders, Jewell figures to benefit from the ‘Fangio bump’. But the young linebacker also brings his fair share of ability and football IQ to the table, which Fangio will help shape and mold into a formidable tool to bludgeon opponents on gamedays.

Isaac Yiadom Jersey

While Chris Harris Jr. protests over his contractual status, the Denver Broncos quietly tweaked their secondary.

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Despite signing a $33 million contract (with $23 million guaranteed) as a natural cornerback, Kareem Jackson continued to be used primarily at free safety, opposite Justin Simmons, during the Broncos’ recent minicamp practices and Organized Team Activities.

Denver coach and defensive play-caller Vic Fangio has kept quiet regarding his full-time plans for Jackson. The former Texan, too, was intentionally vague when pressed by reporters Thursday.
“I would assume it’ll be more safety, but I’m not really sure what will happen,” Jackson said. “For me, I’m just trying to prepare to play whatever position I’m asked to play. For the most part it’s been safety, and these last two days we’ve been sprinkled in a little bit of me playing the slot, so at some point I’m sure I’ll get some reps at corner. For me, I’m just trying to prepare for all three spots.”

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Gun to your head, Kareem: safety, slot CB, or outside CB?

“If I had to choose one, safety is fun just because I get a chance to kind of see everything that’s going on and just kind of run and hit people,” he said, via Denver7. “For me, it’s just all about changing my mindset. Just knowing when I’m in the slot, knowing where my help is depending on what call we’re in. At safety, obviously getting guys in the right call and stuff like that. That’s just pretty much what it is for me. I was never told one specific role. I was told I was going to bounce around a little bit like I did last year. I was looking forward to that. That’s one of my strengths, playing multiple positions. I feel like that can help us as a defense on Sundays.”
This process figures to prolong through the preseason, and a literal answer may never surface. Jackson will float around the formation for Fangio and coordinator Ed Donatell, depending on down-and-distance, opponent, game flow and countless other factors.

Sometimes he’ll work along the perimeter, joining Harris, Bryce Callahan and Isaac Yiadom. Sometimes he’ll see snaps in the back end, forming a dynamic pairing with Simmons and Will Parks.

In the meantime, it’s extremely fluid.

“He’s still going to get a lot of work at safety, but he will get some work at corner and nickel throughout the process,” Fangio said last Sunday, prior to the start of OTAs. “It might not be tomorrow, but it will be through the next 12 practices.”
A willing tackler with plus ball skills, Jackson’s long-term position may well be safety, where he finished last season with stellar ratings, according to Pro Football Focus. Although it’s possible the Broncos are waiting for Harris’ situation to resolve itself before committing one way or the other.

“We definitely want Chris to be here,” Jackson said. “He’s a big-time player in this league.”

DeMarcus Ware Jersey

DeMarcus Ware worked for one of his former teams as a part-time consultant last season. He hopes to work for the other one this season.

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The former pass rusher, who spent nine years with the Cowboys and three with the Broncos, had a contract with the Broncos last season. But he lives in the Dallas area and works privately with several of the league’s top pass rushers, including Von Miller and many of the Cowboys.

He hopes for a formal role with the Cowboys this season.

“I think it’ll be a great opportunity for me to come back here and coach the guys,” Ware said during the 15th annual Taste of the Cowboys on Sunday night. “I always say I want to teach the championship mentality. If I can come here at least two or three days a week, teaching them Wednesdays and Thursdays, and teach the pass rushers how to pass rush, stop the run, but then I always help the offensive line like Tyron Smith with his technique.

“The thing is I still can do it. You’ve got a coach who can get out there and not just not say how to do it, but can show tape that they remember on how to do it and then get out there and do it as well with them.”

Ware made 138.5 sacks in his career, which ended after the 2016 season.

The Cowboys talked to him about a formal role last season before Ware committed to the Broncos. They have not gotten that far yet this season.

“We love DeMarcus Ware,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a special person. He was a special player for this organization for a number of years, and everybody loves him. The coaches love him. His former teammates love him. Obviously, the Jones family loves him.

“We did talk about it last year. It just has to work for both sides. What he’s looking for. What we’re looking for, for a role like that. Suffice to say, he’s always welcome, and if we get to a point, where it makes sense for both sides, we’ll definitely bring him back and get him involved. He’s a special guy.”

Shannon Sharpe Jersey

Noah’s arc, the Broncos believe, is very high.

Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before:

The Broncos drafted a tight end from the Big Ten Conference.
In 2015 the Broncos picked Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman in the third round. In 2017 the Broncos picked Michigan tight end Jake Butt in the fifth round. In 2018 the Broncos chose Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round.

In 2019 the Broncos picked Iowa tight end Noah Fant in the first round.

Who’s next in 2020? A Nebraska tight end?

The last time the Broncos selected a tight end in the first round – fifth overall – was in 1972. Riley Odoms, who belongs in the Ring of Fame, became one of the three greatest to play the position in Denver.
Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe was No 1. He was drafted in the seventh round in 1990 … as a wide receiver.

The Broncos, especially John Elway, are hoping that Fant will be in a class with Sharpe, Odoms and Julius Thomas, a converted basketball player who became a Pro Bowler. The Broncos are hoping that Fant – unlike Heuerman, Butt and Fumagali – can get on the field and stay on it.

The statistics of the three previous Big Ten tight ends are dismaying, depressing and disturbing.

They have combined for a not-so-grand total of 13 starts – 10 by Heuerman, 3 by Butt and 0 by Fumagali, who hasn’t played a play. They have combined for five injuries. They have combined for 649 yards and only four touchdowns, all by Heuerman. They have combined to play zero games in their rookie seasons. They have combined to be rather worthless.

Good luck, Noah. Pray for no rain.

The Broncos love Fant, who most observers considered the 1B tight end the past year with the Hawkeyes. T.J. Hockenson was No. 1A.

Elway went Plan 1B.

He’s going to keep drafting tight ends from the same conference until he gets it right, or it gets him.

On Tuesday, Elway called his pre-draft press conference irrelevant. Yet, he did address a subject that should have identified his intentions. When asked what Big Ten schools do to produce tight ends that are NFL ready, John replied: “I don’t know. Good point. I’m not sure. They do a good job of getting the the tight ends, especially Iowa this year. They have a couple of good ones coming out.”

Hockenson was a redshirt junior last season. Fant was junior who hadn’t worn a redshirt. Two tight ends from the same school in the first round. Amazing. Never happened before.

In retrospect, Elway’s words were prophetic, as I learned from very informed sources.

On Thursday during the day I tweeted that the Broncos would take Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush 10th overall, or they would trade down. I then wrote that if they did trade down, “look out” for the Broncos to draft Fant. I received a ton of social media flack.
Because of some goofy and unusual picks, Bush was available at 10. Hockenson was gone to the Lions just prior to the Broncos’ spot.

However, the Broncos pulled off the first trade of the event held outdoors in a wet and wild Nashville before 150,000 fanatics.

Bush seemed like a slam dunk after LSU’s Devin White was chosen fifth in the opening round. But the Broncos passed on a position of need for the team and for Vic Fangio, the linebacker guru/godfather.

The Broncos sent the 10th pick to the Steelers in a Lawrence Welk deal – a one and a two and three (No. 20, No. 52 and a ? in the 2020 draft). Based on the NFL draft value chart, the Broncos ended up with the advantage. Certainly that evaluation will be determined by the futures of Bush and Fant.

So, the starters at inside linebacker at the moment are veteran Todd Davis and Josey Jewell, a fourth-round selection a year ago.

Obviously, the Broncos will choose one or two on Friday and Saturday in the remaining rounds. Maybe they’ll grab an inside backer in the second round.

The 6-foot-5, 249-pound Fant and Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 250, will be compared their entire pro careers. Fant, who was a team captain, is more the receiver type, who can stretch the field. He had 19 touchdowns and 78 receptions in three seasons. The Broncos are thinking George Kittle, who treated them like a borrowed donkey last season. He’ll have to develop his blocking ability. Hockenson is a Rob Gronkowski-style blocker and a control receiver. In only two seasons he caught 73 passes and nine touchdowns.

In their new offense, the Broncos will rely on a tight end considerably more than in the previous stymied system. Joe Flacco is a tight end enthusiast.

Did the Broncos draft another garden-variety Big Ten conference tight end?

Or an archangel?

Karl Mecklenburg Jersey

As the next generation of NFL stars gets its start at the 2019 NFL Draft, the league will honor 64 of its best former and active players.

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Former Broncos linebacker Al Wilson, who played his collegiate football at the University of Tennessee, will be one of those former stars.

Wilson is scheduled to announce the Broncos’ second-round pick when Denver makes the 41st-overall selection. The Broncos’ first-round pick in 1999 will represent the team during the round, which will feature a former first-rounder for each team announcing their respective club’s pick.

Wilson played eight seasons at linebacker for the Broncos and recorded five Pro Bowl appearances and one first-team All-Pro selection. The 31st-overall selection in 1999 missed just three games in his NFL career.

Wilson won’t be the only former Broncos draft pick in attendance. Round 3 picks will be announced by later-round draft picks, and Karl Mecklenburg is scheduled to announce the team’s third-round pick.

Mecklenburg, a Ring of Famer, has announced a Broncos draft pick in the past. With the help of a magician at Casa Bonita, Mecklenburg shared the Broncos’ 2018 fifth-round selection of Troy Fumagalli.

Wilson and Mecklenburg are also expected to be on-site to have discussions with this year’s prospects. They are also scheduled to participate in Nashville-area community service projects.

The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m. MT.

Gary Zimmerman Jersey

During Pat Bowlen’s 35 years as the owner of the Denver Broncos, he has left his mark on the team, the Denver area and the larger NFL community. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Contributors Committee recognized his remarkable accomplishments — which include a winning legacy and immeasurable contributions to the league’s growth — by selecting him as a finalist for the Class of 2019. As the final vote approaches, DenverBroncos.com will speak with a number of people who have seen firsthand Pat Bowlen’s impact on the Broncos and the NFL.

We continue with former Broncos offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, who played for the Broncos from 1993 to 1997. Zimmerman was inducted into Denver’s Ring of Fame in 2003, and Bowlen presented Zimmerman when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. During his time with the Broncos, Zimmerman saw how Bowlen treated his players differently than other NFL owners and never accepted anything less than the best.

Zimmerman describes, in his own words, what makes Bowlen unique.

“I always thought … if I ever furthered my business degree, I would … compare the Broncos to where I played before. The difference is Mr. B treated you like an actual human being, whereas before you were more like an asset. Mr. B, he wanted to know who you were. He took care of your family. He met your family. You actually saw the owner. The place I played before, I never met an owner.

“I think something that was really special to me was the Super Bowl party. He had us over to his home and to me that is a very special thing because, I know myself, I don’t like to invite strangers to my home, so the fact that he’d invite the whole team to his house was pretty special.

“The fact that he is personable, treated you as a human being, and the fact that he wanted to win and he’d do whatever he had to do to win was really important to me too. The place I was before was more of a bottom-line type place, where if Mr. B needed something, he’d spend the money and go get the assets. You always knew you were going to have a chance with Mr. B.

“The way that I felt about it was, when we lost, I kind of felt bad because we let down our owner. You know that is a special kind of feeling when you feel that for your owner, because where I played before, that was never a factor. I think everybody felt that Mr. B gave us the best trips, we stayed in the best place, we had the best food, he gave us the best chance to win and when we didn’t produce for him, we kind of felt like we let him down.

“I think there was the flamboyant Pat with the furs, but I think his true personality was more like a lineman, because he never wanted credit for anything he did. He did a lot of stuff behind the scenes — charity work and stuff like that — that he never wanted people to know that he [did ]. He didn’t want to be in the Ring of Fame, he thought it was for players only. He didn’t want to be in the limelight so I kind of equate that to being a lineman. He liked to give everyone else the credit so that was really special that he was like that.

“He just loved being with his players, because, at lunch time, he’d come down to the weight room … and he’d get on that StairMaster and he’d try to set records on that thing, you know, how many flights of stairs he could do in an hour. You know, he was quite the athlete himself. He used to do triathlons and that kind of stuff, so he was very competitive that way also.

“Just to see him around so much is very special because a lot of owners, it’s more of a business to them, but I think it was a business and family-type aspect with him. Even the non-players he treated right, you know, the equipment guys. … Where I played before, there were two guys who did everything … but Mr. B, he took care of everyone in the building and that what was something really special about Mr. B.

“He loved all the players who came before he owned the team [too]. He treats Floyd and all the older players the same as all the guys who played for him, so I think that is a special characteristic too. He opened his heart to everybody.

“A lot of owners have their special guys, but Mr. Bowlen liked everybody who played for the Broncos.”

Tom Jackson Jersey

Tom Jackson, the heart and soul of the Denver Broncos for 14 years, was the emotional linchpin of the franchise as it climbed out of the abyss of mediocrity to become a premier NFL team.

Many fans today know him more for his lengthy career with ESPN, but many fewer are aware that he only had two employers after leaving the University of Louisville: the Broncos and the fabled television network.

Always approachable by media and fans, Jackson (more often referred to as “T.J.”) stands at the top of the short list of most popular, most talkative and most philosophical Broncos players.

He was also one of the franchise’s most successful players, too, helping lead the Broncos to many memorable moments.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the league’s most legendary franchises, and back in 1977, when they came to Mile High Stadium for their divisional playoff game against the upstart Denver Broncos, they were in the midst of a six-year span in which they won four world titles.

It was the first playoff game in Broncos history, and few who were there on Christmas Eve, 1977, could have imagined that Denver would go to the Super Bowl eight times and claim three world championships over the next 40 years.

Let’s let T.J. tell it as he remembers the day.

“The Steelers were the first playoff opponent in Denver history,” Jackson says. “We were in Mile High and I was very confident we would play well. It was a very physical game and the ebb and flow of it just sticks out in my mind.”

Jackson ranged sideline to sideline for seven tackles against the Steelers, the most among the Broncos’ front seven that day, and two of the biggest plays of the game were interceptions by Jackson.

In addition to a fumble recovery, three of Pittsburgh’s drives ended with the ball in his hands.

The score was tied 7-7 in the second period when Jackson recovered a fumble and returned it 30 yards to the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, setting a go-ahead touchdown run by Otis Armstrong for the Broncos. They went into the half tied at 14-14, but the Broncos never trailed in the game, and they led all the way in momentum, with their young linebacker exhorting the crowd.

Saving his most dramatic moments for the fourth quarter, Jackson stole two passes from Terry Bradshaw in the final period.

“It just felt to me — and I have always been proud of this — that game was the biggest game, at that time, that we had ever played, and I played my best in it,” Jackson says. “The interception that was really the most difficult one was right on the line of scrimmage, the first one.

“I backed up into the end zone, but I was kind of reading one of the running backs that wasn’t coming out. Terry gunned the ball, and I assumed it was a square end of a curl that was right behind me. To this day I couldn’t tell you because I never turned around, but I just jumped up and happened to hit the ball. It was straight up in the air and it came right down to me. I got a pretty good return and put our offense in position where they had a short field.”

Jackson’s 32-yard return set up Jim Turner’s second field goal in a 13-point fourth quarter for the Broncos.

“The other interception, the second one, was a little out route late in the game where Terry throws to the flat. I got that one, then we walked off with a win and I think our history really started to be written.”

That second interception came with the Broncos holding onto a 27-21 lead and Pittsburgh believing it could win. Jackson returned it 17 yards to the Steelers 33, and two plays later Craig Morton hit wide receiver Jack Dolbin on a 34-yard score to cement the win with 1:57 left to play.

Jackson’s three takeaways had led to 17 of the Broncos’ 34 points in the first-ever playoff win for the Broncos before 75,011 orange-clad fans who were watching the start of an NFL dynasty in Denver.

“I think that for a long time people looked at the Denver Broncos and didn’t really look at all,” Jackson says. “It was like we were just stuck out in the mountains, and for many years we just had not won. That game got us off to a good start in the playoffs and helped change our national perspective.

“I don’t think I ever played a better game in a bigger game.”

As big as his play was against the Steelers, his emotional leadership of the team and unrivaled bond with Denver fans was just as huge a factor in the making of what the Broncos were becoming.

“Different people have different personalities,” he says. “I kind of wore my emotions all of the time on my sleeve.”

The crowd was one with Jackson for his entire career, and the cheers for him as he left the field after beating the Steelers were deafening. He waved to the Broncos’ sellout audience, and it seemed as if he was waving individually to every fan in attendance.

“It never felt any better than that day against Pittsburgh,” Jackson says. “Winning for the first time is so special. I felt like I was perfectly suited to that group of guys, and I can really say this: That team that won that first playoff game gave Denver that first thrill.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there was something present other than just a bunch of football players playing a game. We were willing to sacrifice for each other and make it happen, and it was one of our proudest moments.”

A lot of football blood, sweat and tears have been spilled in the 40-plus years since Dec. 24, 1977, to the present day, and there is no question that the run of postseason success for the Broncos was built from the foundation that began with that victory over the Steelers.

Dennis Smith Jersey

Denver Broncos Ring of Famer Dennis Smith joined Ryan Edwards, Andrew Mason, and Steve Atwater on Orange and Blue 760 today. The guys on 1st and 10 at 10 spoke with Smith about the Broncos new coaching staff, reading defenses, and Atwater’s Hall of Fame snub.

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While Smith had some interesting observations about the Super Bowl, and reading defenses, it was his conversation with the guys about the Hall of Fame that was the most intriguing.

When Champ Bailey was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame he became the first defensive player for the Denver Broncos to make it to the Hall of Fame. That was shocking to Smith, too.

Think of all the great defenders in Broncos history. Names like Gradishar, Wright, Jackson, Mecklenburg, and Tombstone (to name a few) have been overlooked for too long. It is unbelievable that Bailey is the first defensive player to go into the Hall of Fame for the Broncos.

Without taking anything away from the greatness of Bailey, Smith had an interesting take on the merits of Atwater over Champ. As a corner, Bailey was great, but Smith noted that teams can gameplan away from great corners, limiting their impact on the game. Great safeties are more difficult to eliminate from a game.

For Smith, this was reason enough to put Atwater ahead of Bailey in regards to the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Smith is biased, having played with Atwater. And Bailey’s greatness is undeniable. He is obviously a first ballot Hall of Famer. This was just an interesting take on the importance of the safety position, and why Atwater should have already been enshrined in Canton.