Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Steve Watson at the Denver Broncos QB Club (August 2015)

Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Steve Watson spoke to a packed house at the August meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club.  Watson entertained the crowd with stories from his illustrious playing career and had words of inspiration for us, too.

Watson started his talk by showing highlights from actual game broadcasts of the big plays in his career.  His breakout three touchdown game against the Colts in 1981, his 95 yard td catch against the Lions, and other stellar plays were featured.  It was fun to relive those great moments in Bronco history.

Watson joked that he was known for his "famous burst of slow".  He had a desire to become an NFL receiver in his youth, but he was largely overlooked by the college recruiters.  He did have scholarship offers from West Point, Duke, Delaware, and Temple.  His eventual college choice showed how Watson thought through every big decision in his life.  "Army was out - with a 5 year service commitment after graduation I'd be too old for the NFL.  A Duke coach wanted me to run a 40 for him on my recruiting trip - against ncaa rules.  I couldn't play for a coach that did not have ethics.  Delaware ran the Winged T offense with little opportunity for wide receivers to shine," Watson related.  He decided on Temple because "I'd be a small fish in a big pond."  The Owls played a very good schedule (with teams like pitt, penn st, syracuse, and boston college) so Watson figured "the pro scouts who come to watch these other schools will see me."

Watson told us of his goal setting process:  "Set the bar way up there, set bar as high as you can get it," he said.  He said there are three components to that:

1. make good decisions
2. exhaust all possibilities leave no stone unturned
3. relentless perseverance,  never stop pursuing your goal

These principles served Watson well in his football career, and he encouraged us to follow them in our own lives and careers.  "When an opportunity bumps into you, do you take advantage of it?  Are you ready?" he asked.

At Temple Watson starred as a wide receiver, catching 98 passes over his four years and earning All East honors.  He played in the East-West Shrine game after graduation.  Broncos coach Babe Parilli worked out Watson at Temple.  "We're going to pick you in the third round," Parilli told Watson.  But Watson was undrafted (he related how 39 other wide receivers were picked in the 1979 draft).  Disappointed though not giving up his dream to play in the NFL, Watson soon received six offers from different NFL teams to sign as a free agent.  He picked the Broncos because "they have an old wide receiver ready to retire - i’m going to take his job!" Watson remembered.  That receiver was Haven Moses, who Watson later became close to.  "Haven taught me how to run routes," Watson said.

At his first Bronco camp Watson ran the 40 yard dash.  Not known for his speed, Watson wasn't sure how he'd match up to the other camp hopefuls.  Turns out he ran the fastest 40 of all the players trying out that day.  Bronco QB Craig Morton was watching.  Morton introduced himself to Watson afterwards and the two developed a bond that lasted during the rest of Morton's playing career with the Broncos.  "Craig threw a hard ball even though he didn’t have legs," Watson said. "Morton was almost straight legged when he threw.  For a guy who played as long as he did he could really throw it."

In his first two years with the Broncos Watson played special teams and was largely unknown (only catching 6 passes in each of the 1979 and 1980 seasons.  Then in the 1981 season, an opening game injury to Rick Upchurch gave Watson the opportunity he was looking for.  Before that season Watson had taken karate lessons ("That helped me beat press coverage") and learned slight of hand card tricks ("that developed my flexibility").  In the third game that season, his breakout game against the Colts, Watson scored his first three NFL touchdowns with 7 receptions for 143 yards.  Before his last touchdown that day Craig Morton told him in the huddle, "Blade this one's coming to you!"  Watson, known as "Blade" for his skinny 6'4" frame did not disappoint, making a leaping catch over the Colts defender for a 48 yard touchdown.

That 1981 season was the highlight of Watson's career, with 13 touchdown receptions and earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.  In his nine year Bronco career, the only NFL team he played for, Watson had 353 receptions for 6112 yards and 36 touchdowns.  In addition to playing with Craig Morton, Watson played several seasons with John Elway.  The most memorable part of his time with Elway was "The Drive".

"I’ll never forget it," Watson told us, describing the climatic moments of the 1986 AFC Championship game in Cleveland.  Faced with 98 yards to go with time running out in Cleveland's noisy Memorial Stadium, the situation looked hopeless.  "The fans were winging these dog bones - they were ringing off my helmet.  They'd never get away with that today," Watson said.  "I looked at the ref and said 'Tell them to quit it!'  'Just go play' was the ref's reply."

Watson continued as our QB Club group listened intently to his every word.  "It was very quiet in the huddle.  Then Keith Bishop says, 'Hey Wood!  We’ve got em right where we want em' "(Wood was Elway's nickname).  "We were so pumped after that - it was an unbelievable feeling in huddle.  Everyone was confident," Watson recalled.  It was awesome to relive one of the greatest moments in Broncos history from a player who was a big part of it.

Watson told us of the injuries that ended his playing career, and how tough it was to leave the game.  Today Watson is a successful realtor for Keller Williams in the Denver area.

After his talk Watson took questions from the crowd.  "What do you think of Gary Kubiak?" he was asked of his former teammate.  "Between him and Rick Dennison, they'll get the running game going," Watson said.  He want on to explain that in a zone blocking scheme a running back has 1 cut in a downhill running stayle.  "Young college running backs like to dance - there is no dancing in a zone blocking scheme," Watson said.  "It guarantees you'll always have positive yardage.  Once a running back learns now to do it, if he follows the rules, he'll have a 1000 yard season."  Watson said the zone blocking scheme can work with offensive lines that aren't that big.  "Dennison prefers a smaller, quicker line," he said.  Watson told a story about former Broncos oline coach Alex Gibbs, a mentor to Rick Dennison.  In practice a young running back was dancing behind the line.  Gibbs stopped the practice, ran into the huddle and said "Son, your ass is out of here if you do that again!"

Watson answered other questions and stuck around to talk to our QB Club members.  It was one of our best meetings and brought back great memories for this long time fan.  The underdog Steve Watson turned out to be a great NFL wide receiver, and he inspired us to achieve our own goals by never giving up.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Denver Post's Troy Renck at the Denver Bronco Quarterback Club, May 2015

As President Elect of the Denver Broncos QB Club, I have been recruiting speakers to talk to our group.  This offseason, with all the changes at Dove Valley, I wanted guest speakers from the media who have access to the team that is not available to regular fans.  Cecil Lammey gave the Club an excellent pre-draft look at the Broncos in March.  Last night we had another great speaker - the Denver Post's lead Broncos reporter, Troy Renck.  For one and a half hours it was pure Bronco football talk - and our group loved it!  Troy displayed a good sense of humor and "insider" knowledge of the Broncos during his presentation. 

Here is a summary of some of his comments:

John Fox: John Elway wasn't intent on firing Fox. Rather John wanted Fox to make some changes, like replacing a couple of coaches (on the offensive and defensive lines) and finding more playing time for young players (Michael Schofield and Cody Latimer hardly saw the field last year).   Elway also was disappointed in how the team performed in big games.  Then the situation changed towards the end of the season.  Fox wanted a contract extension which Elway was unwilling to give. Fox leaked that he was looking for other opportunities around the league on the morning of the Colts playoff game through Fox Sports Jay Glazer.  This upset the front office and many players.  Raiders owner Mark Davis told defensive cooordinator Jack Del Rio when the Broncos visited Oakland in November that he wanted Del Rio as the next Raiders coach.  Del Rio knew he was leaving the morning of the playoff game.  Finally offensive coordinator Adam Gase was up for the San Francisco job at the time of the playoff game and Gase figured the playoff game might be his last one in Denver, too.  After the playoff loss Elway sat down with Fox and both agreed it was time for Fox to move on.

Gary Kubiak: His time in Houston didn't end well but overall he did a good job rebuilding that franchise.  Kubiak is a teacher and his new staff are teachers, which Elway hopes will work better with the young players.  Kubiak and Elway realize the Broncos can't be the NY Yankees, with a big free agent splash each year, because of the salary cap.  So the development of young players is key.  Kubiak's style is to pound the ball with the run while mixing in play action passes.  The offense will be designed to run a few plays really well rather than running a whole arsenal of plays like the Gase offense.  Kubiak has no ego.  Rather than telling Manning the type of offense that was going to be run, he reached out to Peyton to make Peyton part of the planning process.  Kubiak's offense isn't that much different than what Peyton ran in Indianapolis when running back Edgerrin James was featured as the Colts lead runner. 

Wade Phillips: Wade's Bronco defense is going to blitz.  In his last stint as defensive coordinator with Houston the Texans blitzed 47 % of the time.  This season's Bronco defense may give up more yards, but they'll get more turnovers.  TJ Ward will be used much like he was in Cleveland in an attack mode rather than playing like a stay at home safety/linebacker in Del Rio's defense.

The draft: Linebacker Shane Ray is a top 10 talent.  It was a great move to trade up as Manny Ramirez probably wasn't going to make the team, and the 5th round draft picks surrendered were inconsequential.  Ray has a motor, a great first step on the pass rush - skills that can't be taught.  Second rounder Ty Sambrallo at offensive tackle got physically manhandled a few times in college but he's a smart player - the broncos hope he'll excel in the zone blocking system.  The Broncos valued Sambrallo more than the rest of the NFL.  4th rounder Max Garcia is another offensive lineman with average physical skills who is very smart.  Tight end Jeff Heuerman, selected in the 3rd round, is 6'6" 250 lbs and still growing.  He played hurt in his senior year.  If Ray is a star and one other draft pick is a solid starter, this will be a successful draft.  Troy was surprised the Broncos didn't draft a linebacker.  Watch Lamin Barrow's playing time as he needs to be more than a special team player this year to give the Broncos depth at linebacker.

Brock Osweiller: the old offense didn't fit him.  It was too complicated for Brock to grasp and as a result he played slow.    The new offense is similar to what Brock ran in college and he's much happier.  He's been in Denver since March throwing to wide receivers in his own workouts, and texting his teammates.  He's completely engaged.  Had Gase stayed another year Brock would be gone after this year.  Under Kubiak he has a chance to stick around, Elway loves him, but the true test will be how Brock performs in practice and in the preseason with the new offense.

Terrence Knighton: Troy questioned why the Broncos got rid of him.  Pot Roast was an effective run stopper even at an inflated playing weight.  Wade Phillips thought they needed a player with more flexibility at that position.

Demaryius Thomas: DT wants a new contract, and sitting out is his only leverage.  The thing to watch is that DT is a very sensitive person - he lets things bother him.  Troy thinks it's 50/50 that the Broncos sign DT to a new contract before camp.  If they don't, Troy thinks DT is gone next year as DT won't be comfortable playing under the "franchise" tag two years in a row.

Troy had other comments on the Broncos, on his time covering the baseball Rockies (from 2002 - April 2014), and covering CU football during the national championship year.  He is one of the most knowledgeable media persons in the Denver area and it was great to hear his opinions in this offseason of change for the Broncos.

An added bonus for our May meeting was Tom Jacobsen's impressive display of Bronco game day jerseys he has collected over the years.

If you are a Broncos fan living in the Denver area, the Quarterback Club is a great place to hear from media people like Troy who follow the team closely, from former and current players, and more.  Membership is only $50 for a family, with an additional $20 per person charge for our dinner meetings. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cecil Lammey at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club March 2015

ESPN's Cecil Lammey made his annual appearance at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club this week and as usual he had some interesting opinions on the current state of the team.  I think Cecil is one of the best NFL insiders around.  Some of his comments:

  • John Fox had to go.  Fox gave Peyton Manning full reign to run the offense.  New head coach Gary Kubiak now has the last say on what type of attack Denver will run.  An offensive system different than what Peyton has run in the past.  While Manning likes to change the play at the line of scrimmage, "Kubiak doesn't audible" says Cecil.  Kubiak will emphasize a run first, zone blocking system.  John Fox never told Peyton "no".  Now Kubiak is the boss.
  • CJ Anderson is a perfect fit for the new offense.  "He'll get 1500 rushing yards this season," said Cecil.  Manning loves CJ, calling Anderson "his little genius".  CJ is a north/south runner who doesn't dance - just right for Kubiak's zone blocking system.
  • Julius Thomas had to go.  He would have cost too much - he was not the right fit at the right price.  Virgil Green will get a chance to shine with JT's departure.  Green has 24 career NFL receptions.  "He'll have that by week 8 in Kubiak's offense," Cecil said.  Virgil was Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver in college.  He was known more for his receiving than blocking coming into the NFL.  Now Virgil is a great blocker who didn't have the opportunity to show his receiving skills under the previous regime.  That will change.
  • 2014 #2 pick Cody Latimer won't see the field much under Kubiak's offense.  Kubes likes two wide receivers and two tight ends in his base offense.
  • Wade Phillips will unleash the Orange Crush defense.  The Broncos have two of the best pass rushers in the league in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, yet former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio didn't blitz much.  This was especially baffling in the Colts playoff game, because of the Colts weak offensive line.  With the new Bronco D playing the 3/4, like the Orange Crush of old, Wade will be very creative in how he uses the Broncos defensive talent.  Von Miller could break the NFL sack record under Phillips scheme.
  • The secondary is in good shape.  Cornerback Chris Harris could have made 30 to 40% more in salary had he hit the open market - the Broncos have a tremendous value in Harris.  Pro Bowlers Aqib Talib and TJ Ward are solid at the other corner and strong safety respectfully.  Darian Stewart is an up and coming player who will be fine in replacing Rahim Moore at free safety.
  • If Sylvester Williams is the Broncos starting nose tackle, teams will run on Denver all day.  Williams has never played the position.  Cecil expects Marvin Austin to be the starting nose tackle instead.  When Austin came out in the 2011 draft Wade Phillips told Cecil at the time that Austin had "top ten talent".
  • Why didn't the team re-sign Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton?  Knighton's excess weight was not the issue, according to Cecil.  Instead it was something else that Cecil said he couldn't reveal.
  • Defensive line coach Bill Kollar is the hire no one is talking about.  He's a super coach.  At Houston he helped develop JJ Watt into the best defensive player in the game.  Watt was good in college, but at pick #11 he wasn't expected to be the dominant player he turned out to be.  Kollar had something to do with that, and he'll make the Broncos defensive line better.
  • Outside of finding a good right tackle and nose tackle, the Broncos are set to make one final run under Peyton.  This will be Peyton's final year, and Cecil thinks the next Bronco qb is not on the roster.  "This is a weak qb class in the draft," Cecil says, "next year will be much better."  Of this year's draft eligible quarterbacks the Broncos like CSU's Garret Grayson and Baylor's Bryce Petty.  Grayson can be a good but not great pro, according to Cecil.  He doesn't like Petty, who ran a "gimmicky" offense in college.  If the Broncos wanted to keep Brock Osweiler around they would have signed Brock to a contract extension.  Cecil did say that it's a strong offensive tackle class, and that could help the Broncos.
My opinion?  I like the changes in the coaching staff - Kubiak's run first offense and Wade's attacking defense will be welcome changes from the Fox era.  I just don't know if the patchwork offensive and defensive lines will be good enough to make the Broncos Super Bowl bound.  While the team may have more regular season struggles as they adjust to new schemes and the new coaching staff, the hope here is that the Broncos are playing their best football come playoff time (and I do expect another playoff run). 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Jake Plummer at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club

"I gave it my all"

Former quarterback Jake Plummer said that in describing his playing career to a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club audience on Thursday night.  Jake mesmerized the crowd with stories of his playing days along with giving us his observations of the Broncos today and the NFL.  I summary of some of his comments below:

On new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak:

Gary Kubiak is a great coach.  He did a lot for me in my career.  He would fight for me when I disagreed with Mike Shanahan.  He sees the game at different angles.  The Broncos offense will be lethal with either Peyton or Brock under Gary's guidance.  I shed tears when Kubes left the Broncos.

(Kubiak was Jake's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in his first three years with the Broncos - 2003 to 2005.  Given Jake's glowing praise for Kubiak this night it's not surprising that Jake's last year with the team (2006) was not as successful.  Jake quit the game after the 2006 season)

On growing up in Idaho:

My two older brothers loved football and got me into the game.  I was a Raiders fan - Kenny Stabler was my favorite quarterback.  I took my nickname "Jake the Snake" from "the Snake Kenny Stabler"

(Jake's mention of the Raiders was the only time all night he drew boos from the crowd :-)

On Broncos owner Pat Bowlen:

He's an amazing person - a class act.  The players were always number 1 on Mr Bowlen's list.  If something wasn't right Pat would fix it.  One time we asked if there could be TV's in our locker room.  Mr Bowlen had TV's installed the next week.   He'd always be around the team - even participating in our college "pick em" contest for the weekend's games with the players.  Having ownership support was a big difference from what I experienced in my time with the Arizona Cardinals.  My grandfather had Alzheimer's so I know what Mr Bowlen is going through now.

On Brock Osweiler, like Jake an Arizona State quarterback in college:

We don't know how good Brock is yet.  He needs to play right away or get traded.  Sitting on the bench another year won't help him.  The scout team quarterback these days is told exactly where to throw the ball in practice.  When I was on the scout team I didn't do that - I improvised and tested the defense.  That made the defense better.  Brock has a golden ticket with this offense under Kubiak, he just needs to get experience and play.  The clock is ticking on his career.

On his most heartbreaking loss as a Bronco:

The AFC Championship game loss to Pittsburgh at the end of the 2005 season.  If we had won, and then won the Super Bowl, I was ready to retire.  I didn't want 5 Super Bowl Rings - just one.

On his playing style:

I never scripted anything.  I improvised.  I had a way of making tacklers miss.  That's why they called me The Snake.

On Pat Tillman, ex teammate who was killed in Afghanistan:

Pat was an amazing person.  He was always thinking.  He treated the people around him wonderfully.  He made me appreciate life.  He made you want to be better.  We need more Pat Tillmans

On the current Broncos team:

Wade will have those boys ballin' on defense.  They missed Danny Trevathan a lot this year when Danny got hurt.  They need a tight end - like Jordan Cameron of Cleveland.

On his life today:

I live in the Boulder area.  I moved back to Colorado because that's where my wife is from (former Bronco cheerleader Kollette Klassen).  The kids are the #1 priority at home (he and Kollette have a 4 year old and 1 year old).  I work part time at the Pac 12 network - they fly me to San Francisco and I spend a Saturday in the studio watching and commenting on games.  I like to go to games and sit in the stands (he periodically attends CU Buff games and Bronco games).  I still play handball and I work with coaching kids.


That was just a sample of what Jake shared with us that evening.  Jake was very gracious with his time - staying late to talk to every fan, give every autograph, take every picture.  I could see why he was so popular with his teammates during his playing days.  He may not have been the most talented quarterback in the league, but he had a big heart and really cared about his teammates.

The line was long afterwards for fans to talk to Jake 1 to 1.

This kid was too young to remember Jake's playing days, yet still wanted an autograph

The older fans appreciated Jake, too, like this 92 year old celebrating her birthday this night.

And I got to talk to Jake too - it's always a thrill for me to meet former Broncos who I cheered for in the past.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

David Treadwell at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club

Former Broncos place kicker David Treadwell was the guest tonight at this month's meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club.  Treadwell had some interesting comments about the current Broncos team and about his playing days in Denver.

Treadwell thinks the Broncos are playing their best football right now.  He likes how the offense has changed since the St Louis loss - "we can't just rely on the pass anmore.  The running game is much better and the defense has stepped up," he said.  He thinks if the San Diego game was one month ago the Broncos would have lost.  The one concern he has with the team right now is the linebacker depth.  "We are down to playing our inexperienced guys," he said.  Though the Broncos do like rookies Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson.  "Unlike the offense I like a lot how Jack Del Rio (Broncos defensive coordinator) plays all his guys," Treadwell said.

On the Broncos kicking game Treadwell is happy to see Conner Barth handling field goals and Brandon McManus as the kickoff man.  I asked when he was with the Broncos did he mind that he was in a similar situation - with Treadwell doing the place kicking and Brad Daluiso doing the kickoffs.  "Not at all," Treadwell said.  "Kickoffs were from the 30 yard line back then and Brad had a stronger leg.  Having Brad to the kickoffs kept my leg fresh for field goals.  When I did both jobs my leg would get tired late in the season."  Treadwell said the 53rd man on the roster is usually just a special teams guy, anyway, so he didn't see a big difference with the 53rd man being a kickoff specialist now (McManus) instead of a returner (Isaiah Burse).

Treadwell was asked why the Broncos let Matt Prater go.  While Treadwell was reluctant to share all he know about the situation, he did say Prater had a drinking problem and the Broncos knew Prater would be suspended back in April.  The Broncos wanted Prater to go to rehab before training camp which Prater did not do, and then Prater had a mediocre preseason kicking the ball.  The Broncos had enough and let Prater go, plus they liked the potential of Brandon McManus.  Treadwell said in his time with the Broncos coach Dan Reeves would help players with alcohol problems since Reeves' brother was an alcoholic.  He said Reeves even tried to help golfer John Daly with his drinking problems, and had Daly out to Broncos practice several times, yet Daly never could beat the bottle.

Treadwell was asked if CJ Anderson should have been the #1 back in the preseason.  "CJ came into mini camp overweight, and that set him back.  CJ was told if you don't lose weight, you won't make the team," Treadwell said.  He felt Montee Ball was the best all around back headed into training camp based on Ball's pass protection and play late last year, but then the appendectomy set Ball back and in compensating for that Ball injured himself further.  Treadwell thinks CJ is the Broncos best back, now that CJ is in shape, and that Ball could still be effective next year once Ball gets healthy.  Ronnie Hillman is best suited for a Darren Sproles type of role (3rd down back) and not as a runner between the tacklers.

On the NFL rule proposal to narrow the goal posts, Treadwell thinks it would have an impact.  He said when he was at Clemson he practiced with narrower goal posts and when he got into a game the distance between the regulation goal posts looked huge.  He did say it was more difficult to kick in college than the NFL since in college the hash marks are farther apart.

I asked Treadwell what his most memorable field goal was for the Broncos.  He said the 28 yard field goal to win the playoff game against Houston in the 1991 season.  In that game the Broncos had a great drive at the end (Treadwell labeled it "the Drive II") converting two fourth downs.  He said on that play coach Dan Reeves had told holder Gary Kubiak to throw an incomplete pass if the snap was bad, because the field goal try was on 3rd down.  Well the snap turned out to be one of the worst of the year, with the ball rolling back to Kubiak.  Treadwell had to stop in his motion but still was able to make the kick.  "Why didn't you throw the ball away??!!" Reeves asked Kubiak as Gary returned to the sideline, not enjoying the moment of victory as much as Reeves could have.

Treadwell had other interesting comments about the current Broncos and his days in the NFL.  I always enjoy these Bronco QB club meetings with a chance to hear from NFL insiders like Treadwell and the opportunity to ask questions.  Treadwell was great in answering our group's many questions and in signing autographs afterwards.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Visit to Bronco Headquarters

Tonight I had the opportunity to visit the Denver Broncos Headquarters at Dove Valley with the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club.

The Broncos are doing lots of renovations to their facility.  Here's a picture of the new lobby area:

The trophy case is much bigger than when I visited last year.

The Broncos two Lombardi trophies highlight the display.  Plenty of room to add more of these - how about another one in February?!

In front of the Lombardi trophies were the Broncos two championship rings.  Here's a closeup of one:

After some time in the lobby, we were escorted to another building to be in the audience for the Broncos Huddle weekly TV show taping.  Along the way we got a view of the practice field.  Notice the hill where the fans sit during training camp.  This area has been extended and all the trees have been removed. 

The new indoor practice facility, completed in November, towers over the complex.  Joe Ellis of the Broncos later told us this is one of the most modern indoor facilities in the NFL, with a full 120 yard practice field and 9 yards of space on the sidelines.

Then it was back inside for the Broncos Huddle taping.  We sat in the audience and listened to Channel 9's Rod Mackey and player host Emmanuel Sanders talk about last week's game.

The player guest on this week's show was Broncos running back CJ Anderson.  Here CJ demonstrates to us how he carries the football to avoid fumbles.

Mackey asked Sanders how it liked the run oriented offense the last two games.  "I love it!" Sanders replied.  "CJ brings another dimension to the offense," Sanders said.  CJ received lots of praise from Mackey and Sanders, and responded humbly, "Give it to the big fellas up front.  I try to run to the open space they create."  CJ said he's not the fastest guy, but "I like to be nasty in my running style.  This is what you are going to get for 60 minutes."  Sanders said, "That's the type of running back you want in the cold games of December and January, where the defenses are wearing down."

Sanders remarked how CJ worked hard in practice early in the season despite not seeing much playing time.  Sanders asked CJ if he had any advice for youngsters watching.  "Your dreams never die until you give up on them," CJ said.

After the TV recording finished, Broncos President Joe Ellis came out for a special question and answer session just for members of the Quarterback Club.  I asked him if the renovations will be ready for training camp next summer.  "Yes," Ellis replied, "we want the fans back for training camp."  Ellis went on to say there will be more room for fans, with a new concession area and bigger team store.  Fans will get to peek through the glass of the indoor practice facility, too.

Ellis was asked the status of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.  "He's doing the best he can.  His Alzheimers is now in an advanced stage and it is difficult for him and his family." Ellis replied.

Ellis told us the renovations included a new kitchen.  The Broncos no longer have to bring in catered food.  Rather they have their own chefs now and cook everything on site.

Ellis answered other questions.  He recognized our club's 50th anniversary this year.  How often do you get a chance to meet with the President of an NFL franchise in a small group setting?  The Denver Broncos Quarterback club gave me that opportunity tonight!

Overall it was a fun and informative evening to get a behind the scenes look at how the Broncos operate.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rick Upchurch at the Bronco QB Club

New Denver Broncos Ring of Famer Rick Upchurch inspired a crowd of long time fans at the dinner meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club on Wednesday night.

In introducing Rick I told of my first memory of his outstanding career.  On September 21, 1975 I was a 19 year old sitting in the South Stands at the old Mile Hi Stadium watching Rick's first game in the NFL.  And oh what a game he had!  Three receptions for 153 yards, including a 90 yard touchdown pass from Charlie Johnson.  A 13 yard TD run off of a reverse, 88 yards in kickoff returns, 30 yards in punt returns, for 284 total yards.  A Bronco rookie record that still stands to this day.

This was only a hint of the great career Rick would have.  A four time Pro Bowler, a five time Associated Press All Pro, named to the 1970's All Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and more - Rick's induction into the Broncos Ring of Fame earlier this season was long overdue.

Rick told us of his growing up years in Ohio.  Chicago Bears great Gayle Sayers was his hero, and he would imitate Gayle's moves while playing with his dog in the backyard of his family's Toledo, Ohio home.  In high school he played baseball and ran track.  Baseball was in Rick's roots - his grandfather played in the Negro Leagues.  "Baseball is a sissy sport," his track coach told him at the time. This coach encouraged Rick to try out for the football team. 

"You are never going to be anything," Rick's aunt would tell him.  Rather than becoming discouraged, Rick used his aunt's words to prove her wrong, to motivate him towards bigger goals.  "Any negative can be a positive," Rick says he tells kids today.  "Every bad play means we can get better."

After a stellar college career at the University of Minnesota, Rick was drafted by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 1975 draft.  Rick relates, "John Ralston didn't want me."  The Broncos head coach was encouraged to draft Rick from assistant coach Doc Urich, the team's Big 10 scout.  "Doc said if I wasn't rookie of the year, he'd buy the coaching staff a steak dinner," Rick said Urich told him years later.  "John Ralston told Doc 'if Upchurch isn't rookie of the year - you're fired!'"  Rick was to prove Urich right with his amazing first game and impressive rookie season.

A deeply spiritual man, throughout his stories Rick would tell what his faith meant to him.  "God has a plan for us," Rick says.  "He will point you in the right direction when you pray.  God carries me on my journey - He's had me in His hands all the time."

Rick recalled the miracle 1977 team that defeated the mighty Oakland Raiders to earn a spot in Super Bowl XII.  Earlier that year the Broncos had upset the Raiders in Oakland.  "It's all over fat man!" linebacker Tom Jackson yelled at Raiders coach John Madden.  "Keep it down, Tom! We have to play these guys again!" Rick recalls telling Jackson.  Sure enough, the Raiders easily defeated the Broncos in Denver two weeks after this upset, but the Broncos were to have the last laugh with their AFC Championship win.  "We thought we'd beat Dallas in the Super Bowl," Rick remembers. "I thought we were evenly matched, but we had the edge in special teams."  While the Broncos did lose to the Cowboys that day, Rick had an 86 yard kickoff return that led to the Broncos only touchdown, and got Denver back in the game in the second half.  That return was the Super Bowl record for longest non-scoring kickoff return for many years.

Rick has fond memories of the Broncos fans, and now that he is back in Denver (having recently moved here with his wife Donna) he wants to reconnect with his many supporters.  "It was you fans that helped this man grow," he told the QB Club crowd.  "When times look like they are bad, you cheer the team on."

Today Rick is battling leukemia.  Though in remission the past two years, Rick still undergoes chemo therapy every day.  "My white blood cell count was 130,000 when I was first diagnosed," Rick said.  "Being inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame came at just the right time," his wife Donna said.  

I've been attending Denver Bronco Qb Club meetings for over 10 years, and this was one of the best.  Rick Upchurch was gracious in signing many autographs and telling stories of his playing days.  Donna had told me this was not one of Rick's best days health wise, but he did not want to let the fans down and he kept his Bronco QB club commitment.  You would have never known Rick was having health issues as he was positive, smiling, and engaging the whole evening with every fan he met.