Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jon Keyworth at the Bronco QB Club

Former Bronco running back Jon Keyworth spoke to a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club group Saturday afternoon with entertaining stories of his playing days, and sobering facts about the concussion-related injuries ex-NFL players deal with.

In addition to his playing exploits Keyworth is best known for his "Make Those Miracles Happen" song during the Broncos AFC Championship 1977 season.  "We were flying home from Houston after clinching the division title," Keyworth said.  "The celebrations on the plane were wild - it was the first time the Broncos had won anything in their history."  Keyworth had a conversation with a couple of friends who were restaurant owners at 1 am the following morning.  "There should be a song to celebrate this," one said.  Keyworth's friends had connections in the recording industry and within 2 weeks the "Make Those Miracles Happen" song was recorded.

"I knew nothing about making a record," Keyworth said, yet thanks to his friends "Make Those Miracles Happen" was in the Denver stores as a 45-rpm record by the time of the AFC Championship game vs Oakland.  The song was a big hit, and still is played sometimes whenever the Broncos are making a playoff run. "Like during this year's incredible miracle Super Bowl season" Keyworth said.

Keyworth even was able to convince some of his teammates to strategically pose naked for the album.  Keyworth's roommate, running back Jim Jensen, was on the album cover.

Keyworth played for the Broncos from 1974 - 1980.  He was originally drafted by the Washington Redskins.  "Jon, you don't want to come here," said Keyworth's friend Bill Brundige.  Keyworth was a teammate of Brundige at the University of Colorado.  "With George Allan as the coach, you won't play for four years," Brundige cautioned.  Allen was notorious for playing veterans over rookies.

Kay Dalton was on the CU staff during Keyworth's college days.  When Dalton was fired from the Buffs he got a job on John Ralston's Bronco staff.  "Dalton told Ralston to trade for me," Keyworth relates, and that's what happened.

Keyworth's rookie season was a tumultuous one.  He came to camp during an NFL strike.  With the Bronco vets holding out the coaches were able to get a good long look at Jon.  "I remember in the first preseason game coming into our locker room under the South Stands.  Above me were a group of Bronco vets holding out.  'I'm going to kick your ass!' the vets yelled down at Keyworth, not happy that Jon had crossed the picket line.

The strike was soon settled and Keyworth found himself third on the depth chart at fullback, behind Joe Dawkins and Bobby Anderson.  Dawkins was soon traded, and Anderson broke his leg in the last preseason game.  The Broncos then decided to go with a backfield of Floyd Little and Otis Armstrong.  When Little was hurt in a game vs the Colts, offensive coordinator Max Coley turned to Keyworth and said, "OK Jon, you're on!"

The next week Keyworth, starting with Armstrong, had his best game as a pro, rushing for 148 yards in an upset of the Raiders at Oakland.  At the time it was the second most yards gained by a Bronco running back in team history.  Keyworth kept a positive attitude through his early struggles with the team and eventually it paid off with a starting gig.  "It doesn't matter what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you," Keyworth said - a motto he lives by.

Keyworth told us other entertaining stories of from his Bronco playing days:

  • The time coach Red Miller wrestled linebacker Glenn "Lumpy" Hyde to the ground in front of the players, with the team cheering both sides on.  "Red was a great player's coach," Keyworth said.
  • A practical joke Randy Gradishar played on Floyd Little. Floyd had a special shampoo that he used to help with his hair loss. Gradishar took a bottle of regular shampoo and dumped it on Floyd in the shower, destroying the effects of Floyd's special formula. Little was incensed! Little connected on a punch to Keyworth as Floyd exited the shower.  "Do I fight back against 'the franchise'?" Jon wondered.  He thought the better of it, and 15 minutes later he and Floyd were laughing about it as Little discovered Gradishar was behind the prank.  Incidents like this built team unity, Keyworth said.
  • Bronco guard Tom Glassic overslept and missed the team bus to Super Bowl 12.  Glassic's Dad drove Tom to the game (at the Super Dome) but Glassic couldn't get in.  Nobody believed he was a member of the Broncos.  
Then the tone of the meeting became serious.  "My brothers are all suffering," Keyworth said as he told of retired players dealing with the effects of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy - head injuries).  "The NFL has suppressed the truth for years," Keyworth said.  "I had 1000s of concussions during my playing career," he relates.  Today Keyworth is a strong advocate for natural treatment of the disease, not with "the horrible drugs with bad side effects."  Keyworth works with his wife Claudia at a Health and Wellness Clinic promoting holistic remedies to restore brain function for NFL vets.  "These guys are suffering greatly," Keyworth said.  "Keep them in your prayers."  The Keyworths urged our group to see the movie Concussion to learn the facts about CTE.

Since I was a kid I have been collecting newspapers from great moments in Bronco history.  On the morning of the Keyworth meeting I dug up an old Denver Post Sports Section from 1974, "Otis Jon Run Raiders Defense into the Ground" the headline read.  It was the story of Keyworth's career 148 yard game he had in the big upset of Oakland that year.  I took the above picture with Jon.  "I don't have much memorabilia from my playing days," Jon told me.  "I want you to keep this," I replied, handing him that old newspaper.  Jon was very appreciative and even had a tear in his eye as he thanked me.

It was the least I could do for this ex-Bronco who I enjoyed watching in his playing days, and for his contributions today in promoting new treatment options for retired NFL vets still suffering from the effects of concussions.