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A roundup of great Broncos

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Posted: Tuesday January 19, 1999 04:10 PM


My five favorite Denver Broncos of all time:

1. Richie "Tombstone" Jackson, DE, 1967-72

I keep trying to push Jackson for the Hall of Fame, but I know the chances are slim because his career was cut short by a knee injury. He's one of the three greatest defensive ends I've ever seen, along with Deacon Jones and Reggie White.

Jackson's forte was a devastating head slap. He'd slap offensive linemen to their knees, splitting their helmets and ruining their careers. His motor never stopped running. He was quick and agile and powerful. People have speculated that his game would be crippled today, now that the head slap is outlawed, but he would have figured out something else. He was that good.

Once I was talking with Stan Jones, the Broncos' old line coach, and I told him how great I thought Jackson was. He told me a story I never forgot.

"He'd bounced around on the Oakland taxi squad for a couple of years," Jones said. "Then Al Davis traded him to us in the summer of 1967. He drove up one evening in this beat-up old car, dead tired. He'd been driving over the mountains without any sleep. I asked him what he'd do if he didn't make it with us.

"He turned and looked at me and said, 'I've come this far and I'm going no farther. This is where I make my stand.' Right then I knew we had ourselves a football player."

2. Lyle Alzado, DE, 1971-78

I was his co-author on a book, "Mile High: The Story of Lyle Alzado and the Amazing Denver Broncos." A paperback original. Did it in eight days, and covered the '78 Super Bowl at the same time. How did it do? Well, it made the top-10 list in Denver.

Without his cooperation, it wouldn't have been possible. Oh, man, the yarns he told. The time a 6'10" enforcer tried to clear out a bar, only to get cleared out by Alzado. The time when he was a kid and his mother took him to synagogue - only while everyone was praying, he'd sneak into the coat room and swipe the change from the coats. We became friends. He was the only player who ever admitted - while he was still playing - that he was doing steroids. It was a very tough thing when he died.

3. Tommy Jackson, LB, 1973-86

I first noticed him early in his career, when he was an undersized fourth-round draft choice from Louisville, flying around the practice field, making noise, shaking people up. I asked one of the coaches, "Who the heck is that?"

"Loud-mouthed bubble-butt from Louisville," was the reply. By 1976 he was much more. He was one of the most gifted cover linebackers in the game, a guy with a tremendous burst to the ball. So I picked him on my all-pro team that year. No one else did. Next year, when the Broncos made the Super Bowl, everyone picked him.

It's a very self-serving thing, but I had him first, and he never fails to let people know about it.

4. Paul Smith, DT/DE, 1968-78

In his early years he was a budding superstar defensive tackle, then a knee injury almost finished his career. By 1977 he was a solid workman, nothing more. I got to know him that year. We talked about the elusive nature of stardom and how one twist of a ligament could change a person's life. He wasn't bitter, just reflective. He played well, if not spectacularly, did his job, didn't complain. A professional.

5. Jim Turner, K, 1971-79

I'd first known Turner as the kicker for the Super Bowl Jets. A wacko. Weeb Ewbank used to say, "Jim Turner's like a crab. He's always going sideways."

August 1974, exhibition game, Jets rookies vs. Broncos rookies in Mile High. The veterans were on strike over the contract. Turner was leading the Denver strike faction. The night before the game he dropped over to the Jets' hotel for a reunion with Ewbank.

He sat there in the lounge, telling the old coach what he was gonna do the next night. "Well," he said, "I've got the electricians organized, so we could shut down all the lights. Or we could get the stadium people to lock up all the bathrooms . . ."

And during the whole thing Ewbank, who had seen too much in his years in the NFL to be surprised at anything, kept nodding and saying, "That's swell, Jimmy, you're doing a great job."

Finally Turner said good night. Ewbank watched him leave and shook his head.

"A crab," he said. "If there's a way to go sideways, he'll find it."

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