September 7, 2011

1962: New-Look Broncos Upset Chargers

Coming into the 1962 American Football League season, the Denver Broncos had undergone a transformation – at least in terms of leadership and appearance. In 1960 and ’61, the club had a decidedly austere air about it. Coached by Frank Filchock, a former NFL quarterback and CFL coach, the team had little money to work with (especially during the inaugural season, when owned by the Howsam family), epitomized by the uniforms of gold (more accurately mustard yellow) jerseys and brown pants with vertically-striped brown-and-yellow socks that had been purchased cheaply from the organizers of a defunct college all-star game (the Copper Bowl).

Frank Tripucka, who last played in the NFL with the ill-fated Dallas Texans in 1952 before heading north to Canada, originally came to the Broncos in ’60 to be a coach but ended up becoming the starting quarterback for Filchock’s pass-oriented attack. There was talent on the club in split end Lionel Taylor, the AFL’s leading receiver in each of its first two seasons (including an even 100 catches in ’61); HB/PK Gene Mingo, the league’s leading scorer in 1960; All-League DT Bud McFadin; and safety Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin, who intercepted 17 passes in two years. Still, the team lost far more than it won, going a combined 7-20-1.

For 1962, there was a new head coach/GM in Jack Faulkner (pictured above), who had been an assistant with the Chargers under Sid Gillman. The team’s offices were revamped, and so were the uniforms. The new outfits were orange, blue, and white with a cartoon bucking bronco on the helmet, and the hated vertically-striped socks were publicly burned amid great ceremony prior to an intrasquad scrimmage before a cheering crowd (at least one pair survived to eventually reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

The team that took the field on September 7 for the season-opening game at Bears Stadium against San Diego still contained most of the same key personnel, including Tripucka, Taylor, Mingo, McFadin, and Gonsoulin. But there was a new enthusiasm present as a crowd of 28,000 turned out for the Friday night contest, a new high for the franchise.

The team the Broncos were hosting, the Chargers, had won the Western Division in each of the previous two seasons and was expected to provide an ample test for the refurbished club. However, San Diego’s potent offense had already been crippled by the loss of star HB Paul Lowe, who was gone for the year due to a fractured wrist suffered in training camp.

The Broncos started off the scoring with a first quarter drive that covered 56 yards, capped by Mingo’s five-yard touchdown carry. Mingo added the extra point and then, later in the opening period, kicked a 12-yard field goal to put Denver ahead by 10-0 after a quarter of play.

San Diego responded with a seven-yard TD pass from QB Jack Kemp to split end Don Norton to narrow the score to 10-7 in the second quarter. But the Broncos came back with another drive that concluded with a long pass play of 49 yards (17 in the air) from Tripucka to flanker Bob Scarpitto, a newcomer to the club.

On Denver’s next possession, Tripucka completed eight passes, the last for a two-yard TD to FB Bo Dickinson. The 34-year-old quarterback completed 20 of 33 passes for 252 yards in the first half as the Broncos raced out to a 24-7 lead. His protection was excellent, as well as his accuracy.

Mingo padded the lead to 30-7 in the third quarter with field goals of 41 and 53 yards. The Chargers, who made it into Denver territory just twice more after scoring their first touchdown, finally got on the board again on the last play of the third quarter when CB Claude Gibson returned a pass interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

San Diego’s rookie QB John Hadl led the Chargers on a 55-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a 15-yard scoring pass to FB Bobby Jackson, but the result was not in doubt. The Broncos came away with a convincing 30-21 win.

Denver’s offensive output of 505 yards was impressive and easily outdistanced the Chargers, who gained 208. The Broncos not only dominated through the air (384 yards to 123), but on the ground also (121 to 96) and had twice as many first downs (28 to 14). It was Denver’s first-ever win over the Chargers following four defeats.

Frank Tripucka had an outstanding day as he completed 28 of 47 passes for 376 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Lionel Taylor and TE Gene Prebola each caught 7 passes, with Taylor gaining 79 yards to Prebola’s 69. Thanks to the long scoring reception, Bob Scarpitto was right behind with 68 yards on just two receptions. HB Al Frazier was the team’s leading rusher with 72 yards on 14 carries. Through both rushing and placekicking, Gene Mingo accounted for 18 points.

For the Chargers, the usually capable Jack Kemp went to the air 27 times and had only 8 completions for 108 yards, including one TD and one interception. TE Dave Kocurek caught 4 passes for 66 yards. Bobby Jackson ran for 51 yards on 9 carries.

The Broncos continued to play well under Faulkner as they won six of their first seven games to move into contention in the Western Division. They were 7-2 after beating the Chargers again in San Diego, but the roof fell in on the overachieving club after that – the Broncos didn’t win another game the rest of the way and finished in second place with a 7-7 record. Still, it was progress and Faulkner received AFL Coach of the Year honors.

San Diego recovered to win handily the next week, but lost Jack Kemp to a hand injury and when the club waived him in an administrative move, he was lost to the Buffalo Bills. The loss of Lowe and Kemp was just the beginning as many starters fell to injury along the way. The Chargers advanced as far as 3-2 with rookie John Hadl at quarterback, but proceeded to lose eight of the last nine games to finish far out of the running in third place with a 4-10 record.