The next time you’re at a Denver Broncos game, stop at the Ring of Fame and really read about the players there. Many have records that still have not been broken. Goose Gonsoulin, Steve Foley and Bill Thompson each have a common trait and none of our vaunted defense of today share with them. It’s not even close. Not Miller, Harris, Talib, Ward or Stewart. Someday maybe Roby, Simmons and Park can join, but I doubt it. This special group of men accomplished a feat that few in any franchise have, let alone having three in the same club.
Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin, was an original Bronco and as such, has a special place in Broncos lore. The Pro Bowl safety (selected six times) was the first player in team history to play 13 seasons with Denver.
By the end of his 13 years in Denver, he was the AFL’s all-time leader in interceptions with 43, 40 of those with Denver. He made the first interception ever in the AFL, in the first league game against the Boston Patriots (haha). He had seven interceptions in his first three games, and his 11 interceptions in 1960 are still a Denver record. He shares the team record for four interceptions in a game.
Want to talk about being a tough guy? He once was knocked out and swallowed his tongue, and a trainer had to pry his jaws open to get his tongue (ew). Two days later he was back practice. He had a broken collarbone that never healed correctly, so it jutted out and still he played. Gonsoulin played through numerous concussions, as well.
Ring of Fame William Allen “Billy” Thompson played his entire 13-year career for the Denver Broncos from 1969-1981. He was a third round (61 overall) draft pick. The Orange Crush became what it was in no small part because of the tremendous play of Thompson. 1977 was the Broncos’ first winning season which lead to their first Super Bowl appearance.
During his career he was selected to the three Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro selection twice and earned All-AFC honors four times. He is currently third on the Broncos all-time list for games started with 179, tenth in games played with 179, and holds the club record for interception return yards at 784, Three of these interceptions were pick sixes. In addition, he had 21 (!!) fumble recoveries, including seven for TDs.
Old timers chortle in glee when remembering one of those was an 80 yarder against the hated Raiders in Denver’s first ever Monday night game. The game ended in a tie, but because it wasn’t a loss, it was a sweet moral victory for a team used to losing to the black and silver.
“Everybody said it would be a cold day in hell if we got to the Super Bowl. Well, we made the devil wear an overcoat”–Thompson
Thompson started 142 consecutive games for Denver until the end of his last season, a team record and one of the longest current streaks in the NFL. He had a career 40 interceptions, including four in 1981.
Thompson set two pro records — as a rookie he led the American Football League in punt returns and kickoff returns, the only player in pro football history to do so, and he is the only player in NFL history to return four fumble recoveries for touchdowns during a career.
After retiring from the Broncos, Thompson became a college scout for the organization for two years before becoming the Director of Player Relations and Alumni Coordinator.
Maybe because he one of 13 kids and had to fight for everything, Steve Foley was a holy terror in the NFL. He struck fear in every QB he played against. It may have helped that he himself was a former QB. The kind that we’d call a dual threat in today’s game. His two favorite QB’s were Fran Tarkenton and none other than one Mr. Archie Manning.
Like Thompson above, one of Foley’s most memorable games was also against the Raiders. Foley himself recalled that freezing day in Mile High Stadium, when Denver beat the Raiders for the 1977 AFC championship as: “A career highlight, certainly one of the big ones.”
In the 20-17 Denver victory over Oakland, which catapulted the Broncos into Super Bowl XII in New Orleans,was– according to the Rocky Mountain News, the No.1-rated most dramatic game ever played in Mile High Stadium. Foley more than held his own, allowing only three completions to Branch for a total of 59 yards – and no touchdowns.
Foley spent 11 seasons with the team, playing in two Super Bowls, and still remains Denver’s all-time career interceptions leader with 44. WOW.
Imagine, the Orange Crush had TWO players who each had over 40 interceptions. A combined 83 interceptions. It’s mind boggling, especially since back then quarterbacks didn’t throw nearly as much as they do today. A Mile High salute to each of these outstanding athletes and their place in our Broncos’ history.