Frank Tripucka, first Denver Broncos QB, dies at 85 years old

When Frank Tripucka first arrived in Denver in 1960 to work for the newly-formed Broncos of the newly-formed American Football League, he was only supposed to help assist head coach Frank Filchock in a coaching capacity.

Funny thing about that. Tripucka was apparently the best option the team had at quarterback. Thus, though he hadn’t played in the NFL since 1952, he took over the starting spot and proceeded to throw for a career- and league-high 3,038 yards that season.

Tripucka -- who died Thursday morning at the age of 85 -- started for two more seasons (and led the league in passing yards again in 1962).

Here’s how Tripucka looked at the time.

He was such an important part of franchise history, the team retired his No. 18 jersey. Which he then graciously allowed Peyton Manning to wear.

“I have admired Peyton for a long time," Tripucka said at the time, via the team website. "He is one of the all-time greats, and having him wear the same jersey that I did brings me a lot of joy."

Said Manning during his introductory news conference in Denver: “It really goes against everything I believe in being a guy who appreciates the history of football and I believe when a number is retired it should stay retired; but in talking to Frank Tripucka, I feel he really wants me to wear his number. It was a very humbling conversation and I am honored to wear his number, being another quarterback for the Denver Broncos as Mr. Tripucka was back years ago as the first quarterback to play here. It truly is an honor for me and I’m really following his wishes to wear it because that’s what he wants me to do and I’m honored to do that."

Tripucka started his NFL career in 1949, and he spent the next six seasons with the Lions, Chicago Cardinals and Dallas Texans. He spent the seven seasons after that playing in the Canadian Football League before arriving in Denver.

“Frank will always hold a very special place in Broncos history for what he meant to this organization and community," the Broncos said in a statement.

“We are all deeply saddened by his passing this morning. Our hearts and prayers go out to Frank’s wife, Randy, his seven children and the rest of the Tripucka family.”

Included among those children is Kelly Tripucka, a former two-time NBA All-Star with the Detroit Pistons.

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