Denver Broncos

1966 Bucking Bronco
(Game Worn)

“Throw it out!”

“What? Did you say ‘Throw it out?’”

“Yeah, it’s junk, toss it with the others.”

Incredibly, “throw it out” was often the fate and final experience in the life of professional football equipment. Especially in the financially difficult days of the struggling American Football League, every piece of equipment was utilized until it was no longer safe to have players wear it in games or practice. In truth, much of the equipment was taken past that limit, but when helmets were beyond reconditioning and a very minimal level of safety circa mid to late 1960’s, they were merely thrown out. There was no collectibles market, no internet sales or auctions, and very little interest in “old junk” that was beyond repair or practical use.

This game worn, Denver Broncos helmet was in fact rescued from a dumpster behind the Broncos facility in the late 1960’s, a relic, from the team’s perspective, that was no longer useable. The distinctive white Broncos decal, one that was introduced in 1962 after the very public and welcomed demise of their original brown uniforms, was used through the 1965 season and then slightly altered in shape for ’66 with the addition of a blue outline. The newer version of the decal, though battle scarred, clearly depicts the bucking horse whose eye is represented by a star logo. For those who had a love of the original Broncos and AFL, the removal of this version of the bronco decal when the team introduced their new blue helmet shells for the 1967 season, proved to be a sad day.

The orange shell has held up surprisingly well and tape residue that confirms that the shell displayed white flanking stripes, is also indicative of use during the 1966 season. The orange shell with one-inch white center stripe that Head Coach Jack Faulkner brought to the team for the 1962 season, was altered and upgraded in 1966. The Broncos decal on both sides of the shell remained in an upgraded form, but the center stripe was changed to royal blue, matching the jersey trim introduced the season before, with white flanking stripes.

This was a one year, 1966 only design, a season that found two head coaches leading the Broncos. Former Browns great Mac Speedie had taken the reins from Jack Falukner in the midst of the 1964 season and for ’66, moved defensive line coach Ray Malavasi to tutor the offensive line. Speedie, who had taken over when Falkner abruptly resigned after four games, did the same in 1966, leaving his head coaching position after dropping the first two games of the season. Malavasi, who perhaps should have more closely looked at the Bronco’s inability to garner even one first down against a shaky Oilers’ defense in the season’s opening game, no doubt realized the tough road ahead but took over and finished the season.


The new helmet design did not help the record. 1966 began with the turmoil of fullback Cookie Gilchrist leaving the team, and their 4-10 record left the Broncos at the bottom of the AFL West Division with the least productive scoring offense in the league, and a defense that finished but one spot from the bottom of the nine team aggregation. Historical perspective has revealed a team that suffered from poor quarterback play in its early years, but ’66 saw five different signal callers at the helm, including an attempted resurrection of elder statesman and previously retired Tobin Rote. The limited 417 yards rushing generated by Wendell Hayes led the team with Abner Haynes adding 304 more, and no one else close to that. The defense, led by linebacker John “Bull” Bramlett, featured a porous secondary that managed but thirteen interceptions. At the end of the year, the suffering fans would be given hope with the hiring of Lou Saban who had previously taken the Buffalo Bills to the AFL Championship.


Close examination of the facemask attachment point on the helmet of defensive end Dan LaRose, number 80, demonstrates a rubber washer beneath the screw for a more stable fit. 

Saban, as a new coach, made sweeping changes and introduced the royal blue helmet in 1967 that identified the Broncos for decades to come. However, many fans believed that the 1966 Denver uniform was by far the most attractive. When adopting the orange dominant theme for their team color in ’62, the home jersey and trim color was a light, Tennessee type of orange. When manufacturers were changed in ’65 and royal blue trim was added to the uniform design, the orange color was a bit darker or “reddish” and this made the helmet stand out more prominently to the observation of some. For 1966 when the royal blue center stripe took the place of the previous white stripe, and white flanking stripes were added, the entire appearance was riveting. This featured helmet has the handwritten number 60 inside of the shell and NJOP facemask, one that would most often be utilized by a non-skill position player.  Offensive guard Ken Adamson wore number 60 the first three years of the Broncos’ existence and guard Charlie Parker wore it in 1965. Robert Young who was primarily an offensive guard but would occasionally fill in on defense, began his sixteen year pro career in ’66 with the Broncos and eventually was an effective, All Pro player with the St. Louis Cardinals.


Observation of the mask reveals the feature of rubber washers that were utilized to insure that the bolt-on mask had the most secure fit possible. Equipment managers Larry Elliott and Ronnie Bill were known to use washers and metal plates to provide the best mask fit and security they could for the Broncos players.

Though the rubber crown of this venerable shell is sagging and beyond its ability to properly support the suspension webbing, the webbing itself is in remarkably good condition for its age. A very nice addition, over and above standard issue and no doubt to protect one of the three offensive guards who can lay claim to this helmet before its retirement, is the padding at the rear of the helmet designed to protect the wearer’s neck.


Though ’66 was not an extremely successful season for the Denver Broncos, this wonderful piece of their history certainly is representative of a great era in Broncos and American Football League history.