Wed, 29 Jun 2022

Sacco Sez: The offseason's odd jobs for Broncos back in the day

Denver Broncos
22 Jun 2022, 10:38 GMT+10

Jim Saccomano

The Denver Broncos have concluded their offseason workout programs, and players and coaches are currently some time off over the next month before the rigors of the NFL season truly begin.

The league year has expanded over the last couple of decades and now, between lifting and various camps, being an NFL player became a full-time job - but it was not always so.

For much of the first century of pro football, the game was largely a six-month job.

Believe it or not, but once upon a time there were no offseason programs in the NFL. There was no official lifting program, and many teams did not even have weight rooms.

Back in the day, before salaries and traning sophistication were what they are now, players often had to supplement their NFL wages with another job of some sort.

I can remember sitting at my desk, probably about 1979, and seeing defensive end Lyle Alzado in the hallway. I remember saying something like, "Lyle! Great to see you! What are you doing here?"

He explained that he had come in to take care of a couple of business matters, but the key to the exchange was my surprise in seeing him. The players just were not around much in those offseason days.

I remember the moments when I was a college student at camp for the student paper and noticing that as the players reported, they greeted each other much like guys who had bonded, but then did not see each other for six months. That was because that was exactly the case.

So what did players do in that six-month period?

Several Broncos were taken into the executive training programs at the Adolph Coors Company in Golden, a group that included future Hall of Famer Floyd Little, future Ring of Fame wide receiver Haven Moses and quarterback John McCormick.

For some, it was a one-year-and-done program, or a couple of offseasons, but McCormick stayed with Coors and retired as a president of the company.

For a lot of guys in those early years it was all about making a few bucks before football began, but some grew and developed in their "second jobs."

This extended beyond just the Broncos, of course, and included players from around the league.

The legendary Baltimore Colts team of the late 1950s was one of the first that was one with their city. They lived in Baltimore, worked in Baltimore and were revered by the fans.

The great quarterback Johnny Unitas told of how players would help each other out, taking turns assisting teammates with laying kitchen tile. (After all, why pay for it when you can do it yourself?)

That Colts team was remarkable, coming together in one of the golden eras of pro football, with the Colts playing the New York Giants in the championship game still today called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." As a pro football historian who has studied the century-plus of pro football, I concur with that label today.

It was also a period less than two decades after the end of World War II, and many of the pro players had seen action - real action - in the battles of that conflict.

One of Unitas' teammates with the Colts was Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti. Marchetti was a genuine tough guy who had served in World War II in the Battle of the Bulge with the 69th Infantry Division before kind of drifting as a bartender in San Francisco before being discovered and unleashing himself on the football field.

After that, Marchetti started a hamburger chain of his own called "Gino's Hamburgers." It had one of the great radio ad jingles: "Everybody goes to Gino's, because Gino's is the place to go."

Closer to home, and slightly more recently, then-Broncos quarterback Frank Tripucka became an East Coast beer baron, and teammate Ernie Barnes became the first and certainly most notable player ever to enter the art world.

The late Barnes had his most famous painting, "The Sugar Shack," sold at Christie's of New York for more than $15 million in May.

During the offseason once, a fine guard for the Broncos named Tommy Lyons used his time to study medicine. He went into the field full time upon retirement from the Broncos and now is Doctor Thomas Lyons.

Of course, Ring of Fame quarterback Charley Johnson is one of the all-time Renaissance men of the NFL, having played while he was on active duty as an army officer and a grad student. In retirement, he headed the engineering department at New Mexico State University.

First and foremost, football is a physical game that involves athleticism and muscle, so it made a lot of sense, especially back in the day, for football players to engage in pro wrestling for part of the year.

Denver defensive end Greg Boyd had a very notable career in pro wrestling. A true gentle giant, Greg was known as "Hercules" and wrestled very prominently in Europe as well as in the United States.

And way, way back in the day, there was also Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel. He was a Broncos linebacker who had some Native American (Chocktaw-Chickasaw) background. Hence, he adopted the moniker of "Wahoo" and was one of the most notable wrestlers in that bizarre era of the early 1960s. He developed a genuine popularity in the cult world of pro wrestling and turned his football offseason job into one that lasted for years after his career had ended.

Most notably, Wahoo held the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship five times and wrestled until 1996.

People have to remember that for all the stardom and money of pro football, the fame can be fleeting and the players are people like everyone else, with families to feed, mortgages and other bills to pay.

So people do what people do, and back in the day pro football just filled up half of the calendar schedule. So sometimes people inquire about the more interesting offseason professions I have encountered.

One I shall never forget was that of linebacker Godwin Turk. Godwin was a mortician in the offseason. Of special interest was the fact that he was married to a doctor, who often delivered babies. Hence, Godwin once commented that "My wife brings them into the world, and I assist with their departure."

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