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Long-ago words from Denver quarterback still with me today

Sep 4, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

When I first became a Denver Broncos fan, I loved Charley Johnson and I hated John Hufnagel. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but I can tell you I didn't like him. Both were quarterbacks of the Denver Broncos, and it was just fine with me that Johnson was the starter and Hufnagel rarely played.

Johnson had come to the Broncos after nearly a decade of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and a couple of season with the Houston Oilers. Hufnagel was a young player, just drafted by the Broncos in the late rounds after a great career at Penn State.

Both were guest speakers at a banquet my parents and I attended at the Marriott hotel in south Denver the night before Denver played the Kansas City Chiefs in a Monday night football game in 1974.

I can't recall much of what Johnson spoke about, but I knew who he was and that the Broncos had their first winning season the year before while he was the starter. We were thrilled that he stopped by our table to give us his good wishes. His autograph was my first.

However, I remember exactly what Hufnagel said. He told our group that kids younger than high school age were really too young to be playing tackle football. He suggested that kids our age -- I was 12 at the time -- should be limited in contact sports. I am sure he had his reasons, but for a narrow-minded kid who lived for football games as a seventh-grader, I thought he was nuts.

Hufnagel's time as a player in the NFL was short-lived. After three seasons with Denver, the QB I didn't like played another 12 seasons in the Canadian Football League.

Hufnagel then turned to coaching, first as a player-coach in the CFL, then as an assistant coach in both the CFL and the NFL. He is now in his fifth season as head coach and general manager for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

If you are a fan of pro football, you may know some of the quarterbacks that Hufnagel has coached. The list includes Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Eli Manning, Mark Brunell, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Turns out the guy must know what he is talking about.

Equally impressive, in a different way, was Johnson's career. While playing in the NFL, Johnson concurrently obtained both a master's and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis.

He retired as a professor of chemical engineering at his alma mater, New Mexico State University, in May.

After Johnson, there came Ramsey, Morton, Weese, DeBerg, Elway, Griese, Plummer, Cutler, Orton and Tebow, with a few others sprinkled in, who have started at quarterback for the best team in pro football. OK, my favorite team in the NFL.

Which leads us to Sunday, a day all Bronco fans have been waiting for since March 20 when Peyton Manning signed with Denver. It's Manning and the Broncos vs. Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Hold the phone. Have dinner ready.

This is going to be good.

By the way. Total number of games Hufnagel started for the Broncos?

One. Serves him right.

Have a great sports week.

Go Big Red!

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