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Karl Mecklenburg on Making Broncos

The Game Before the Money Podcast spoke with Karl Mecklenburg about making the Broncos after being drafted in the final round of the 1983 NFL Draft — in Episode 28 of the football history podcast. 

Late Draft Pick to Broncos Star Defensive Player

Karl Mecklenburg starred for a dozen seasons as the leader of the Denver Broncos defense. He played an essential role in the team making the Super Bowl in three out of four years. Karl Mecklenburg confused offenses by lining up at different positions. He frustrated quarterbacks with his consistent disruption of plays.

Although one might think he was highly touted coming out of college, Mecklenburg was drafted late. In fact, he was picked in the final round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Despite becoming a 3-time All-Pro and 6-time Pro Bowl selection, he said he was fortunate to make the Broncos.

Based on the story of Mecklenburg’s original jersey number, it sounds like even the coaching staff had doubts that he’d make the team.

“I actually had the same number as a starter. That’s never a good sign when you get there. (Laughs) I had the same number as a starter, and then they switched me to another number. Then they fired somebody and gave me his number. So I ended up with 77. That was the third number I had during training camp that year.”

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Focusing on Business Over Football

Karl told me that the Broncos ownership at the time (before Pat Bowlen took over) were interested in the team as a business investment and weren’t as focused on football. The general manager looked to cut salary costs. Many veterans who helped the Broncos make it to Super Bowl XII just a few years prior found themselves out of a job.

NFL Veterans Mentoring Rookies

Mecklenburg said that 13 rookies made the team his first year. He spoke about how the remaining veterans responded to their long-time friends being cut.

“We had 13 rookies make it that year in 1983. Rookies are cheap. (Laughs) So, I was able to make the team. I had made plays, and it was the right place at the right time for me, truthfully. That doesn’t happen very often. But they were looking for somebody at base salary who could make plays, and I was that guy.”

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“The other thing interesting about it was those veteran guys — the guys that had played in the Super Bowl already — they just had seen 13 of their teammates get fired because they were trying to sell the team. Instead of taking it personally and taking it out on us, they became mentors. I owe a lot of my success to those guys. To Barney Chavous, Rubin Carter, and that group that really took us under their wing and taught us not only how to be great football players, but taught us how to be men.”

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like sports history? Listen to The Game Before the Money Podcast! Most episodes include stories from legendary football stars.

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