Former Broncos DE Billy Thompson (1969-1981) took some time to field questions about what it was like playing for the Broncos. He also talked about this year’s team.
Billy Thompson: He was the first player in team history to play 13 seasons with Denver, and he was the team’s defensive captain for many years. Thompson, despite being retired for 15 years, still ranks second on the Broncos’ all-time list for games started with 178, second with consecutive starts with 142, and sixth in games played with 179. He finished his career with 61 turnovers (most in team history), 40 of which came via interceptions (third in team history). He holds two NFL records, one of which has stood for over two decades. As a rookie in 1969, Thompson became the only player in NFL history to lead the league in both kickoffs and punt returns in the same season. He is also one of only two players in NFL history to return four opponent fumble recoveries for touchdowns. “BT” was a three-time Pro Bowl selection (1977, 1978 & 1981) and earned All-NFL honors twice (1977-’78) and All-AFC honors four times (1977-’79, ’81). Thompson was a college scout for the Broncos for two years before moving into his current position as Director of Player Relations and Alumni Coordinator which he has held since 1993. Billy resides in Aurora, Colorado.
What does Broncos football mean to the state of Colorado?
BT: There’s a unique love affair with this team in this state. Every game I played was sold out. It’s really something special. After we lost the first four Super Bowls that we appeared in, I had no doubt we were going to win it in 97′. I was in the stands. It was the most thrilling game to watch, and I felt like crying when it was over. I felt a sense of relief, vindication. Everyone in the stands was crying. I could hear fans in Denver from San Diego.
What was the worst injury you ever suffered?
BT: I was only injured twice while playing. The one that stands out is the hit I took to my knee from my own teammate. We were playing the Raiders and my teammate fell into me, knocking my knee sideways. I knew at that point I wasn’t able to make cuts. All I could do was back peddle. So, I asked to be taken out of the game, but coach told me to stay in. On the next play from scrimmage the receiver cut to the left at the beginning of the route and then came straight towards me when the quarterback was ready to throw the ball. I broke up the pass, and it looked like I knew exactly what I was doing. I came out of the game after that play.
What do you think about the league’s preseason and regular season schedule setup?
BT: When I played, we played 6 preseason games. The league is considering a 17 game regular game schedule (adding one more game), and eventually cutting it down to 1 preseason game. There’s a lot of value to the preseason for players. For example, Terrell Davis didn’t make the team until preseason, and he did it on special teams. The thing you worry about is the injuries. It’s tough to find the right balance between preseason and regular season games.
There are 36 new guys coming in this year. How does the team build team unity?
BT: It’s the responsibility of the coaching staff to do that. It starts with the training camps. In sterile training camps, it’s hard to get to know people and become close.
What has been the Broncos biggest problem over the past few years?
BT: The biggest problem was leadership. We lost Al Wilson, Rod Smith, and Jake Plummer, whether you liked him or not, he was a leader. It’s the attitude of the people leading the team that creates a winning environment.