Frank Tripucka, 85; was Denver Broncos’ 1st quarterback

Broncos quarterback Frank Tripucka rushed for a touchdown against the New York Titans.
Jerry Mosey/Associated Press/file 1962
Broncos quarterback Frank Tripucka rushed for a touchdown against the New York Titans.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo.— Frank Tripucka, the first quarterback for the Denver Broncos and one of three players who had his number retired by the team, died Thursday at his home in Woodland Park, N.J. He was 85.

His son, Kelly, a former Notre Dame and NBA basketball player, said his father died of congestive heart failure.

‘‘He is proudly remembered as one of professional football’s first great drop-back quarterbacks,’’ the Broncos said in a statement. ‘‘Frank will always hold a very special place in Broncos history for what he meant to this organization and community.’’


Mr. Tripucka was the original No. 18 in Denver, and his number was retired until 2012, when he gladly allowed Peyton Manning to wear it when he joined the team two years ago.

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After leading Notre Dame to an undefeated season in 1948, Mr. Tripucka played for the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals, and Dallas Texans. He was brought in as a coach before the 1960 season, but it became obvious he was Denver’s best option at quarterback.

Mr. Tripucka threw for 3,038 yards and 24 touchdowns that season. He is also credited with tossing the first touchdown pass in American Football League history, a 59-yard connection to Al Carmichael.

Manning threw for seven touchdowns in a season-opening win over Baltimore last week, breaking Mr. Tripucka’s team record of five set against Buffalo on Oct. 28, 1962, and later tied by John Elway and Gus Frerotte.

Mr. Tripucka was inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 1986.