ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Frank Tripucka was the first quarterback for the Broncos and the original No. 18 in Denver.
His number was retired until 2012 when he gladly and graciously allowed Peyton Manning to wear it.
Tripucka died Thursday at his home in Woodland Park, N.J., at age 85. His son, Kelly Tripucka, a former Notre Dame basketball standout, 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.”
A former standout at Notre Dame, 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 QB.
Tripucka threw for 3,038 yards and 24 touchdowns that season. He’s also credited with tossing the first touchdown pass in American Football League history, a 59-yard connection to Al Carmichael.
His number was one of three retired by the Broncos, but Tripucka graciously gave Manning permission to wear it when he joined the team two years ago. At the time, Tripucka said: “If Peyton wants the number, they should give it to him. They definitely should.”
Manning threw for seven touchdowns in a season-opening win over Baltimore last week, breaking Tripucka’s team record of five set against Buffalo on Oct. 28, 1962, and later tied by John Elway and Gus Frerotte. Manning also threw for 462 yards against the Ravens, moving him past Tripucka and into a third-place tie for most in a game in franchise history. Tripucka threw for 447 in that Buffalo game.
Tripucka spent four seasons with the Broncos and played in the ’62 AFL All-Star Game. He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 1986.
At Notre Dame, Tripucka led the Irish to a 9-0-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in 1948.
Before becoming the starter, Tripucka was a backup to Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack, who led the Irish to back-to-back national championships. As a senior, Tripucka threw for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Irish won all their games except for a tie with USC.
He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the ninth overall selection in 1949.
Funeral arrangements were pending. He is survived by his wife, Randy, and seven children.