Charley Johnson: The First Good Broncos QB

Credit: Denver Broncos

I released a post ranking the top FIVE quarterbacks in Broncos’ history about a week ago. Seems innocent enough, but I was told I’d left one off of that list: Charley Johnson. I don’t think he is a top-five Broncos quarterback of all time. I do, however, think he is top-ten. The thought process was to do Johnson justice, so here is my look at his Broncos career.

The Broncos had been in quarterback hell since Frank Tripuka retired. If you think the recent Broncos’ transition period between quarterbacks was rough, the one between 1962-1972 was even worse, for a longer period of time. When the Broncos traded for Johnson prior to the ’72 season, the Broncos were slated to start either Steve Ramsay, who had been mediocre at best, or Don Horn, who had been extremely subpar. Charley won the starting job in ’72. (Disclaimer: All stats are via PFR)

Charley Johnson: 1972

Credit: Denver Broncos

Charley Johnson had a respectable 1972 season, splitting reps with Steve Ramsay because of injuries. Here are his stats.

  • Nine Games started/Twelve Played
  • 4-5 Record
  • 55.5 Completion Percentage
  • 1783 yards, 14 Touchdowns/Interceptions

Many people think that the Broncos’ turnaround of the ’70s began in ’73 when they finished with their first winning record ever. That is not the case. The turnaround began during the final two weeks of the ’72 season. First against a Chargers squad that would finish 4-9-1. The Broncos thrashed the Chargers 38-13 in front of 51,000 people at Mile High. They then followed that up with a 45-21 dismantling of the 3-11 Patriots, also at Mile High. Although they finished the year 5-9, there was a renewed sense of optimism in Denver, CO.

Charley Johnson: 1973

(Photo by Mark Junge/Getty Images)

If ’72 was a respectable campaign, ’73 was even better.

Johnson’s ’73

  • 14 Games Started/Played
  • 7-5-2 Record
  • 53.2 Completion Percentage
  • 2465 yards, 20 Touchdowns/17 Interceptions

1973 is a revered season in Broncos’ History. They didn’t win the Super Bowl. Did they make the playoffs? No. But for the first time in franchise history, they finished with a record above .500. 7-5-2 Stood as the best record in franchise history until 1977. Charley got to quarterback all 14 of those games. Behind good quarterback play, with the help of receiver Haven Moses, and good running from Floyd Little, the Broncos put together their best season yet. Moses and Little put together pro bowl campaigns in the process.

Charley Johnson: 1974

(Photo by Mark Junge/Getty Images)

Johnson would help Denver finish with a winning record for the second season in a row, albeit slightly worse. Johnson didn’t play badly per se, but one could tell he was declining. Here are his stats from 1974.

Johnson’s ’74

  • 14 Games played/12 Started
  • 6-5-1 Record
  • 55.7 Completion Percentage (Career High)
  • 1969 yards, 13 Touchdowns/9 Interceptions

’74 would end with another winning season, but with the same amount of wins. ’74 was essentially taking 1973, and converting one of those ties into a loss. While still a monumental season in terms of the early Broncos, it was a down year for Charley, although it would get worse for his final season.

Johnson’s Swansong: 1975

(Photo By Steve Larson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Broncos could not build on the successes of ’73 and ’74, with a 6-8 campaign in 1975. Charley would end his career on a down year, with his worst year as a full-time starter since 1970/71 with Houston.

Johnson’s ’75

  • 14 Games/6 Starts
  • 3-3 Record
  • 45.8 Completion Percentage
  • 1021 yards, 5 touchdowns/12 Interceptions

Johnson would split time with Steve Ramsay and John Hufnagel, none of whom played exceptionally well that season (Hufnagel Especially.) While nothing about the ’75 Broncos was spectacular, Johnson served as an effective bridge into the next era of Broncos’ football. He had an admirable Broncos career.

The Ring of Fame

(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

When it was all said and done, Johnson would be inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 1986. His career stats in Denver, and his ability to help Denver win games got him there. Here are his final numbers as a Bronco.

  • 54 Games/41 Starts
  • 20-18-3 Record
  • 53.3 Completion Percentage
  • 52 Touchdowns/Interceptions

For a wily vet, It’s safe to say Charley did alright as a Bronco. Kudos to you, Charley!

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