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The guy who founded the Broncos also put together the pieces of the Big Red Machine

You wouldn't think that a guy who was a member of something called the "Foolish Club" would be particularly successful in life. It sounds like an old-timey insult that a guy wearing a massive ruff would yell at you right before he challenged you to a duel. "Your opinion on the position of the Northwest Passage is outdated! You must surely be a member of the Foolish Club. Pistols at dawn!"

But the Foolish Club was actually a group of men who weren't allowed to start NFL expansion teams in 1959, and started their own league to compete -- the AFL. Bob Howsam joined seven others in the Foolish Club, (because that's how they felt about going up against the NFL). 


Howsam is the one on the far left in the photo above. And the team that he started? They just happen to be facing off against the Panthers in this year's Super Bowl.

Fun fact: The stadium the Denver Broncos played their first home game in was called Bears Stadium. Why? Because Howsam didn't mean to found a football franchise. He built the arena for a baseball team. Just look at the shape: 


After his service with the Navy during World War II, Howsam convinced his father and brother to go in on the Single A Western League's Denver Bears. He immediately built them a nice new stadium, and then went on to win the "Sporting News" Single A Executive of the Year award. He later bought the Triple-A Kansas City Blues, turned them into the new Bears, and won SN's Triple A Executive of the Year.

If he wanted to keep leveling up, he needed to bring an MLB franchise to Denver. However, it was 1959, and the world wasn't ready for ... whatever is happening here: 


Howsam's plan to found the Continental League, which would have joined the National and American Leagues in MLB and brought an expansion team to Denver, foundered. But he had this big beautiful stadium, and a Dallas oilman named Lamar Hunt needed more people to join his bid to take on the NFL. That's when Howsam founded the Broncos and that's why a teamed named after horses played in a stadium named for their natural enemy. Well, probably not. Bears probably don't eat horses … but you get it.

At this point in the story, you're probably thinking, "What does this have to do with the Big Red Machine?" By the end of 1966, Howsam had sold the Broncos and the Bears, but remained in the baseball business with a two-year stint as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Though his tenure was short, he left the Cards with two excellent parting gifts. In the middle of the '66 season he acquired Orlando Cepeda from the Giants. That winter, he picked up future '67 World Series hero Roger Maris from the Yankees. 

In his 11 years with the Reds, Howsam was responsible for signing Dave Concepcion, drafting Ken Griffey Sr., and trading for George Foster. He also cleared a space in the lineup for young catcher Johnny Bench and hired some Padres third-base coach named Sparky Anderson to manage his team. From Howsam's New York Times obituary:

Mr. Anderson said that one day years later, he looked up to see Mr. Howsam watching batting practice. "I thought to myself, 'There's the baseball Einstein right there,' " Mr. Anderson said. "He knew things about me I didn't even know about myself."

But it was during the '71 Winter Meetings that Howsam made his biggest move. He dealt Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart (not this one) to the Astros for a package of players including pitcher Jack Billingham, outfielder Cesar Geronimo and of course, Joe Morgan.

The result of Howsam's … machinations? The Big Red Machine, the powerhouse Reds team that won back-to-back World Series titles in '75 and '76. The only thing he didn't do was personally teach Pete Rose how to hit.


So what we're really saying is, if you happen to be a Reds fan, you owe it to Howsam to root for the Broncos on Sunday.