ESPN: Denver Broncos greatest players of all time: #26, Billy Thompson

The all-time best player for the Broncos is #26, Billy Thompson

Even among the famous players in the No Fly Zone, Billy Thompson, a cornerback during the Orange Crush period, is still regarded as one of the best defensive backs in Denver Broncos history.
As was to be expected, there was a renewed sense of wonder at Steve Foley’s franchise-high 44 career interceptions when he was recently named as one of two former Denver Broncos to be inducted into the Ring of Fame this coming season.


And when we look at a defensive back from a bygone period, cornerback Billy Thompson, there ought to be even more amazement.

The Hall of Famer, who was selected in the third round of the 1969 draft, played for Orange and Blue from 1970 until 1981. During that time, he was intercepted 40 times, three of which were replayed. In addition, Thompson recovered 21 fumbles, of which four resulted in touchdowns.

These are his seven defensive touchdowns:

The 784 yards he generated for the offense on his takeaways is perhaps even more astounding than his 40-yard gain. One of the many reasons Andrew Mason ranks him as the third-best cornerback in Broncos history is because he still has the most return yards off interceptions of any defensive back in the team’s history.

Even more remarkable are the 40 interceptions in a football period that was known for pounding the rock (which, of course, still pales to the gigantic performance in the earlier age from Goose Gonsoulin, who was #32 on our all-time list.) After 1978, defensive backs undoubtedly faced more stringent contact boundaries, which made ball-hawking more difficult, but there were also undoubtedly more opportunities.

important figurehead for Orange Crush
Thompson was meant to be a great professional football player. He was a two-time All-American in football and a four-year letter winner in two sports at Maryland State College. However, he never took anything for granted and earned his stripes on special teams, just like a lot of defensive rookies do.

Drafted as a safety, Thompson succeeded future Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little on punt and kick return duties. Thompson would lead the league in both categories as a rookie, but it was just the start. He participated in 174 games over 13 seasons, 156 of them in a row. He was the first player in franchise history to play for that many seasons.

Against the bitter rival Oakland Raiders, in the Broncos’ inaugural Monday Night Football game in 1973, he scored a defensive touchdown. On national television, the renowned Howard Cosell referred to him as one of the league’s top defensive backs after he recovered a fumble and ran 80 yards for a touchdown.

Four years later, Thompson played a pivotal role as a leader in Denver’s historic 1977 campaign, which included an AFC title game triumph on New Year’s Day over the reigning Super Bowl champion Raiders. Despite losing in their first Super Bowl trip, the Broncos advanced to the postseason the next two years, solidifying the Orange Crush defense as one of the greatest in NFL history.

A career worthy of the Ring of Fame
In 1984, Thompson received inductions into both the Hawk Hall of Fame at Maryland State College and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame the following year.

In 1987, Thompson was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame.


Throughout his career, Thompson was selected four times as an All-AFC player and was a three-time Pro Bowler (back when that distinction meant anything). In his 13-year career, Thompson was also named to the NFL All-Star team twice.

Following his retirement from the game in 1981, Thompson joined the Broncos for two seasons as a college scout before taking a full-time position as director of player relations and community development.

Then-owner Pat Bowlen gave Thompson a lot of community projects to handle. Thompson was adored as an ambassador by fans, youth, current and former players, and civic officials nationwide. Bowlen appointed Thompson director of alumni relations and requested him to fortify the alumni council because of his longstanding relationships with past players.

Following Thompson’s 2022 retirement from the team, the




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