Now that we know Peyton Manning has instructed his agent to begin negotiations with the Denver Broncos, there is one small detail that looks like it will not be a deal breaker— the retired No. 18 jersey worn by quarterback Frank (Trip) Tripucka in the early 60's.
Tripucka has already made it clear he would be honored if Manning chose to wear the same No. 18 the incoming quarterback wore during his 14-year career with the Indianapolis Colts— even though the Broncos retired the jersey nearly fifty years ago.
"It's perfectly OK for him to go ahead and use it," the New Jersey native said. "I would be honored to have him wear it."
Tripucka's No. 18 is one of three numbers retired by the Broncos. The other "untouchable" numbers are Floyd Little's No. 44 and John Elway's No. 7.
The 84-year-old Tripucka was the first quarterback to call signals for the Broncos. The #1 draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1949 had a 15 year career and threw the first touchdown pass in the history of the old AFL. He was a Pro-Bowler in 1962.
It is too soon to know if Manning is even thinking about what number will be on his back, but it would be a nice symbolic gesture from both sides if Manning dons the No. 18 in tribute to the old days and remind people about Tripucka's contributions to the early years of the franchise.
"It's been retired for fifty years," said Tripucka said. "That's long enough."
Tripucka carved out a nice career after football as a beer distributor and raised a family of six boys— including NBA star Kelly Tripucka— and one daughter with his 84-year-old wife Randy.
Most Broncos fans probably never heard of Tripucka— never mind getting to see him play— and must wonder what he did to have his number retired after compiling a 13-23-1 record with 51 touchdown passes and 85 interceptions after four years with the team.
For one thing, in 1960, Tripucka was the first quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season and was one of the first pioneers of the wide-open passing game the AFL became famous for.
The late Broncos owner, Bob Howsam, was so appreciative of Tripucka's services he just decided to retire the number as a thank you in 1963.
If Manning passes on pulling the old No. 18 out of storage, he could go back to wearing the No. 16 he wore at the University of Tennessee. Jake Plummer was the last notable Broncos player to wear it.
Word is No. 15 should be available pretty soon too.