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Former Broncos quarterback dies at 81 years old


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Tensi was the Broncos’ top quarterback in 1967-69, then started two more games in 1970.

Frank Tripucka was the Broncos’ first quarterback. He joined the Broncos as a coach during their inaugural season of 1960 and slid into their No. 1 QB position.

But the first quarterback who generated considerable hype and excitement in Denver was not Craig Morton or John Elway or Peyton Manning. It was Steve Tensi. Midway through the 1967 preseason schedule, new head coach Lou Saban acquired Tensi from the San Diego Chargers in exchange for two first-round draft picks, one each in 1968 and 1969.

Tensi played four seasons for the Broncos before retiring because of injuries. He died Friday in his hometown of Boone, N.C., according to his obituary by Hampton Funeral Service. He was 81.

According to one of Tensi’s former receivers, there was good reason for Saban to give up such a haul to acquire Tensi.

“I just remember in the huddle — Steve was 6-5 — he was big, and he had a great arm,” Billy Van Heusen, who played the first three of his nine Bronco seasons with Tensi. “He could really throw it. He was not a great scrambler and the offensive line might not have been as good as it could have been protection-wise and he broke his collarbone in the preseason (of 1968). And it was a real difficult recovery for him.

“But when he was healthy, he could throw. He had a great arm. I remember Steve was a great guy, a team player. Had just a great arm.”

Tensi threw for 1,915 yards and a career-best 16 touchdowns in 12 games in his first season with the Broncos in 1967. The collarbone injury forced him to miss the first month of 1968. In a November road game against the Boston Patriots that year he completed 11 of 17 for for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 35-14 victory.

“He had a rifle,” said Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, a standout Bronco defensive end from 1967-72. “And he was pretty tall so he could see over the linemen. And I thought he was pretty intelligent. He helped not only myself but the team to realize what is to be a winner and that’s important.”

He threw for a career-best 1,990 yards along with 14 touchdown passes in 1969. He only made two starts in 1970 before retiring. Van Heusen said it was unfortunate that the collarbone injury cost Broncos fans from seeing Tensi blossom into one of the AFL’s great throwers. 

According to Tensi’s obituary, after his playing days he became a quarterbacks coach for two years at Wichita State, then coached receivers for the Chicago Fire of the World Football League. He then worked for decades in the construction business, first in Miami, then in Boone.

Tensi is survived by his wife of 61 years, Barbara, two daughters (Barbara, Holly), two sons Steve Jr., Jonathan), two brothers, a sister, and numerous in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The family will host a celebration of life on Saturday at Alliance Bible Fellowship in Boone.



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Former Broncos quarterback dies at 81 years old

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