Today we are going to talk about one of the best Defensive Backs in Denver Broncos history. He was the first player in team history to play 13 seasons with Denver, was the team captain for many years and was a vital member of the first Super Bowl team in 1977. This former Bronco holds two NFL records, one of which has stood for over two decades. As a rookie, he became the only player in NFL history to lead the league in both Kickoffs and Punt Returns in the same season. He is also one of only two players in NFL history to return four opponent Fumbles for Touchdowns. Have you figured it out yet? I am referring to the one and only Billy Thompson.
William Allen “Billy” Thompson was born on October 10, 1946 in Greenville, South Carolina. He attended Sterling High School in Greenville and was a four-year letterman in three different sports: Baseball (Center field), Basketball (Guard) and at Quarterback in Football. After graduation, Billy was recruited by Coach Sandy Williams to attend Maryland State College (MSC) At MSC, he continued his athletic prowess as a four-year letterman in Football and Baseball.
From 1965 to 1968, he helped the Hawks compile a 20-9-1 record, while earning All-CIAA honors three times as a Defensive Back and another three times in Baseball as a Centerfielder. Billy showed leadership abilities by being named team MVP as a Senior and was earned NAIA All-America honors twice.
Billy’s pro career began when the Broncos selected him in the 3rd round (61st overall) of the 1969 NFL Draft. He started as a Cornerback, but in 1972, Defensive Coordinator Joe Collier shifted put him at Safety to take advantage of Thompson’s overall talent.
“Joe told me I’d be more valuable at Safety. He always put me where he thought the action would be and I learned more about the game because of that.”
Thompson was Denver’s primary return man for his first 7 seasons as well. As a rookie, he led the AFC in both Kickoff (28.5) and Punt Return (11.5) yard average. Along the way, Billy started all 179 games for the Broncos and owns the NFL record for Strong Safeties with 139 consecutive games played. He earned All-AFC honors four times (1977, 1978, 1979, and 1981) and participated in the Pro Bowl in 1977, 1978, and 1981.
Billy Thompson was by definition, a “Ball Hawk.” He is one of only two players in the history of the NFL to return 4 Fumbles for Touchdowns. He also finished his career with 61 Turnovers, (most in team history) including 40 Interceptions (3rd in team history).
He also had 21 Fumble Recoveries and with his 3 “pick sixes,” gave him 7 career Defensive Touchdowns. Probably the most memorable Fumble Recovery Thompson made came on the first Monday Night Football game in Denver Broncos history. On October 22, 1973, archrival Oakland Raiders had dominated the Broncos for more than 10 years. Billy returned a Fumble 80 yards for the Broncos 1st Touchdown and Denver escaped with a 23-23 tie. This got Al Davis, longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders to say that,
“Bill Thompson was as good a Strong Safety as anyone who’s ever played the game.”
High praise indeed from the Cryptkeeper.
Floyd Little considers him the best player he suited up with in Denver.
“The guy that was consistent his whole career was Billy Thompson”
A key figure in the 1970s when the Broncos evolved from one of the worst teams in football into the famed Orange Crush that took the NFL by storm in 1977, Thompson cites his favorite memory as a Bronco as,
“Playing in the first Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys”
For the Denver Broncos and especially their famed Orange Crush Defense, the 1977 season was a bright moment in franchise history.
“It was an incredible group that was unselfish and played for the love of the game. We knew only one way to win – depend on each other and play together. The city was such a big part of it. I’ve never seen a city that excited about anything.”
After he retired, Thompson stayed with the Broncos. He was a college scout for for 2 years and is now the club’s Director of Community Outreach and Alumni Relations. You will find Billy often attending most Bronco related events along with other former players who remain a vital part of the organization. Billy works with the Denver Broncos Alumni and former Broncos players to integrate their involvement in the club’s community outreach programs.
3-Time Pro Bowl selection (1977-78, ‘81)
4 Fumble Recovery Touchdowns (T-3rd)
61 Takeaways (40 Interceptions/21 Fumbles Recovered) 1st
40 Career Interceptions (3rd)
7 Career Defensive Touchdowns (3 INT/4 FR)
3 Career Interception Touchdowns
784 Career Interception return yardage (1st)
19.6-yard average (2nd)
157 Career Punt Returns (2nd)
1,814 Punt Return yards (2nd)
11.6 Punt Return average (7th)
25.1 Kickoff Return average (3rd)
Highest Average Per Kickoff Return, Season (28.5)
Inducted into the (Maryland State College) Hawk Hall of Fame in 1984.
Inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1987.
For his part in Denver Broncos history, Broncoplanet gives a Mile High Salute to Billy Thompson.
– Kaptain Kirk