Everyone enjoys cheering for an Underdog or Longshot. Overcoming long odds through hard work and focus is something the average Joe can identify with. When someone overachieves and overcomes adversity, we see that anything is possible if we try hard enough and don’t surrender to our dreams. One of the better examples through cinema is “Rudy.” A kid who was too short, too light and too slow to compete on the football field. Denver Broncos Legend Tyrone Braxton fit that mold to a “T.”
Braxton was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, the land of milk, cheese, Brats and Packer fans. He attended James Madison Memorial High School where he starred in both football and track. Tyrone played college ball at North Dakota State University from 1983-86, playing on three NCAA national champion teams and one national runner-up club.
Tyrone was a two-year starter for the Bison and as a senior in 1986 he earned 1st-team All-North Central Conference honors at Cornerback. He racked up over 130 career Tackles, 9 Interceptions and more than 25 Pass Breakups over 40 regular-season games and 12 NCAA playoff games.
He still holds the career record for Kickoff Returns, with an average of 28.6 yards and finished 3rd in career Punt Returns with a 10.1 yard average. He returned the opening Kickoff in the 1985 national championship game 73 yards to set up a Touchdown and set the tone for a 35-7 Bison win over North Alabama and his 84-yard Punt Return Touchdown in the 1986 national title game against South Dakota sealed a 27-7 victory for NDSU.
Tyrone was also a track star for the Bison as a member of the 1986 NCC 400-meter relay championship team. He was a four-time conference placewinner in track and field in the long and triple jumps, finishing as NCC runner-up in both the indoor and outdoor long jumps in 1986.
Braxton was selected just before Mr. Irrelevant (12th round, 334th overall) in the 1987 NFL Draft. Listed as 5’11″, 185 with average speed, many would consider Tyrone too short, too light and too slow…until the game began. In fact, his teammates used to make fun of him because he had chicken legs, hence the name “Chicken”, but Tyrone Braxton was all player, all the time.
He carved himself a nice career, playing 12 of his 13 seasons for the Denver Broncos with a one year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 1994. To Broncos fans, “Chicken” was the scrawny Strong Safety who symbolized perseverance, moving from unheralded 12th-round draft pick out of North Dakota State to two-time Super Bowl champion.
During his rookie year, Tyrone spent the first 13 weeks on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason. He ended up playing on Special Teams for 2 games. The next year, he played in all 16 games as a reserve Defensive Back and a Special Teams player, with 49 Tackles and two Interceptions.
In 1989, he became the Starter at Left Cornerback and Braxton showed that he had heart. In his first NFL start (the season-opener against the Chiefs), Tyrone picked off Steve DeBerg and ran it back 34 yards for a Touchdown on the first pass of the game. He went on to start every game that year, finishing with 111 Tackles along with 2 Fumble Recoveries. His six Interceptions led the Broncos and ranked sixth in the AFC.
The 1990 season saw him tear the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in Week 3. Tyrone underwent surgery and missed the rest of the year. He bounced back in 1991 to play in all 16 games, with 15 starts. He got a pick in his first game back. Braxton finished with 92 Tackles, 1 Sack, 4 Interceptions, including one pick-six and recovered a Fumble. He was also impressive in the AFC Championship Game, with 14 Tackles and an Interception.
Tyrone went over the 90 Tackle mark once again in 1992, recording 99. He started 14 of 16 games, adding two Interceptions. The high point of the season came on Sept. 13th, when he made 11 stops against San Diego along with breaking up four passes.
In 1993, Braxton started all 16 games, finished 2nd on the team and tied a career high with 111 Tackles. He also led the team with 19 Pass Breakups. Tyrone spent 1994 playing in all 16 games for the Dolphins, participating mainly in the Nickel and Special Teams packages.
Braxton returned to Denver in 1995 and started all 16 games. He only picked off two passes, but added 70 Tackles and a Forced Fumble. In 1996, Tyrone led the league with a career high 9 Interceptions, earning him a spot on the Pro Bowl squad. He returned one Interceptions for a Touchdown, Recovered one Fumble and made 69 Tackles.
Tyrone retired after the 1999 season, upon losing his starting job to Darrius Johnson. Life after football had it’s ups and downs. He started two companies, got busted for drugs in 2006 and then rebounded to finish his Bachelor’s degree. Now Braxton is working on a Master’s of Social Work degree at Metro State. With his eyes turned toward helping others, Braxton is working with incarcerated youth in a Colorado Detention Facility.
Career 34 (4th)
Season 9 (3rd) Tie
HIGHEST INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE Career (min. 10 returns)
MOST CONSECUTIVE GAMES WITH INTERCEPTION
4 (2nd) 1996 (gms. 12-15)
MOST INTERCEPTIONS RETURNED FOR TOUCHDOWN
Career 4 (1st) Tied
LONGEST NON-SCORING INTERCEPTION RETURN
Braxton ended up playing in four Super Bowls with the Broncos (1988, 1990, 1998 and 1999) including championships in 1998 and 1999. All total, Tyrone started 132 of 165 games at Safety and Cornerback, with 748 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 36 Interceptions, 4 pick-sixes, 8 Forced Fumbles and 10 Fumble Recoveries. He also returned one Kickoff 34 yards. He had 90+ Tackles twice (1991-92) and 100+ Tackles twice (1989, 1993). Not a bad resume for a Long Shot Underdog.
Tyrone also made key plays in both Bronco Super Bowl victories: a 1st Quarter Interception of Brett Favre that set up a Broncos Touchdown against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII along with recovering a Fumble in the 4th Quarter of Super Bowl XXXIII against Atlanta.
But the biggest stat of all about Tyrone Braxton, is that he was a winner.
He won three national championships at North Dakota State and during his years as a Bronco, Denver won two world championships, two other AFC championships, and went to another AFC title game that ended up losing to Buffalo in 1991.
So Braxton was a member of teams that played for championships eight times, winning seven, in his combined college and pro career.
Rudy ain’t got nothing on “Chicken.”
– Kaptain Kirk