Frank Tripucka, who quarterbacked the Denver Broncos in their inaugural season and later wanted his No. 18 unretired so Peyton Manning could wear it, died Thursday. He was 85.
The Broncos said Tripucka died in Woodland Park, N.J. He had Alzheimer's disease.
"He is proudly remembered as one of professional football's first great drop-back quarterbacks," the Broncos said in a statement. "Frank will always hold a very special place in Broncos history for what he meant to this organization and community."
Though he was known for his time in the NFL, Tripucka had a successful tenure in the CFL. He quarterbacked the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1953-1958 and was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders at the start of the 1959 football season.
Tripucka returned to the Roughriders in a coaching capacity later that season before leaving for the NFL.
In 1963, he rejoined Saskatchewan for one final season as a player. According to the team, the New Jersey native played 96 CFL regular season games over eight seasons throwing for 15,506 yards and 87 touchdowns.
A former standout at Notre Dame, Tripucka also played for the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals and Dallas Texans.
He was brought in as a coach before the 1960 season, but it became obvious he was Denver's best option at QB. Tripucka threw for 3,038 yards and 24 touchdowns that season.
Making football history
He's also credited with tossing the first touchdown pass in American Football League history, a 59-yard connection to Al Carmichael.
His number was one of three retired by the Broncos, but Tripucka graciously gave Manning permission to wear it when he joined the team two years ago. At the time, Tripucka said: "If Peyton wants the number, they should give it to him. They definitely should."
Manning threw for seven touchdowns in a season-opening win over Baltimore last week, breaking Tripucka's team record of five set against Buffalo on Oct. 28, 1962, and later tied by John Elway and Gus Frerotte. Manning also threw for 462 yards against the Ravens, moving him past Tripucka and into a third-place tie for most in a game in franchise history. Tripucka threw for 447 in that Buffalo game.
Tripucka spent four seasons with the Broncos and played in the '62 AFL All-Star Game.
Before becoming the starter for the Irish at Notre Dame, Tripucka was a backup to Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack, who led the Irish to back-to-back national championships. As a senior, Tripucka threw for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Irish won all their games except for a tie with USC.
He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the ninth overall selection in 1949.
Funeral arrangements were pending. He is survived by his wife, Randy, and seven children.