State Your Case: What's good for the Goose should be good enough for the HOF.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has not exactly embraced the early stars of the American Football League. It has ignored its all-time leading scorer and 1964 league MVP, Gino Cappelletti; refused to induct three of its greatest offensive linemen, Winston Hill, Jim Tyrer and Ed Budde; and generally turned a blind eye toward many of the AFL’s greatest players. One of those is surely Austin “Goose’’ Gonsoulin.
Gonsoulin was for years called “the Original Bronco’’ because he arrived in 1960, when the franchise and league were born, and became Denver’s first star, intercepting 11 passes from his safety position his rookie season. That is a single-season club record that still stands, 59 years later.
When Gonsoulin arrived for his first training camp however, he wasn’t looking for stardom. He was just trying to survive among a field of 120 players each trying to make a first impression. Unlike most of them Goose Gonsoulin succeeded. Instantly.
Gonsoulin made the first interception in AFL history against the then Boston Patriots on Sept. 9, 1960. It was a Friday night game because the fledgling Patriots didn’t want to buck college football on Saturday or the New York Giants, whose games were telecast into New England on Sundays.
Gonsoulin went on to intercept seven passes in his first three games. By the time he retired, he was the AFL’s all-time leader in interceptions with 43. That was also the Broncos team record for 20 years, finally broken by Steve Foley’s 44. The difference was it took Foley 56 more games than Gonsoulin needed to do it.
Gonsoulin was a five-time AFL All-Star and was named to the AFL’s All-Time team, yet never fully recovered from the shock of being drafted by the Dallas Texans in 1960 and then traded to Denver before he even got to Dallas. Couple that with finding himself surrounded by oil field operators, cowboys and legitimate football players his first summer in Denver and seeing them winnowed down from 120 to 40 Gonsoulin took nothing for granted.
He once claimed he always packed up his clothes from his apartment for every road game. He told an Associated Press reporter in 2012 it was because, "If they ever said, 'You're not coming back,' well, at least I had my stuff, right?"
As reliable as he was in coverage, Gonsoulin was just as effective as a crushing tackler known for the concussive way he would arrive at a ball carrier or receiver. That aggressiveness cut both ways however. It once nearly cost him his tongue when he ran headlong into Houston Oilers running back Billy Cannon on a swing pass. Gonsoulin went low, striking his helmet on Cannon's knee.
Gonsoulin was knocked out and began to swallow his tongue. Just as team trainers were about to break his teeth to save him, teammate Bud McFadin rushed over and forced his mouth open enough to retrieve Gonsoulin's tongue.
Two days later, Gonsoulin was back on the field.
That is where he was found nearly all the time, missing only four games during his eight-year career. One would think having played that long with that kind of production it would have led Goose Gonsoulin to the Hall of Busts room in Canton. Maybe one day.