Lots of numbers in the camp, but don’t forget Johnny O

By on July 31, 2022 0

The long-awaited moment is here!

Every NFL team has now opened a training camp, and fans in Denver and beyond are filling the hills (or their equivalent, depending on location), watching, and eventually buying all manner of jerseys and memorabilia.

Of course, the most popular jersey in Denver is the Russell Wilson jersey, both replica and authentic. #3 t-shirts are also the most popular.

Recently, some sportswriters have been writing about jersey numbers, with several picking who they think is the best player at each number for their respective teams.

Just about every uniform number imaginable is worn by one Broncos player or another, except 7 (retired for John Elway), 18 (retired for Frank Tripucka and Peyton Manning), 44 (retired for Floyd Little) and 24 (not retired, but not used after being worn for so long by Champ Bailey).

But there is another number which, according to a quick search, is not worn by any player in any camp for any team.

It was once worn by a Bronco, and while just playing his last year of pro football here in 1962, he was a legend in his college and NFL debut. That player was “Johnny O”, Johnny Olszewski.

I think it’s safe to say that no fan or member of the media has ever heard of him.

He initially wore 33 and 36 as a pro, but eventually changed the number which also looked like a letter, i.e. the first letter of his last name.

Olszewski was a fullback who played prep football at St. Anthony High School in San Francisco and then went on to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He was an excellent running back and kick returner for the Cal Bears, so much so that in the 1953 NFL Draft he was the fourth player selected overall.

Before coming to Denver, he played for the Chicago, Washington and Detroit Cardinals.

Olszewski was selected to play in the Pro Bowl after the 1953 and 1955 seasons, when the Pro Bowl was one of the highest honors an NFL player could have.

While his first name was John, with his jersey selection number zero, to match his last name, he was universally and almost uniquely known as “Johnny O.”

He concluded his career with the 1962 Broncos, the first Denver team not to finish with a losing record.

Olszewski played in a reserve role for the Broncos, rushing for 114 yards and catching 13 passes for another 150, including a touchdown.

He still had speed and returned three kickoffs for the Broncos in a reserve role.

And then it was over. He never played again.

His professional totals were rather modest, 4,308 total yards from scrimmage (3,320 yards rushing and 988 receiving), with 19 touchdowns. Sure, that was during the 12-game schedule era, but his college stats were more spectacular.

It was back when a West Coast star might have been overlooked halfway across the country, but he was huge in California.

He remains at the top of Cal’s lists for yards gained with 2,504, and he was inducted into the California Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.

He was known for his rushing ability, physicality, speed, and most importantly, was one of those guys whose very name transcended his abilities.

I don’t know when or if another Bronco will ever wear the number zero, but once upon a time there was Johnny O.