Former Denver Broncos great Gonsoulin dies at 76

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) Austin ”Goose” Gonsoulin, a former Pro Bowl safety for the Denver Broncos and a member of the team’s Ring of Fame, has died. He was 76.

Gonsoulin died Monday while in hospice care in Beaumont, said Kathy Levingston of Levingston Funeral Home in nearby Groves, Texas. She did not have a cause of death but said Gonsoulin was battling prostate cancer.

Following a standout career at Baylor University, Gonsoulin was picked in the American Football League draft by the Dallas Texans, who then shipped him to the Broncos in the team’s first trade.

Around the Mile High City, Gonsoulin was known as an ”Original Bronco.” He led Denver in interceptions four times during his career and was enshrined in the team’s Ring of Fame in 1984.

Gonsoulin arrived at his first camp in 1960 along with 120 other guys, some of whom were oil-field workers, and was concerned simply with making the roster.

He instantly stood out and had 11 interceptions his rookie season, which remains a Broncos record. Gonsoulin also played in five All-Star games – would’ve been six, but one of the games was canceled.

No matter how many interceptions or big plays he made, Gonsoulin always packed up his clothes from his apartment for every road game. He said in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press it was because, ”If they ever said, `You’re not coming back,’ well, at least I had my stuff, right?”

Really, though, Gonsoulin had no reason to worry. He came up with the American Football League’s first interception against Boston and finished his Broncos career as the former league’s all-time leader with 43.

Gonsoulin once had four interceptions in a game against Buffalo and another three off Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson.

”Lenny was so mad. He walked by at halftime and swore at me,” Gonsoulin recounted in the 2012 interview.

The durable defensive back also picked off big-name QBs such as George Blanda, Jack Kemp and John Hadl.

When asked which receiver was his toughest to cover, he didn’t hesitate in saying Lance Alworth of the San Diego Chargers.

”Especially when he was in the slot,” Gonsoulin said.

Over his career, Gonsoulin dished out plenty of bone-jarring hits. He absorbed quite a few, too. He once said the toughest hit he ever received was when he tried to tackle Houston Oilers running back Billy Cannon on a swing pass. Gonsoulin went low and hit his helmet on Cannon’s knee. Not only was Gonsoulin knocked out, he swallowed his tongue.

He was choking on the field and yet no one could pry open his jaws. Just when trainers were ready to break his teeth to save him, teammate Bud McFadin rushed over and forced his mouth open enough to retrieve Gonsoulin’s tongue. When Gonsoulin woke up in the ambulance a little while later, he was still in uniform and wondering what had happened.

Two days later, Gonsoulin was back on the field.

He ended up with several lasting ailments from his playing days. His collar bone jutted out from an injury that didn’t heal properly and his knees constantly ached. He also suffered numerous concussions.

”A lot of times you hit someone hard and you’d be dazed on sideline,” said Gonsoulin, who operated a construction company after his football career. ”They’d be like, `What’s your name? Where are you from?’ You simply take some smelling salts and go back in.

”"I really loved the game. I had so much fun playing,”

Services for the native of Port Arthur, Texas, are scheduled for Saturday.