Happy very belated birthday to Eugene Mingo from The Undefeated
The first black kicker in the AFL/NFL and Denver Broncos Ring of Honor inductee reflects on his impact on the game
Eugene Mingo, the first black placekicker in the AFL and later the NFL, was joking around with his teammates when Denver Broncos’ coach Frank Filchock announced, “If anybody can kick, come on down here.” Even though the newly formed franchise was a part of the fledgling American Football League, Filchock didn’t believe there was time for tomfoolery – he was trying to build a contender in 1960.
Mingo’s first kick went through nicely, but he sliced the second kick, and it went off to the right. Filchock told him to get out of here, and Mingo turned his back and started walking away.
“Ask for another chance, don’t just give up like that,” he said to himself.
So, the then-22-year-old asked to kick again, and Filchock obliged. Only this time, he moved the ball back 10 more yards. Challenge accepted: Mingo kicked from as far back as the 25-yard line, without a kicking shoe, and regained his spot on the team.
A Broncos trainer told the staff to get Mingo a kicking shoe to see what he could really do, and that’s how the first black placekicker in the AFL and NFL – a player who also accomplished the first punt return for a score in AFL history, set the Broncos’ record for the longest touchdown run from scrimmage (82 yards) and scored the most points in the league (123) that year – made the team.
“Fred [Posey] said, ‘I’m going to tell you something: You’re one lucky son of a so-and-so,’ ” Mingo, who turned 78 on Sept. 22, recounted. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘They were about to cut you this weekend.’ ”
Mingo is one of only five black men to placekick in the league, and said the lack of African-Americans playing the position comes from a lack of support or the belief that all black players want to play the skill positions. He said he’d be more than willing to teach the next generation if they’re interested in what he considers “one of the easiest, once you understand what you’re doing.”
The Akron, Ohio, native’s punt return provided Denver with the winning points in the first AFL game, a 13-10 decision over the Boston Patriots. Mingo’s 18-yard field goal was also the first points ever scored at Denver’s Bear Stadium.
Even though Mingo led the league in points, he was left off of the AFL All-Star team. No matter, the next year, he continued his record-setting feats, tossing for two touchdowns from the halfback position in a 22-10 victory over the Buffalo Browns in the season opener.
The utility player took the scoring crown once again in 1962, when he accounted for 137 points that season, and then set the Broncos’ record for longest touchdown run with his 82-yard sprint against the Oakland Raiders.
After a 10 1/2-year career in the AFL/NFL that saw him play for the Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Washington football team and Pittsburgh Steelers, Mingo retired in 1970. Forty-four years later on Sept. 14, 2014, his contributions were recognized when he was inducted in the Broncos Ring of Fame with Dan Reeves and Rick Upchurch.
“I did everything to stay on the team,” the Denver resident said. “No matter what they asked me to do, I did.
“Things I’m proud of? In 1986, I was inducted into the Ohio Summit County sports hall of fame. I had several operations on my back, and had been involved in cocaine use, and it took the pain away. It also began to play with my mind, and I nearly killed my wife … she was critical for three days, and they still accepted me for what I had done. Even my high school, that I told you I didn’t graduate from, they inducted me into South High School’s sports hall of fame.”
Mingo promised his mother before she died that he would go back to school after dropping out of elementary school. When he returned, he was three years older than the rest of the class. One day, a teacher ridiculed him for being so much older than the rest of the class. Mingo left high school and chose to join the Navy with his father’s written consent. He was sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, and picked up football there and at Norfolk Navy Base in Norfolk, Virginia.
He spent some time as a high school coach, but when the Broncos were announced, Mingo looked at the people joining the team, and decided to write to Denver. He wrote the team a letter that his sister helped edit, expressing his interest in joining the team, and a few days later received a contract for $6,500 in the mail.
At the time, Mingo was one of five or six black players on the team. When the Broncos traveled, they’d have to stay in a separate hotel, as they did when most of the Broncos stayed in Dallas, but the African-American players had to go to Fort Worth, Texas. There were also instances of racial slurs being used, like when the Broncos played an exhibition game in Little Rock, Arkansas, and farmers threatened that, “if they go out there and hurt them white boys or we’re gonna lynch you’re black a–.”
“Sure, it shook us up,” Mingo said. “We became scared, and some of the white players gathered around us in case they did shoot. Young black players don’t realize what we went through.”