Today we are going to talk with William Allen “Billy” Thompson known as friends simply Billy. But his career was far from simple was it Billy”?
Billy “You have to work hard in order succeed in life and that is no simple task I achieved beyond my expectations and enjoyed every minute of it”.
Tom “They said your one of the best Defensive Backs in Denver Broncos history. How do you respond to that comment”.
Billy “I loved being a Bronco and respected all the fans and my team mates, so all I wanted is to help my team mates and the Bronco’s win”.
Tom “Billy how do you get your start”?
Billy “For me I started as a young kid playing street football and it led me to play quarter back in high school. I attended Sterling High School in Greenville and was a four-year letterman in three different sports: Baseball (Center field), Basketball (Guard) and at Quarterback in Football”.
Tom “With your success in high school you set your goal to play in college. How did it that all come about”?
Billy “I got a story for you as a matter of fact. A good friend of mine Art Shell who is all pro offensive tackle that play for the Oakland Raiders. We went to college together and how I got to college was that I was playing in high school All-Star Game in Columbia South Carolina and I wasn't playing quarterback. I was playing defensive back and after the game was over Art Shell came into our locker room and said we want to talk to you. And I go who are you? And he said “Art Shell I play for Maryland State, well we were down here watching the game and we like the way you to play”. So I said OK. He said “We like to take you out to dinner”. Art said “You know my coach can't come in and talk to you, because it's against the rules. So I went out to dinner with them. Both Coach Sandy Williams and Art Shell told me they would like to offer me a scholarship and have I talked to any other schools yet? I told them I talked to wake forest because they wanted to offer me a scholarship as well. Art Shell, one of the greatest to ever play the game told me that He would take care of me and assured me that Maryland State was the right choice. I mean, it was late in the year around July and the school was starting early but he said he come by and pick me up and take me to school with them and you get to know everybody. So I went home and told my mom and she asked me was I crazy. She said “Do you know these people”. I said I don't know them. I just met them, but they're great people and I have good vibes. So I want to go try this. And like a great mom she said to me “You go and try and if you don't make it you can come home”. So that was my start and that's how I got to Maryland State College and I loved every minute of it. I played baseball there too. I was the center fielder and I caught when we had a double hitter. I started for four years of baseball in college.
Tom “So you continued a career as a four-year letterman in Football and Baseball”?
Billy “That’s right.”
Tom “During you college days did you know that there was any NFL recruiters out there scouting you”?
Billy “No, I had no idea that any of those guys were out there saying”.
Tom “You was selected in the 3rd round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Can you tell us how that came about”?
Billy “I was at a fraternity party during the draft and when I got back to the dorm my friends said hey man where have you been. Well as I was at a fraternity party. They said I got a call and you need to call Denver now you've been drafted. The Broncos said they don't care what time it is, you can call them now, so I did it and I called and said hello. He said this is Coach Bill Saban and he said Billy what is your favorite team. And I said no. He said, well what about now, we just drafted you in the third round. I said that's great I'm really pleased you got me. He replied I want to meet you and want to fly you out. I said you know I'm poor I don't have any money to fly. He says we're going to take care of everything. The first day in Denver I fell in love and I've been here ever since”.
Tom “Now you had a career full of great moments, including two NFL records, one has stood for over two decades. As a rookie, you became the only player in NFL history to lead the league in both Kickoffs and Punt Returns in the same season and also one of only two players in NFL history to return four opponent fumbles for touchdowns. I was curious what led to you having such good game. Was it the opposing teams that left gaps in their defense. Was it the special teams that created gaps or was it your ability to see the gaps”?
Billy “I think he was a combination of both. I you know I ran back punts in high school a few in college but I never did both. What helped in my ability is that I played center field so I'm always looking up for the ball and can judge it. Because the most important thing in punt returns and kick opportunity is catch the football and then what you get after that is from the blocking and then seeing an opening and making a cut. I was good at that. I was good at seeing where I needed to go to gain yards and it was a tremendous career and it was a tremendous honor to be able to do that”.
Tom “Where you know the fortunate few that did not suffer any injuries in your career”?
Billy “Well actually I missed three games in my career. But I did suffer an injury I had an MCL. I remember it was my second year we were playing the Oakland Raiders and one of our teammates did it. By mistake he came in and hit me when I was down I knew something was wrong because I have never been hurt before and my stomach was got upset. I came in to the coach and said I can't go it’s my knee. He said let the trainer take a look at it. And the trainer told me you have an MCL, The next thing I knew I was in a cast for six to eight weeks but I only missed the three games because it was the last three games of the season. After that year I came back more determined not to get injured again snd then from that point on I never miss another game.
Tom “Most guys are in fear of losing their starting job after an injury, some might have played on with the injury. Did you have that back in mind or have you seen other players in fear of that”?
Billy “No, not me personally, if I'm not physically fit I would not want hurt the team by staying in. Plus I knew I was going to work hard to get back and I was pretty confident that I would not lose my starting job after that injury”.
Tom “The quarterbacks you played against some of them were the greatest. So tell us what was the most famous quarterbacks that came to mind and why where they such good”?
Billy “Well one of the greatest quarterbacks I played against was Joe Namath. Who was a leader. He changed the game with his throws. He was unbelievable. As a matter of fact, the first time I met him it was in a college All-Star game. They don't have that game anymore, But the game I remember was the night we were playing Broadway Joe and the Jets so I was just totally excited to be there and be a part of that. They beat us 22-20. We played a great game. As was we flew back home on the plane we talked about the game, but that was my first encounter with Joe Nemeth. We played them again my rookie year. But yeah, Joe Namath,Lenny Dawson, Kenny Stabler, Roger Staubach. Great quarterbacks and they all had leadership abilities. It was just it was an honor for me to play against them too.
Tom “So salaries have changed big time over the years. I was curious with your statistics that you racked up what would you command with in today's salary.
Billy “Big, Big like I played multiple position, started at corner and five years played at safety, I was running back, punts and kickoffs too. So I had a lot of responsibility and I think having that kind of responsibility. The salary I would get unbelievable from that standpoint. I can’t look back and I have no regrets because I had a tremendous career. I played for a great organization and have been such a blessed individual and I'm happy that that I was here”.
Tom “As I mentioned a lot has changed with the salaries, but the game has changed. So when you played, how much change has happened over the years for the good and worse”?
Billy “There have been a lot of changes good and bad. But one of the things I like to say is about the older football players that were left out of the NFL League Benefits. Some things that happen to them physically and mentally and some of them are suffering. I think that was bad. But I think the good thing is that the league recognize it and are reaching back. And now helping those guys out and making them feel good about their time in the league by either doctors or whatever things they need to help them. Now I think that is remarkable, because I don't think we can forget those guys and I think that's the good that the league is doing”.
Tom “You change positions with the Broncos to Safety. Did become a better player after transitioning to a different position?” [25.9]
Billy “I learned the game a lot better. And it was kind of a funny transition the coach came to me and said we want change you to another position. I go why don't you trust me anymore. Of course, that is why you're going to play safety and you're going to become more involved in the game and you're going to help us out even more than what you think because you're going to be the key force for me. You're going to force the run and I'm going to help you make that transition. We're going to watch film together and I'm going to show you what I'm talking about. He said the most important thing of our defense was stopping the run and I took great pride in that because being a key guy, it meant a lot and a found a real understanding of the game”.
Tom “You mentioned you had played baseball in college. How come you didn't go with baseball and decided to go with football”?
Tom “Well the reason why is because baseball is going to be a long a route for me to make it into the big leagues. I didn't want to go through the process of working my way up through the minor leagues and I wanted to play pro ball now. Plus, I didn't want to go through a very small salary and you're riding on buses. They were talking to me about going to the farm league and starting there and work my way up to the major league team and that's where it takes time. And when the Broncos said you're our guy, I said great coach I'm going there and that's the reason why. It would be kind of nice if could split myself in two and let me play both. I started playing little league baseball before I started playing football. I played Little League ball and pony league ball and four years of college. We won a couple of division championships in college. So yeah, it was a different process back in 69. Now the major leagues they bring them up sooner. They bring their top guys up soon like then they didn't do that”.
Tom "Fantasy football is big now, what would you fantasy team be?:
Bill "I am not a big football fantasy guy, but if I had to choose a few players, One Floyd Little and Rich Jackson on defense".
Tom "So now that we reflected on your football days, what are you doing now?"
Bill "I am still with the Bronco's obviously not as a player, but my title is "Director of Community Outreach".
Billy Thompson Responsibilities with the organization provide funding for:
Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver Alzheimer's Association Colorado Chapter
Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children Susan G. Komen Foundation
Bonfils Blood Center Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver Food Bank of the Rockies
USA football Denver Rescue Mission
He also works with the Alumni association the helps
Cleats for Kids is a Denver Broncos Alumni Association (DBAA) initiative to ensure that children of all means have the opportunity to experience the wonderful life lessons that football has to offer. As former professional athletes, we were blessed to play the sport at the highest level, but we all recognize that our earliest years in football were the most formative. That’s where we first learned about teamwork, about commitment, about sacrifice and about doing our best for ourselves and for our teammates. But these early years are also the time at which young parents—particularly single-family households with multiple children—struggle to pay the high registration and equipment costs required for youth football.
They raise money through their annual Golf Tournament event
This event sells out fast! Spots are limited, so reserve your place now to golf with some of your favorite Denver Broncos Alumni! Additionally, the Denver Broncos Alumni Charities offers Sponsorship Packages with benefits that include golf with a Broncos Ring of Famer, tickets to attend the Saturday evening Gala on June 3rd, great visibility throughout the tournament and recognition on the Denver Broncos Alumni website, Facebook page and other social media outlets. Plan now to have a Gala and Golf tournament experience you won’t forget!