Billy Thompson Biography
Billy Thompson was one of the very best strong safety’s in professional football from 1969 to 1981 for the Denver Broncos. Billy was drafted in the third round (61 overall) in the 1969 draft. Thompson was a key cog in the Orange Crush Defense that led the Broncos out of obscurity to their first winning season and then their first Super Bowl following the 1977 season. Thompson was a ball hawking, hard hitting safety that earned the respect of his pears going to the Pro Bowl following the 1977, 1978 and 1981. Had the Broncos been a better football team in his early years, he would have certainly earned more Pro Bowl selections.

Billy Thompson Jersey #36

Player Info

Height 6' 1"
Weight 201 lbs
DOB: 10/10/1946
Safety/ Corner


NFL Draft

1969/Round 3/Pick 61

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Career Highlights

Pro Bowl 1977, 1978, 1981


Denver Broncos Ring of Fame

Team(s) As A Player

Denver Broncos 1969-1981

Thompson Was a Playmaker

During his brilliant career with the Denver Broncos, Billy Thompson intercepted 40 passes returning three of them for touchdowns which were part of his 784 career interception return yards (ranks first in Broncos history). He also had 21 fumble recoveries, returning four of them for scores, giving him 7 career defensive touchdowns. Perhaps his most memorable fumble recovery came against the Oakland Raiders on October 22, 1973 (the first Monday Night Football game in Denver Broncos history). The Raiders had owned the Denver Broncos for over a decade. But Thompson returned a fumble 80 yards for the Broncos first touchdown and Denver escaped with a 23-23 tie. This helped the Broncos to their first winning season in team history. So what does Al Davis, longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders think of Thompson? Let’s just say Davis doesn’t think too kindly of Broncos players, but he believes Thompson is one of two Broncos who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Bill Thompson was as good a strong safety as anyone who's ever played the game,” (1) Al Davis said.

Thompson and Orange Crush Defense to the Super Bowl

For the Denver Broncos and especially their famed Orange Crush Defense, 1977 was a banner season. After achieving their first winning season in 1973, the Broncos made it to their first Super Bowl in 1977 against the Dallas Cowboys. “Everybody said it would be a cold day in hell if we got to the Super Bowl. Well, we made the devil wear an overcoat,” said Broncos safety Billy Thompson. Then he recalled this. “We were coming out the tunnel in the Super Bowl, and it really dawned on me that we were finally there,” Thompson said. “When I looked out and saw that sea of orange, it was the most incredible moment in my playing career. Tears came to my eyes and to (teammate) Tommy Jackson's. It was an incredible group that was unselfish and played for the love of the game. We knew only one way to win - depend on each other and play together. The city was such a big part of it. I've never seen a city that excited about anything.” Sadly, the Broncos lost the Super Bowl 27-10 thanks in large part to four interceptions thrown by Craig Morton in the first half, and seven total first half turnovers. If the offense would have just hung onto the football and not turned it over eight times for the game (then a Super Bowl record), the defense may have been able to carry the day and produce the first Super Bowl Championship in Broncos history.

Does Billy Thompson Belong in the Hall of Fame?

Billy Thompson was a phenomenal talent who was good enough a football player to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, if only he had played on better teams for more of his career. Unfortunately, during the 1970’s teams like the Steelers, Raiders, Dolphins, Cowboys, and Vikings produced tons of Hall of Famers. Were all of those players really better than Thompson? I can’t say that they all were. However, since they played together, they all made each other better. The Broncos had at least three players on their Orange Crush defense who could be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and might be if they had won a Super Bowl; Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright, and Billy Thompson. The other thing working against Thompson, like later safety Steve Atwater is the fact that there are so few safety’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It simply isn’t a glamorous position for Canton voters. Nevertheless, Billy Thompson was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 1987. At least he will always be remembered was one of the greatest to ever wear the Orange and Blue.

By A. Goodin
June 14, 2012

Billy Thompson Biography Sources:

(1)  Raiders secrets big and small (2006, August 6) The Denver Post

(2)  FANS INSPIRED BRONCOS AGAINST DALLAS IN ’78 (1998, September 13) Rocky Mountain News