For just a moment, former Denver Broncos standout Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin didn’t think about the open-heart surgery he underwent a few weeks ago or the cancer that has spread throughout his body.
For an instant, the 74-year-old former American Football League All-Star almost felt like a safety again, transported back to a time when he used to make interceptions like this.
Gonsoulin had just woken from a nap when he caught a flash across his television screen: Denver cornerback Chris Harris stepping in front of a pass and racing down the sideline for a 98-yard touchdown against Baltimore last Sunday.
“I remember exactly what that feels like,” said Gonsoulin, who’s known in Denver as an “Original Bronco” after being acquired in a trade before the team’s first season in 1960. “Such a great feeling when you’re in the open like that.”
Gonsoulin broke into a robust laugh as he chatted on the phone from his home in Beaumont, Texas.
“Only, I couldn’t have run that far,” he said. “That’s a long, long way.”
These days, Gonsoulin feels pretty good, even with all his health concerns.
In November, he had a heart attack that led to quadruple bypass surgery.
That was on top of this: Nearly a year ago he went in for an exam and there, all over the X-ray, was the return of his cancer. Only this time it appeared in his ribs, collar bone and shoulders. It was near his knees, back and hips. It showed up along his legs and arms, too.
“Doctors made it sound like I wasn’t going to last much longer. But I’m still here,” he said.
After a standout career at Baylor University, Gonsoulin was picked in the AFL Draft by the Dallas Texans, who then shipped him to the Broncos for fullback Jack Spikes in the team’s first trade. Gonsoulin showed up at his first camp in 1960 along with 120 other guys.
He instantly shined as he 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 – and was enshrined in the team’s Ring of Fame in 1984.
He snared the AFL’s first interception against Boston and finished his Broncos career as the former league’s all-time leader with 43.
Only Steve Foley has more interceptions (44) in a Denver uniform, but former Georgia standout Champ Bailey is closing in with 34.
He’s got quite a few ailments from his playing days. His collar bone juts out from an injury that didn’t heal properly and his knees ache. Then there are the concussions. There’s no telling how many he suffered.
That’s why he’s joined a suit that claims the NFL concealed and misrepresented the neurological risks of concussions.
“More than anything, I don’t think (the league) really took care of us back then,” Gonsoulin said. “My memory is fading and I don’t know if it’s because of the concussions. Having this cancer doesn’t help, of course, but I think playing football did hurt my memory.
“Still, I’m lucky to be in the shape I’m in now.”