Given that he is 58 years old and his hair is still heavily dominated by blond and that his Denver Broncos career featured 79.5 sacks, Karl Mecklenburg’s nickname of “The Albino Rhino,” is understandable.
Mecklenburg, who recently visited Cody for a motivational speech on how to apply the tenets of teamwork to the working world, also still weighs 240 pounds.
“It’s all moved around,” he said.
Meaning perhaps that he is not carrying as much muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame as he did when playing linebacker in the NFL from 1983 to 1994.
Ferocious on the field – quarterbacks had to run for their lives when he was in the neighborhood – Mecklenburg was chosen for six Pro Bowls and is in the Broncos Ring of Fame.
He is fondly remembered in Broncos history, a member of some of the franchise’s best teams.
Although linebacker was listed as his primary role, Mecklenburg said he was a pioneer on defense, playing as many as seven positions, all three linebacker slots and all four front line spots, in the same game.
Football people of the current generation cannot really comprehend what he did, Mecklenburg said, if they didn’t ever see him play.
Mecklenburg spoke at the Cody Hot Line School for the Big Horn Rural Electric Association, espousing his thoughts about how teamwork makes things click. He has also written a book called “Heart of a Student Athlete,” to provide a bit of life play-by-play for young athletes.
Mecklenburg came out of the University of Minnesota as a 12th-round draft pick and was in on 1,118 tackles in his career. He said he knew nothing about the Broncos when he was selected, but now they have been part of his life for more than 35 years.
The Broncos reached three Super Bowls with Mecklenburg but did not win any of them, losses that forever sting. When he retired, he stayed in the Denver area, residing in Littleton for years until he and his wife Kathi recently moved to Aurora.
As a larger-sized defensive player from Minnesota, Mecklenburg called the Vikings’ Alan Page his hero. A player could do much worse. Not only was Page a star on the field, he became one of the league’s ultimate, post-playing-days successes as a longtime member of the judiciary.
Mecklenburg has not exactly wasted his time in recent years. Besides his traveling motivational speech gig, he has immersed himself in charitable work with multiple organizations, including The Karl Mecklenburg REACH Foundation, Colorado Youth Sports Outdoors, hosted charity celebrity ski races and worked with Project Healing Waters.
Mecklenburg knows what it is to need healing. He said he underwent 18 surgeries for injuries and endured more than a dozen serious concussions.
Concussions, head injury treatment and the desire to make the sport safer have been controversial topics in the NFL in recent years.
Mecklenburg was part of a concussion-related lawsuit against the league and made the memorable comment, “I didn’t buy into professional football with the understanding that I was going to have brain damage. I expected to have a limp. I expected to have sore joints. Bad shoulder, whatever. But that other part, that was kept from us and that wasn’t right.”
Yet Mecklenburg is not estranged from football. He has disappointingly been overlooked for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and although he said he doesn’t dwell on that, once declared he would never go to a ceremony until “I got my own gold jacket.”
He broke that pledge this summer on behalf of the late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, acting as a presenter for a man whom he said he learned much about leadership. Mecklenburg also makes periodic personal appearances for the Broncos, mingling with fans and sponsors.
In Cody, Mecklenburg did all sorts of mingling. He squeezed in a fishing trip, though he didn’t catch much, and played in the Wyoming REA golf tournament at Olive Glenn. One raffle prize was a Mecklenburg No. 77 Broncos jersey.
About that Albino Rhino thing. A long-ago teammate slapped the moniker on Mecklenberg.
“I didn’t expect it would follow me,” Mecklenburg said. “I’m fine with that.”
Better than going bald.