Ricky "Rick" Upchurch (born May 20, 1952) is a former professional American football player who played wide receiver for the Denver Broncos (1975–1983) of the National Football League (NFL). Before his NFL career, he played for Centerville Community College in Centerville, Iowa and the University of Minnesota and went to high school at Springfield High School in Holland, Ohio. In 2000, Upchurch was named one of the 300 best NFL players of all time.
In his nine NFL seasons, Upchurch excelled as a receiver and a kick returner on special teams. In his rookie season, he rushed for 97 yards, caught 18 passes for 436 yards, returned 27 punts for 312 yards, and added another 1,014 yards returning kickoffs. In his second season, he set an NFL record by returning four punts for touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl. In the 1977 season, he led the NFL with 653 punt return yards and assisted his team to their first ever Super Bowl appearance. The Broncos lost Super Bowl XII to the Dallas Cowboys 27-10, but he had a good performance in the game. Upchurch amassed 125 total offensive yards (94 kickoff return, 22 punt return, 9 receiving), including a Super Bowl record 67-yard kickoff return in the 3rd quarter that set up Denver's only touchdown of the game.
Upchurch stayed with the Broncos until the 1983 season. He led the NFL in punt return average twice (1978 and 1982), and was selected to the Pro Bowl three more times (1978, 1979, 1982). He finished his nine-season career with 49 carries for 349 rushing yards, 267 receptions for 4,369 yards, 248 punt returns for 3,008 yards, and 95 kickoff returns for 2,355 yards. Overall, Upchurch gained 10,081 total yards and scored 35 touchdowns: eight returning punts, 24 receiving, and three rushing. He was also selected All-Pro five times. At the time of his retirement, he was the NFL's career leader in punt return yards, and his eight punt returns for touchdowns tied the NFL record shared by Jack Christiansen. He is one of five players to record a career average of over 12 yards per punt return.
After his retirement from the NFL, Upchurch coached football at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas during the early to mid-1990s. In 2005, Upchurch became the head football coach at East High School in Pueblo, Colorado in 2005, where the team posted a 1-19 record in his two seasons as head coach. Upchurch currently resides in Mesquite, Nevada, and frequently visits nearby communities such as St. George, Utah, and Logandale, Nevada, to sign autographs for Broncos fans. Upchurch is ranked the sixth-greatest return specialist in NFL history on NFL Network's NFL Top 10 Return Aces.
As of 2017's NFL off-season, Rick Upchurch held at least 11 Broncos franchise records, including:
- Punt Returns: career (248), season (51 in 1977), game (8 on 1978-10-22 @BAL; with Trindon Holliday)
- Punt Return Yds: career (3,008), season (653 in 1977)
- Punt Return TDs: career (8), season (4 in 1976), game (2 on 1976-09-26 CLE; with Darrien Gordon)
- Total Return Yds: career (5,363), playoffs (351), playoff season (222 in 1977)
- ^ Russakoff, Dale (February 7, 2005). "How football helped shape Condoleezza the strategist". thestandard.com.
Upchurch dated and was briefly engaged to the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the 1970s. She left him because, according to her biographer Marcus Mabry, "She knew the relationship wasn't going to work." He is currently married and has four children.