The NFL season is almost upon us, and while I absolutely refuse to watch the preseason games, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like my football. I am, of course, a lifelong Broncos fan. My family moved to Denver in 1966, residing in our first home about three blocks from (what was then) Bear’s Stadium. I was three. By the time I was in Little League, I was spending Sunday afternoons sitting on my bed listening to the games on the radio.
By 1972, I was a diehard fan, and to celebrate my 10th Birthday, the 1973 team had its first winning season and first real run at a playoff spot, before losing to the Raiders in the final week of the season.
I have watched all five Super Bowl losses and both of the wins. I have watched every playoff game and virtually every regular season game since 1972 (In 1981 I was in Basic Training, so I missed Oct-Dec) and in 1983-86 I was at sea for parts of the seasons. I have attended games at Mile High and on the road, and while I’ve toured Invesco, I most probably will never be able to go to a game there.
Here then are my personal Top 5 Bronco Games, plus the Greatest Game ever, which was too big to even be listed among the regular five. These are the games that in my mind (and some on tape) I have replayed hundreds of times, savoring each moment, again and again.
#5 – 10/16/1977 Denver at Oakland
I did actually miss this game because I was on a bus deep in the Rockies travelling from Grand Junction back to Pueblo after a Church youth conference weekend. But this was the first game where the Broncos absolutely slobber knocked the Raiders. In Oakland. The defending Super Bowl Champs expected another easy run to the AFC West and AFC titles to defend the crown, but got a serious bitch slap when Jim Turner, one of the last of the straight on Place Kickers (and hero of Super Bowl III for the Jets), CAUGHT a Touchdown pass. When we finally got out of the deep canyons and could tune in the radio, it was already 30-7 Denver. The bus erupted with joy and nobody was more excited than me for Monday Night’s Half-Time Highlights (this was long before ESPN and even cable), to actually see the play. Denver sent a message that day that a return to the Super Bowl for Oakland was not going to be a given, they’d have to earn it.
#4 – 1/19/2014 2013 AFC Championship – New England @ Denver
Peyton Manning and the boys were sloppy the week before, while the Patriots looked to be peaking. It was one of those games I had really big doubts about, which turned out to be correct, just off by two weeks. The running game was incredible as the Broncos destroyed the Patriots and helped Peyton Manning join John Elway and Fran Tarkenton among the most loosing Super Bowl QB’s.
#3 – 10/191975 Cleveland @ Denver
One of the games I attended at old Mile High Stadium. I faked being not-sick (I had a kidney infection) to be able to go to the game with my best friend, Jeff. We sat near the south end of the west side of the Horseshoe, and groaned and complained as the Broncos almost scored twice, only to have Oliver Ross fumble the ball twice inside the five yard line. Still, with only seconds left, the Broncos only trailed 15-13. Problem? The Boys were 53 yards away. Enter Jim Turner (again). The ball had just enough to hit the crossbar, bounce up in the air, and then fall over for a 16-14 win. And two very happy 12 year olds went home to dream about being placekickers for our favorite team.
#2 – 1/1/1978 1977 AFC Championship – Oakland @ Denver
In some ways, this game could be #1. The third matchup of the season and the rubber match between the two teams would decide who would go to Super Bowl XII. The Raiders were still the defending champs, and fresh of the “Ghost to the Post” overtime thriller in Baltimore. Denver had manhandled the always dangerous Steelers the week before, and now it was down to two original AFL West teams to settle what many still considered to be the AFL championship. The game was not without controversy, and perhaps in today’s era with instant replay things would be different. But one image stands out to me still. Under two minutes to go, Oakland now out of time outs. Third down and 4 or so. If the Raiders hold, the get the ball back and can tie or win. They always seem to do it. Otis Armstrong takes the ball off tackle. As the dust settles in the setting sun of a Winters New Years Day in Denver, a single hand rises out of the pile… and makes the #1 sign. First down, game over, AFL/AFC Champs! Yes, we lost the Super Bowl to Dallas. But many (if not most) Bronco fans still feel that beating Oakland in that game meant more anyway.
#1 – 1/25/1998 1997 Season SUPER BOWL XXII – Green Bay v Denver
All the years of frustration and end of season “Wait ’till Next Year,” finally comes to an end as John Elway literally takes the team on his back and helicopters his way to the Championship. For all of the years that he literally won games by himself, this was the day when he relied on Terrell Davis and a Defense that played so hard it (again) literally knocked itself out to get the final outcome. Davis would be the MVP, but I’ve always felt that this is Elway’s most underappreciated game. We remember the helicopter play, but do we also recall that he had a Touchdown run on the QB keeper we watched for years? He had another run for a first down as well, but the biggest thing of all was that when things didn’t go well early, he didn’t let it get to him this time. The next Super Bowl would be his showcase, but this is the one that he did as much as ever to win. And as they say, this one’s for John. He certainly earned it and we loved him even more for it.
And the “All Time Best Broncos Game Ever?”
9/30/1973 – Chicago Bears at Denver
Yes, the final score was Chicago 33, Denver 14. But this was the first game ever to which I went. With my dad. I have no idea to this day how he got the tickets. They were always sold out, and I don’t know what he did to buy them or trade for them or whatever. But for my 10th birthday, he got them for me and the next Sunday we went to Mile High for the first time. I had the time of my life. This game is even featured by NFL Films. There’s a famous scene where Abe Gibron, the coach of the Bears is singing “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” during the pregame. That was at this game. My dad and I cheered, booed, smacked our knees in disgust at the eleven penalties the Broncos had as they played what had to be their worst game of the year. And we stayed until the bitter end because we didn’t want to miss any part of it. We cheered for Bobby Anderson, and Lyle Alzado (my then favorite) and we had hot dogs and sodas. I still have the tickets and it is still, one of the best days of my life. You can tell me all you want about how great your team is, but on the best days of my sports fan life, my team got crushed 33-14.
Through it all, the Broncos have lost more than they have won.
And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.