Welcome to the sixth edition of MHR's Bronco History Lesson. I have decide to be a little unorthodox this week and compile a list of the greatest games in Bronco history. This is strictly my own humble opinion, so please feel free to voice your agreement or disagreement with my selections. I also have a very special guest writer who took time out of his day to write up a riveting account of one of his all time favorite games in Bronco annals.
There are many, many great games throughout Bronco history that could potentially make this list, but I mixed my own personal emotions while watching many of these games along with my knowledge of how certain games before my time changed Broncoland forever. So without further adieu, here is my Top 10.
#10: October 16, 1977 at the Oakland Raiders.
The Oakland Raiders were coming off a Super Bowl Championship and had won 17 straight games. The Denver Broncos on the other hand were still considered doormats by the rest of the league even though they had jumped off to a 4-0 start. The Broncos harassed Stabler all game long, intercepting him seven times as the Broncos and their Orange Crush defense steamrolled to a 30-7 victory.
This game makes the list simply because it was the first time in our franchise's history that we blew out the Raiders on their home turf. It also marked a turning point in the rivalry between the two teams. Neither team would dominate the other again until the Broncos recent twelve year dominance over the hated Raiders.
#9: September 9, 2007 at the Buffalo Bills
The Bronco offense charged up and down the field at will, yet found themselves down 14-12 late in the game. Jay Cutler took the field in the final minutes and converted two fourth downs and led the Broncos down the field into field goal range. With the clock ticking down they passed for one more play, but Javon Walker was tackled in the field of play. With no timeouts, the Broncos kicking unit rushed out onto the field with ten seconds left in the game yelling "TORO TORO TORO! and fielded the snap with no time left on the clock and kicked the winning field in what was to be the Broncos most exciting play of the year.
This was by far the Broncos most exciting victory since the retirement of John Elway. It makes this list only for the reason that I had never seen a finish like that in my lifetime. I am sure many of us lost our voices that day.
#8: December 11, 1983 versus the Baltimore Colts
John Elway's rookie season was marred by struggles and doubt. Broncomania finally got a glimpse of what they had when Elway took command of the game against the Colts, down 19-0 in the second half. Elway came alive and fired three touchdown passes in the final half to lead the Broncos past the Colts, 21-19.
I was very young, but I've seen video of this game and what I remember most is the game announcer calling the last touchdown. "Wilhite to the goal line,...Wilhite touchdown! 4th and 2 and the Broncos get the go ahead Touchdown!" This game makes the list because of its importance in building the confidence of our quarterback and the importance for the fans to know they had something special in Elway.
#7: January 17, 1988 versus the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship Game
In what became known as "The Fumble", John Elway led a game winning drive in the final minutes to give the Broncos a 38-31 lead over the Browns. The Browns however drove down the field poised to tie the game, when Earnest Byner fumbled the ball at the goal line. The Broncos recovered and Elway sealed the victory, 38-33.
This game was a roller coaster ride. The Broncos jumped out to a huge lead in the first half, but the Browns came back in the second half, forcing Elway to work his magic again. "The Fumble" has gone down as one of the greatest AFC Championship games in NFL history.
#6: October 4, 1992 versus the Kansas City Chiefs
This game embodied the ethos I have carried throughout my like as a fan. I've watched every Bronco game from start to finish(except the Super Bowl against the 49ers, I just couldn't) because I felt the Broncos always had a chance with Elway. The Broncos were down 19-6 at the two minute warning. John Elway threw two touchdowns in the final two minutes to give the Broncos their most daunting comeback in franchise history. Undoubtedly to never be repeated or matched in our lifetimes.
This game would have ranked higher on my list if the game had more meaning. We were a bad football team that year.
#5: January 1, 1978 versus the Oakland Raiders in the 1977 AFC Championship Game
The 1977 Cinderella season ended with a 12-2 record and the first playoff berth for the Denver Broncos organization. They dispatched the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Playoff game for their first ever playoff victory only to find themselves in the most important game in our history to that point against the hated Raiders. The game was hard fought and ended with the Broncos defeating their rivals 20-17, earning a berth in the Super Bowl.
This game proved to the world that the Denver Broncos were no longer a laughing stock. They were elite. Since 1973, the Denver Broncos have had a combined total of five losing seasons when not including the 1982 strike shortened debacle of a season. In a 21 year span from 1978 to 1999, the Broncos went to an NFL best six Super Bowls.
An elite organization was built on the backs of the 1977 team, therefore they earned the right to crack my top five.
#4: October 22, 1972 at the Oakland Raiders
Picture this, twenty consecutive losses against a despised divisional rival. A decade of humiliation. That all changed in my number four game of all time. The 1972 Broncos traveled to a powerhouse Raider team angry. They were angry over a heartbreaking loss the week before against the Minnesota Vikings. The Broncos played the Raiders tough all game long and came out with their first win against the Raiders in ten years, 30-23.
However, the game that personified the struggles of the Bronco teams of the 60's and early 70's was the game that took place the week before this historic victory. I have a special guest today who will be giving us his account of that game. He is firstfan, a great contributer to MHR and an original Broncomaniac. He's been a Bronco fan longer than many of us have been alive and he remembers the above Raider-Bronco game quite well. However, it was the Minnesota game the week before that he remembered the most.
Mile High Stadium
This game typifies the efforts of the Denver Broncos of the sixties and early seventies. In order to understand the atmosphere in which the Broncos played in this era one must have a feeling for the emotion which surrounded this team and the city of Denver. I am unaware of any other city that has ever loved a professional team to the degree that the people of Denver and Colorado and the Rocky Mountain area loved the Broncos. Even though the team had never even had a winning season in the entire twelve years of its existence, the support never wavered.
The '72 season had started out with a convincing win over Houston. Houston had finished the previous year with a record identical to Denver's and many thought this would be a good measuring stick to see if we were getting any better and the win over Houston gave everyone hope. The next three weeks saw us get crushed by San Diego on the road and Kansas City at home and smothered in Cincinnati. The next week we were home against one of the strongest teams in the entire NFL, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were led by Fran Tarkenton and their defense was called the Purple People Eaters and was perhaps the best defense in the NFL. Minnesota had finished the year before at 11-3 and shared the best record with Dallas. Nobody outside of the Rocky Mountain area gave Denver even a ghost of a chance.
The start of the game went pretty much as most experts on the East Coast thought. The Viking defense just stuffed us. Some people were surprised that Minnesota was having a hard time moving the ball against our own defenders and this was about the time the moniker Orange Crush began to be used. Midway through the second period Minnesota had a 6-0 lead. We stopped them and forced a punt. John Ralston was the coach and he pulled our Quarterback Steve Ramsey and put in the wily old veteran Charley Johnson. Charley must have seen something in that defense that he thought he could exploit. He drove the Broncos to the 36 yard line. Ralston sent in a play from the sidelines. It was a run but Charley changed the play in the huddle to a screen to Floyd Little. Floyd caught the pass, got a couple of blocks, put on a few moves and then outran every Viking defender to the end zone. The fans went absolutely wild and Denver went into the locker room at half up 7-6.
This was a wake-up call to the Vikings and they came out after the half charged up and ready to kill the hapless Broncos. They put up 10 points in the third quarter and took control of the game. The Broncos seemed to have two traits in those days; both of which repeatedly broke your heart. They would start the season with a bang and give everyone hope; then fade away the second half of the season. They did this in games too. They would play close for the first half or even the first three quarters, but then loose in the end. This looked like a typical Bronco game until Minnesota fumbled.
Next came one of the most outstanding performances in the history of Bronco football. Floyd Little took a handoff and was immediately in the sights of Alan Page. That behemoth was ready to kill the 5'10' Little. Somewhere in the far distant future some archeologist working on a dig just north and east of the new Mile High Stadium is going to find Alan Page's jock strap because on that play Floyd Little faked him completely out of the one he was wearing. In escaping Page, Floyd ran directly into a linebacker and put another move on the backer. This guy came closer than Page but could only grab Little's jersey. Floyd dragged him for about five yards before he broke free. The stats showed it to be a 25 or 30 yard TD run but I think Floyd ran about sixty yards to the end zone counting all the cut backs and weaves. I don't know if it is true or not, but one writer said all eleven Vikings had an opportunity to tackle Floyd Little on that play and none could get him down. The fans went nuts and momentum had shifted back to the Broncos. We closed the gap to 16-14.
After an exchange of punts the Broncos got the ball back with less than eight minutes left in the game. We weren't much of a passing team in those days and Ralston orchestrated a time-gobbling twelve play drive. Charley Johnson executed it perfectly. With less than a minute to go Floyd Little scored his third touchdown of the day and the Broncos took a 20-16 lead. The fans went wild. Their beloved Denver Broncos were on the cusp of defeating one of the best teams in the NFC. Unfortunately Fran Tarkenton wasn't done. The hearts of the Bronco players and fans were ripped out once again as Tarkenton engineered a drive and scored with seconds left. The Broncos were defeated 20-23.
A lesser team would have been devastated by this disheartening loss, but not our Broncos. They went out the next week and beat the snot out of the oakland raiders, giving them one of only three losses the raiders would suffer that year.
#3: January 11, 1987 at the Cleveland Browns in the 1986 AFC Championship Game
This game was John Elway's coming out party. I won't cover this too much as I just wrote about this game last week. That article can be found here. Suffice to say, the Broncos and Elway pulled off what would become known in NFL lore as The Drive - winning 23-20 in overtime.
This game ranks no higher or lower on my list than third. It was a fantastic game and one for the ages.
#2: January 25, 1998 versus the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII
This was the Denver Broncos fifth Super Bowl appearance. As double digit underdogs, this Denver team stymied and harassed Brett Favre and the Packers much of the game in a classic back and forth duel between two great football teams. Locked in a 24-24 tie, Elway took command of the field with just under four minutes left in the game. He led the Broncos down the field and a Terrell Davis touchdown with 1:57 left on the clock gave the Broncos a 31-24 lead they would not surrender. Brett Favre's 4th and 6 incomplete pass sent the Mile High City a Mile High as the Broncos won their first Super Bowl title.
I lived a mile away from Qualcomm when this game took place. I could see the stadium from my third story condo balcony. It is a day I will never forget and the tears I shed that day I know were shared with millions of other Broncomaniacs who had waited so long to be Champions! Elway was right when he said, "The Broncos will win more this, but it'll never be like that first Super Bowl win."
#1: January 4, 1992 versus the Houston Oilers in the 1991 AFC Divisional Playoff Game
For three quarters of this game, the Broncos were dominated by Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers. Elway fought back hard late and closed the gap to one, 24-23. Then a punt was downed at the one and a half yardline at the two minute warning. Here comes Act II of The Drive. Except this time, the Broncos have no timeouts and are in need of a field goal for a win. The first pass gets Elway out of a hole and up to his own twenty-four yard line.
Three plays later Elway is faced with a 4th down and six. Flushed out of the pocket, Elway scrambles for six and a half yards for the first down. Time is ticking down now after three straight incomplete passes. Faced with another 4th down, this time ten, Elway is again flushed out of the pocket. This time he lobs an ugly pass out to Vance Johnson who nabs it and takes it down for a huge gainer, setting up the winning field goal attempt.
Gary Kubiak takes the snap for the field and nearly doesn't get the ball in place, but miraculously gets the ball down just as David Treadwell boots it through for the game winner. The Broncos win 26-24 in the most exciting finish in Elway's career.
There you have it. My top ten of all time. Thank you again, firstfan, for you invaluable contribution to this article.