Welcome back to a long overdue Broncos History post. Over the past year or so I have been running a Forgotten Broncos series of posts and lately I've been using it to profile Ring of Fame players. I've decided to stop doing that, at least for players in the Ring of Fame. Instead, I've changed my titling to reflect the proper respect for a player already honored in the hallowed Ring of Fame.
I will still run the Forgotten Broncos posts occasionally, but they will actually be "forgotten" players. For now, however, I am focused on completing my Ring of Fame project, which I hope to unveil sometime next offseason. The final product will be a fitting tribute to the greatest athletes ever to don an Orange & Blue (or mustard yellow & brown...) uniform.
I have made my way up to the Class of 1988 and today I will be profiling Craig Morton, who was quarterback for the Denver Broncos from 1977-1982. He also led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance and helped solidify the Broncos' place among the NFL's elite organizations.
|#7 Craig Morton
Photo via DB.com
Craig Morton began his career as the fifth overall pick in the 1965 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys, but he languished as a backup for his first four seasons until Cowboys great Don Meredith retired. His first two seasons proved to be successful, as he maintained nearly a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio and led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl in 1970. They would lose 16-13 to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V and Tom Landry would decide to let Morton and Roger Staubach duel it out for the starting job in 1971.
Morton would regress in this third season and ultimately fail to protect his starting job, eventually being traded to the New York Giants in 1974. He would start for the Giants the entire two-and-half year stint with the team, but Morton became an interception machine during that time span. He would throw 49 interceptions in just 34 total games with the team. Craig Morton ended up being traded to the Denver Broncos early in 1977, soon after Red Miller took over as head coach of the Broncos.
He would be reborn in the shadows of the Rockies, as the down-the-field threat he was meant to be. He and Haven Moses would become a major problem for opposing defenses. It helped too that the Denver Broncos fielded one of the league's best defenses in the Orange Crush. Morton's job became simple; protect the ball, score 13-20 points per game and be a leader. Ironically, it sounds a lot like what Kyle Orton is being asked to do today, but if I had to compare Morton to any former Bronco quarterbacks it would have to be Jake Plummer - if only because Morton could have up and down years, much like Plummer, and yet both quarterbacks were serviceable and, most importantly, winners.
In 1977, everything went right for the Broncos (sound familiar?) and the magic just never let up as they marched to a 12-2 dominating regular-season performance. They would go into the playoffs and beat the reigning dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers in convincing fashion and then face their hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders in the AFC title game. Morton would play a huge part in opening up an early lead, while the suffocating presence of the Orange Crush would preserve the victory and the franchise's first Super bowl berth.
Super Bowl XII would prove to be a rough game for the Broncos and Craig Morton. Facing his old team, he would be harassed all game and played a part in many of the Broncos eight turnovers that day. The Orange Crush played incredible defense though, giving up just over 3 points per turnover. Still, the Cowboys steamrolled to victory. The lone bright spot on offense was Haven Moses and if only Morton had more time to deliver the deep pass, but the Cowboys must have schemed to ensure Morton wouldn't have enough time to play to his strength. The final score was a 27-10 blowout, but from that point on no team could discount the Denver Broncos on their schedule. With just five losing seasons since that magical season, the Broncos have established themselves as one of the most dominant franchises in the NFL. Much of that tradition was solidified by Craig Morton and his dedication to professionalism and winning.
After leading the Denver Broncos to two division titles and three playoff berths, he would retire during the strike-shortened 1982 season. He still ranks second on the Broncos for all-time passing yards with 11,895 and finished with a regular-season record of 50 wins and 28 losses in his five seasons with the team - a .641 winning percentage.
Craig Morton now resides along the central coast of California and is a part owner of Mel Hollen's Restaurant in San Francisco.
|Craig Morton's Career Stats|