This is what I am hoping will be the first in a series of articles which will be titled: Little Known Broncos Facts. It is intended to provide our avid Broncos fans with a little bit of light-hearted, historical trivia with which to while away these long spring and summer days as we wait for the Broncos 2012 season to begin in earnest. So, let's begin.
John Elway. The name conjures up all kinds of images: The Drive, The Helicopter, 4th Quarter Comebacks, Schottenheimer's Nemesis, Passing Records, Back-to-Back Super Bowl Wins, Face of the Franchise. The list could go on and on and on. The Broncos were able to pull off the steal of the 1983 NFL Draft when Elway was able to force Baltimore Colts owner Jim Irsay to trade him. The Colts got QB Mark Hermann, OL Chris Hinton and a 1984 1st round pick -- which was used on G Ron Solt. The Broncos got Elway and history was made.
However, when we look at all of the accomplishments of John Elway during his sixteen years as a Bronco, one rarely gets mentioned: John Elway the Punter.
Take a jump with me
During his remarkable career, Elway compiled such impressive statistics as forty games in which he passed for 300 or more yards, 35 fourth quarter comebacks, 46 game-winning drives, over 51,000 passing yards to go along with over 3400 rushing yards, 333 combined (passing/rushing) touchdowns, as well as setting many franchise passing records. Many of those records still stand: Most Career Passing Yards, Most Career Touchdown Passes, and Most Touchdowns in a Single Game (tied with Gus Frerotte), for example. Elway was voted to nine Pro Bowls, was named the league MVP in 1987 and the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII.
The one Elway statistic line that is rarely mentioned is this:
Let's take a quick look at Elway's seven punts.
Punt #1 - Dec 6, 1987 - New England at Denver, Denver won 31-20
In the fourth quarter, Denver had scored to take a 24-20 lead. The Patriots next possession used 6 plays to travel 36 yards but ended in a punt. The result of the punt was a touchback. Denver took over on their own 20-yard line. They went 44 yards in 7 plays. The last three plays of that drive were a 5-yard run, a 2-yard run and an incomplete pass. On 4th and 3 at the New England 36 yard line, Elway brought the Broncos to the line in a shotgun formation. Elway unexpectedly punted the ball which was downed at the New England 5-yard line with 5:00 minutes left to play. Following an incomplete pass, New England quarterback Tom Ramsey threw an interception which DB Mark Haynes returned for a touchdown. Following the game, the Los Angeles Times attributed this quote regarding the punt to then-head coach Dan Reeves: "It put them in a hole and gave our defense the opportunity to stop them deep . . . John shows me something new every week." (http://articles.latimes.com/1987-12-07/sports/sp-18008_1_john-elway)
Punt #2 & #3 - Dec 4, 1988 - Denver at Los Angeles Raiders, Denver lost 20-21
In the second quarter, with Denver trailing 7-0, the Broncos received a Raiders punt. Denver had the ball 1st and 10 at their own 23-yard line. Dorsett picked up two yards on a run, then Elway was sacked for a loss of 14. This left the Broncos facing 3rd and 22 from their own 11. It would seem that Denver was not confident that they would be able to get a first down, so they elected to try and catch the defense napping by having Elway execute a quick kick. The ball was downed at the Raiders' 49-yard line. Los Angeles then went -1 yard in 4 plays leaving themselves with a 4th and 22 at their own 49-yard line. The Raiders punt resulted in a touchback and the Broncos got the ball at their own 20 -- a net gain of 9 yards from their previous series.
In the 4th quarter of that same game, trailing 20-21, the Broncos received a Raider punt at their own 37-yard line with 9:14 left on the clock. Two completed passes for 20 yards were followed by two incompletions, and left Denver facing a 4th and 6 at the Raiders' 44-yard line. The Raiders called a timeout with 7:39 left and the Broncos had Elway punt the ball on 4th down. The ball was downed at the Los Angeles 5-yard line. However, the Raiders were able to burn 7:23 off the clock before being forced to punt. The ball was downed at Denver's 5-yard line with 0:06 left on the clock. Raiders' safety Vann McElroy intercepted an Elway pass intended for Vance Johnson to end the game.
Punt #4 - Dec11, 1988 - Denver at Seattle, Denver lost 14-42
A week after having Elway punt twice against the Los Angeles Raiders, the Broncos repeated this strategy in Seattle. Denver received the opening kickoff, which resulted in a touchback. Denver moved the ball 40 yards in 8 plays. The drive stalled at the Seattle 40-yard line. Attempting to take the Seahawks by surprise, Elway lined the offense up in the shotgun formation then punted the ball 37 yards to the Seattle 3-yard line where it was downed by WR Vance Johnson. Unlike the Patriots game the previous year, trapping Seattle deep in their own territory accomplished nothing. The Seahawks were able to drive 97 yards in 13 plays (aided in part by two penalties on the Denver defense) to score a touchdown for the first points of the game.
Punt #5 - Nov 5, 1989 - Pittsburgh at Denver, Denver won 34-7
Facing the Steelers in Denver, the Broncos had scored 10 points while holding Pittsburgh to punts on their first three possessions. In the 2nd quarter, however, things appeared to be shifting in the Steelers favor. One Denver drive came to abrupt end when Elway was intercepted in the end zone. After forcing a punt, Elway was intercepted on the 2nd play of the ensuing drive and Pittsburgh was able to convert that turnover into a touchdown. Still leading 10-7, Denver started their next drive at their own 39-yard line with 10:16 to play in the half. Denver moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 30-yard line in 5 plays. RB Bobby Humphrey lost 4 yards on the first down play. A quarterback draw on 2nd down netted no gain. Elway passed out of the shotgun on third down but the ball fell incomplete. The Broncos lined up the shotgun again on 4th and 14 at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line. Elway punted the ball, but it went into the end zone for a touchback. Each team had one more possession in the 1st half, but neither was able to score.
Punt #6 - Sep 23, 1990 - Seattle at Denver, Denver won 34-31
This punt took place in the 3rd quarter while Denver was holding on to a 28-14 lead. Denver had received the ball on a touchback from the opening kick of the 2nd half. Elway led the team 43 yards in 12 plays, but the drive had stalled at the Seattle 37-yard line. Denver had had a 1st and 10 at the Seattle 44, but a tripping penalty backed them up 10 yards. The Broncos were able to move forward 13 yards on a 9-yard run by Bobby Humphrey and a 4-yard pass to Steve Sewell from John Elway. Facing a 4th and 3 at the Seattle 37-yard line, the Broncos lined up in the shotgun formation. Elway's punt was described in the Game Book as "Elway punts over the goal for a touchback." This leads one to wonder if the punt simply crossed the goal line or actually sailed over the crossbar on the goal post. Seattle was able to score a field goal on the ensuing possession.
Punt #7 - Dec 8, 1991 - Denver at Cleveland, Denver won 17-7
In this game, each team had scored a touchdown in the first half and so the Broncos found themselves in a 7-7 tie in the 3rd quarter. The teams had exchanged punts to open the second half, then, after Denver forced Cleveland to punt on 4th and 14 at the Cleveland 12-yard line, the Broncos got the ball 1st and 10 at their own 49-yard line with 7:34 left in the quarter. Denver burned over 3 minutes off the clock to move the ball 17 yards in 7 plays before stalling out at the Cleveland 34-yard line. The Broncos lined up in the shotgun formation and Elway quick kicked the ball. Unfortunately, the ball ended up in the end zone for a touchback. The Browns were not able to capitalize on this piece of good fortune and returned the ball via punt to the Broncos.
So, there you have it -- Elway the Punter. Makes you wonder what other little tidbits there are in Broncos' histroy, doesn't it?