I've watched the Broncos get railed in Super Bowl XII, and I've watched them squeak by the Raiders to get there in the 1977 AFC Championship. Both of those games kind of made sense. But one thing about that season never made sense to me. How the hell did Craig Morton and company make it past the Steel Curtain in the Divisional Round?
I'm getting in my VHS powered time machine to check it out on Christmas Eve, 1977.
Flux Capacitor Problems - I must've only used about 1.20 gigawatts, because by the time I arrived, the Broncos had already blocked a punt and taken a 7-0 lead.
The 3-4 - Starting lineups are a good reminder that the Orange Crush was a 3-4 team. The Steelers seem addicted to the run against them. I wonder if that's a response to the Ring of Fame backfield of Louis Wright, Steve Foley and Billy Thompson.
East Coast Offense - I saw a bit in a documentary about how during the Steelers’ reign, Bill Walsh was inventing the West Coast Offense in Cincinnati. The Steelers passing game seems to be entirely based on 12 step drops and bombs. That's working nicely for the Broncos blitz packages.
Avis. We try harder. - Holy smokes. I just saw an ad for Avis rental cars starring... Jeffery Tambor. He looked old in 1977 too. Followed by a Goodrich ad with Jeff Daniels!
Jack Lambert is Scary - That is all.
Boom! - Rob Lytle just tried to dodge Mean Joe Greene and got flattened by LC Greenwood. That was loud, even on 1977 microphones.
Not Gonna Lie - Something is definitely wrong with the time machine. Everything is blurry and skipping. The announcers apologized for some audio difficulties. I hope that explains the whispers I've been hearing. I thought it might've been some kind of temporal overlap.
Whiff - Bob Swenson, a Broncos linebacker I've never heard of, just went through Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster like a ghost and stuffed Franco Harris. That can't have happened for many linebackers in the 1970's.
**1yd TD Run by T. Bradshaw**
**Broncos 7 - Steelers 7**
Defenseless Receiver - Tom Jackson just broke up a pass by knocking TE Bennie Cunningham out cold. I think that's 15 yards now. A few plays later, Lyle Alzado's paw causes a Franco Harris fumble and TJ nearly scores on the recovery.
**10-yd run by O. Armstrong**
**Broncos 14 - Steelers 7**
Defense Wins - The Broncos' offense isn't that sophisticated either. If you follow the lead blocker, you find the ball. Morton's footwork is as extensive and busy as Bradshaw's. The defenses, however, both look modernish, employing lots of shifts and stunts. I wonder if defenses were smarter than offenses all across the league in the 1970's.
**1-yd run by F. Harris**
**Broncos 14 - Steelers 14**
Sucker Punch - Mean Joe Green just slugged an O-lineman in the gut. No ejection. Delay of game called on the Broncos for wussing around about it. Later, they hit Greene with a penalty for another gut punch. Broncos coach, Red Miller went after him at halftime and some Broncos fans joined in on a small fracas. 1970's football kind of rules.
Um - Excuse me while I skip the halftime feature on Terry Bradshaw's figure skating wife.
Silly Past People - The Broncos crowd cheered when Rob Lytle returned to the game, replacing Otis Armstrong. I guess they don't know how Otis' career turned out. Later, Armstrong busts a 25 yard run to prove my point. The O-Line is actually getting an inside push against the Steel Curtain.
Original Tebow - Any time Morton tries to throw anything other than a quick out to TE Riley Odoms, it's as ugly as any duck Tebow ever chucked. Bradshaw is the far better QB. He's 8/19 as I write, but it's a function of coverage, not his accuracy. He's agile, decisive and even throws bullets on the run.
Finally - Morton hits a wide open Haven Moses for 25 yards, but the pocket has to hold for about 8 seconds. It's excruciating to my modern sense of timing. Even though I praised the defenses, the pass rushes are getting dominated by both O-Lines.
Jack Lambert Still Scary - The Steelers put up a goal-line stand on four plays from inside the 1. Lambert deflected a pass and then made an impossible stop on a Rob Lytle run. The amount of space he covered in a split second and the amount of force he put on Lytle to stop him was inhuman.
Playtex Bras - 1970's bra ads do not rule. The bra is inside a box and then they start talking about other Esmark products like Latex gloves, sausage and fertilizer. We've come a long way.
Ok, I take it back about Morton - His touchdown pass to Riley Odoms on a corner route was perfect.
**30-yd TD C. Morton to R. Odoms
Broncos 21 - Steelers 14**
Who's a Hall of Famer? - Lynn Swann has a great highlight reel, but his stats aren't that impressive. In this game, Louis Wright has completely erased him. Which one's the Hall of Famer?
Space/Time Continuum Rupture - I don't know what just happened, but there was a flash of light, static and pixels, and suddenly the score was different and it's late in the 4th quarter
**???Time travel is erasing my memory????**
**Broncos 24 - Steelers 21**
Pwnage - The Broncos only scored 7 points, but they had control of the ball and the game for almost the entire 3rd quarter.
C'Mon Man - Bradshaw fails to account for the athleticism of the Orange Crush's linebacking corps and gets picked by a leaping Tom Jackson. Even on the replay, TJ comes from out of nowhere and puts the Broncos squarely in charge.
What??! - My goodness. I just saw a play that I do not understand. If anyone can explain this, please speak up. I'll describe the play: Morton lofts a pass into the end zone. It is tipped by a Bronco receiver and then caught by Haven Moses for an apparent touchdown. The refs, however, wave it off for "tipping." The announcers say there is a rule against two offensive players touching the same pass on one play... Is that still a thing?!?! That was ever a thing?!? Please tell me that's not a rule anymore.
Ps. - On instant replay, you can totally tell it was either tipped by a Steeler or not at all. Broncos kick a FG, but my mind is blown.
**FG by J. Turner**
**Broncos 27 - Steelers 21**
Iced - TJ ices it with another interception playing a deep zone. It's followed by another Morton TD and the Broncos advance.
**44-yd TD C. Morton to J. Dolbin**
**Broncos 34 - Steelers 21**
Nice Joe Greene - He went out of his way to shake hands with Paul Howard (the lineman he slugged in the gut) before the game ended. 1970's football does, indeed, totally rule.
The Broncos defense obviously dominated this game, but it's easy to see the holes (especially on offense) that the Cowboys would later exploit in the Super Bowl. The offense sputtered for three quarters and 17 points came off of TJ's three turnovers. Morton got better as the game went on, but some of his throws were scary wobblers.
The offense's deficiencies made the Orange Crush even more impressive. The thing I noticed most in this game (other than the fact that time travel is really messing with my cognitive abilities) was how awesome the Broncos secondary was in run support. Even though Bradshaw clearly preferred bombs, Billy Thompson, Louis Wright and Bernard Jackson were always there to stop Franco Harris. The Broncos had zero sacks and a pretty light pass rush, but the coverage was immaculate, even the linebackers (how novel!).
It was fun to watch the legendary Steelers, even if they weren't at their best and even more fun to see the Broncos win! Nothing tops beating the Raiders, but this was to date, without a doubt, the high point in Broncos history!
Broncos 34 - Steelers 21