Most of the time, when we think about the Denver Broncos in the 1970s, we think about the Orange Crush Defense and Denver's first Super Bowl appearance in 1977. We may think about their first winning season in 1973 and their gradual rise to playoff relevance.
What may not immediately leap to mind is the number of times that the Broncos opened their season with a home game and the number of times they won those games. Last time we looked at how Denver fared in the season openers of the 1960s. This time, we will look at each of the season openers of the 1970s.
Take a jump with me.
The Broncos opened the 1970s with a win on opening day. After falling behind 0-7, Denver got on the board when an errant Buffalo snap went into the end zone. Buffalo extended the lead to eight points 10-2 but Denver began to work their way back into the game. A 27-yard field goal by Bobby Howfield made the score 10-5 at half. In the 3rd quarter, the Broncos exploded for twenty points: a 3-yard touchdown pass (Tensi to Denson), 27-yard touchdown run by RB Bobby Anderson and two more Howfield field goals (48 and 31 yards, respectively). Buffalo was not able to respond. Denver went on to finish the season at 5-8-1.
September 19, 1971: Miami at Denver, Tie Game 10-10
This was the first time the Broncos had opened a season with a tie. Although, Denver fell behind 3-0 in the first quarter, the Broncos tied the game at 3-3 on a 10-yard field goal by Jim Turner. They took the lead in the third quarter when QB Don Horn hit WR Dwight Harrison for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Miami tied the score in the fourth quarter and the game ended in the tie. Denver finished that season at 4-9-1.
September 17, 1972: Houston at Denver, Denver won 30-17
Denver opened the 1972 season by jumping out to a 17-0 lead over Houston -- a 45-yard Turner field goal, a 3-yard run by QB Steve Ramsey and a 25-yard touchdown pass from Ramsey to TE Billy Masters. Houston cut the lead to 17-10 by halftime. Two Turner field goals (39 and 40 yards) extended the Denver lead to 23-10. Each team scored a touchdown in the fourth. Denver's WR Billy Van Heusen running for 66 yards put the game away for the Broncos after Houston had closed the deficit to 23-17. The Broncos ended the 1972 season with a 5-9-0 record.
September 16, 1973: Cincinnati at Denver, Denver won 28-10
Denver opened what would become it's first winning season in franchise history with a win. The Broncos put two touchdowns on the board in the first quarter -- a 1-yard run by Little, and a 22-yard run by WR Haven Moses. After a Cincinnati field goal in the second quarter, Little added his second
touchdown run of the game (another 1-yard run) for a 21-3 halftime lead. Cincinnati scored their only touchdown of the game in the third quarter to cut the Denver lead to 11. Little scored his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard run to give the Broncos their final margin of 28-10. Denver went on to finish the season at 7-5-2.
September 15, 1974: Los Angeles Rams at Denver, Los Angeles won 17-10
Denver's second winning season did not have an auspicious start. After a scoreless first quarter, the Rams scored 10 points in the second quarter. A 39-yard Turner field goal narrowed the lead to 10-3 in the third but the Rams second touchdown of the day extended their lead to 14 (17-3). A 30-yard touchdown pass from QB Charley Johnson to Van Heusen narrowed the lead to 17-10 but the Broncos were not able to overtake the Rams. Denver finished the season at 7-6-1.
September 21, 1975: Kansas City at Denver, Denver won 37-33
The Broncos opened the 1975 season with what would prove to be a high-scoring, see-saw battle. After falling behind 7-0 in the first, then 10-0 in the second, Denver scored two touchdowns (a 13-yard run by WR Rick Upchurch and a 39-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to WR Jack Dolbin) to take a 14-10 lead. A Kansas City touchdown gave the Chiefs the lead at 17-14 but a 23-yard field goal by Turner tied the score 17-17 at the half. Denver scored first in the third quarter when Johnson and Upchurch connected for a 90-yard touchdown pass play to give the Broncos a 24-17 lead. Kansas City fought back. First with a field goal to make the score 24-20, then a touchdown to take a 27-24 lead, then another field goal to extend their lead to 30-24. When the Chiefs' LB Derrick Thomas stripped the from Broncos' RB Otis Armstrong at the Kansas City 2-yard line, Denver WR Jack Dolbin scooped the ball up for the touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked and Kansas City lead 33-30. However, Denver was not to be denied: Johnson hit Van Heusen with a 10-yard touchdown pass for the victory. 37-33. The Broncos went on to finish that season at 6-8-0.
September 12, 1976: Denver at Cincinnati, Cincinnati won 17-7
In what would prove to be only the second season opener Denver would play on the road in the 1970s and second of their two losses in opening games in the 1970s, the Broncos travelled to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. After a scoreless first half, Denver struck first with a 4-yard touchdown run by Armstrong. Unfortunately, this would prove to be the Broncos' lone score of the game while the Bengals would finish out the game with 17 unanswered points. Denver went on to finish the season at 9-5-0.
September 18, 1977: St. Louis Cardinals at Denver, Denver won 7-0
The 1977 season started slowly for the Broncos. They hosted the St. Louis Cardinals and the only score of the game came in the third quarter when, on Denver's first offensive possession of the second half, Armstrong capped a 4-play, 34-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Broncos went on to a 12-2-0 regular season record and won the AFC West to secure their first ever post season appearance. Denver won the first playoff game in franchise history by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-21 in a divisional round game. They faced division rival Oakland in the AFC Championship game and after taking a 7-3 lead, never trailed in that game. The final was 20-17. Sadly, the Cinderella season came to an end when Denver lost to the Dallas Cowboys 27-10 in Super Bowl XII.
September 3, 1978: Oakland at Denver, Denver won 14-6
Denver followed up their first Super Bowl appearance with a good start to the subsequent season. They hosted divisional rival Oakland to open the season. The Broncos scored first on a 6-yard touchdown pass from QB Craig Morton to Moses. After the Raiders narrowed the gap to 7-6, Armstrong scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run to give Denver the final 14-6 margin. The Broncos went on to finish the season at 10-6-0 and in first place in the AFC West. Unfortunately, they were trounced 33-10 by Pittsburgh in their divisional round playoff game.
September 2, 1979: Cincinnati at Denver, Denver won 10-0
Denver closed out the 1970s with another season opener at home and another win. A 37-yard Turner field goal and a 6-yard touchdown pass from QB Norris Weese to RB Dave Preston were the only scores in the game. The Broncos went on to post a 10-6-0 record and finished 2nd in the AFC West. They qualified for the playoffs but lost 13-7 to the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card Round.
There are some interesting things to note about Denver's season openers in the 1970s:
Opening Day Records
|Opening Day Record||7-2-1||12-7-1|
Records versus Opponents:
|St. Louis Cardinals||1-0-0||1-0-0|
|Los Angeles Rams||0-1-0||0-1-0|
|New York Jets||0-0-0||0-1-0|
|Largest Win||1973||vs Cincinnati||18 pts||28-10||1969||vs Boston||28 pts||35-7|
|Narrowest Win||1975||vs Kansas City||4 pts||37-33||1960||vs Boston||3 pts||13-10|
|Largest Loss||1976||vs Cincinnati||10 pts||17-7||1963||vs Kansas City||52 pts||59-7|
|Narrowest Loss||1974||vs LA Rams||7 pts||17-10||1962||vs San Diego||3 pts||34-31|
Next time: Opening games of the 1980s.