Things were tough in the 70's, especially in the mid 70's. Only four playoff teams per conference qualified for the playoffs. In 1976, not even the 13-1 Oakland Raiders, with the best record in the AFC received a bye. There were no wild cards, and unfortunately, finishing 2nd in a division with a winning record was no guarantee that the team would make it to the tournament.
The Broncos were one of those teams that were left out. That season, the four playoff contenders were the Raiders, Colts, Patriots, and Steelers. The Steelers were the final wildcard team awarded a playoff berth with a 10-4 record. They edged out their division rival Cincinnati Bengals (also 10-4) and Denver Broncos (9-5) for the final playoff spot.
The 76 Broncos were a top 10 team both offensively and defensively scoring a 7th best 22.5 points per game and allowing a 6th best 14.7 points per game. Four of their 5 losses that season were at the hands of teams with better records than them. They lost twice to the Raiders (17-10 and 19-6 respectively), once to the Bengals (17-7), once to the Oilers (17-3), and once to the New England Patriots (38-14). In fact, the only team the 76' Broncos beat that year with a winning record were the 9-5 Cleveland Browns. The combined record of the teams they beat that season was 30-65 (.316).
1976 would be the final year of John Ralston's coaching tenure. His teams went a combined 34-33-3 during his 5 year coaching tenure. Broncos players issued a protest vote of "no confidence" in their coach and Ralston resigned following the 1976 season.
Cool 76 Factoids:
- The expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished 0-14 were originally an AFC West team. The following year in 1977, the Bucs were moved to the NFC Central Division. In their only meeting as division rivals, the Broncos beat the Buccaneers 48-13. Bucs QB Steve Spurrier finished 16-32 for 131 yards and an INT. Steve Ramsey went 9-18 for 200 yards and 2 TD's. Broncos RB Otis Armstrong led all rushers with 116 yards on the ground. Both Randy Gradishar and John Rowser had a pick-6.
- In his sophomore season, Rick Upchurch returned 4 punts for a TD. He accumulated 1461 all purpose yards as a receiver, rusher, kick returner, and punt returner.
- Otis Armstrong and Rick Upchurch were the Broncos only pro bowl selections in 1976. Upchurch was also voted All-Pro.
Notable Broncos to wear #76:
Ken Lanier 1981-1992
Current Bronco wearing #76: