Who was the best Denver Broncos player of the 1970s decade?

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With the 1960s Denver Broncos player poll open, it's time to get started on the 1970s and you can expect it to be all about the Orange Crush defense.
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It took fifteen seasons, but the Denver Broncos finally became a winning organization by the mid-1970s and it was due entirely to the Orange Crush defense. No defense in Broncos history was as good or as ferocious as that unit and it has been something fans have wanted to see return to Denver ever since. Hopefully even as soon as this upcoming season.

Just like yesterday, I will provide a list of nominees and it will be YOU the reader who votes to decide which Bronco great deserves the honor as the best player of this decade. One of the prerequisites to make the cut, is to be honored on the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.

Nominees for the 1970s

From the Orange Crush defense, there are so many names worthy of inclusion within this debate. I will profile the three I believe are most deserving, but I will include an honorable mentions section for the rest and make sure all of these great Bronco players are on the poll for you to vote on.

Randy Gradishar (1974-1979)

In my view, Randy Gradishar is the greatest player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not only do the stats show this to be true, but so does the tape. Without Gradishar, there is no Orange Crush defense. There are no winning seasons in the 1970's. There would be no beating the Oakland Raiders in the 1977 AFC Championship game. There would have been no first Super Bowl appearance. Randy Gradishar was the motor that powered that greatness, much like Von Miller is the motor that will power the Broncos current defense.

(lol at the last 30 seconds of the video ... I'll take the advertising for that awesome footage)

The biggest shame is that outside of Denver, writers do not believe the official stats kept by the Broncos organization during those years. Whatever those tackle stats may be, the stats that outsiders do agree on are also Hall of Fame kind of good.

Randy Gradishar Mike Singletary Brian Urlacher Ray Lewis
Seasons 10 12 13 17
Games 145 179 182 228
Tackles 2049+ 1488 1353 2061
Avg/G 14.1 8.3 7.4 9.0
Fumble Rec. 13 12 15 20
Avg/G 0.09 0.07 0.08 0.09
Interceptions 20 7 22 31
Avg/G 0.14 0.04 0.12 0.14
Sacks 20.5 19 41.5 41.5
Avg/G 0.14 0.10 0.22 0.18
Pro Bowls 7 10 8 13
All Pro 5 8 4 7
Other Awards DPOY 1978 DPOY 1985, 1988 DPOY 2005 DPOY 2000, 2003

How not a single player from that storied Orange Crush defense is represented in the Hall of Fame is a damn travesty. Somehow, us fans need to figure out a way to get those people with votes to correct that travesty. This is not just some homer complaining either, the Orange Crush defense finished near the top of the NFL nearly every year. Again, the stats do not lie. I will start from the year before their first winning record.

YEAR PTS RNK TOTAL RNK PASS RNK RUSH RNK
1975 18th 9th 7th 13th
1976 6th 8th 12th 3rd
1977 3rd 9th 25th 1st
1978 2nd 6th 14th 6th
1979 5th 10th 23rd 1st

You don't have that kind of consistency year after year unless you have great players and great talent on the roster. Any team can have one good season, but this defense had a Top 10 total defense every season in total yards and nearly a Top 5 in points allowed every season as well. And Randy Gradishar was the catalyst for it all.

Billy Thompson (1970-1979)

A guy I would name as the most consistent Broncos player of this decade, would be Bill Thompson. The early part of his career was spent turning heads as a returner, even taking that job away from Floyd Little. He never had a touchdown return, but he certainly had the yards. However, he also was the most consistent defender on the roster for over a decade.

Thompson could always be counted upon to come up with several game changing players every season, whether it be a huge interception or a fumble recovery, the guy had a knack for finding the football and also the endzone. It was Thompson who helped the Broncos stymie the Oakland Raiders in the Broncos first ever appearance on Monday Night Football, with an 80 yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown. They would end up in a 23-23 tie.

YEAR TEAM GMS INT YDS LNG TD FF FR YDS TD
1969 DEN 14 3 92 57 1 4 3 0 0
1970 DEN 9 2 65 33 0 1 1 0 0
1971 DEN 14 5 83 42 0 5 2 15 0
1972 DEN 8 1 4 4 0 0 0 0 0
1973 DEN 14 3 96 59 1 2 2 80 1
1974 DEN 14 5 105 38 1 1 2 0 0
1975 DEN 14 2 97 49 0 1 0 0 0
1976 DEN 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1977 DEN 14 5 122 38 0 0 3 16 0
1978 DEN 16 4 0 0 0 0 2 4 1
1979 DEN 16 4 57 28 0 0 2 28 1
1980 DEN 16 2 49 36 0 0 2 32 1
1981 DEN 16 4 14 0 0 0 2 0 0
Career Stats 179 40 784 59 3 14 21 175 4

Because of his versatility in all areas on defense from coverage ability to run support, Thompson still holds the team record for turnovers with 61. Forty of those came from interception, but the rest came from fumble recoveries. That should tell you all you need to know about how much of a difference maker Billy Thompson was for the Orange Crush defense.

Thompson was named all-AFC four times (1977, 1978, 1979, 1981), the Pro Bowl three times (1977, 1978, 1981) and an All-Pro (1977). He retired at the top of his game in 1981 and was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1987.

Haven Moses (1972-1979)

I could not bring myself to not include any offensive players on this list, so I chose Haven Moses to represent the greatest offensive Bronco of the 1970's. If Lionel Taylor was great statistically, Moses was great psychologically. To me, Randy Gradishar is the football greatest player, Billy Thompson the most consistent, and Haven Moses the most inspirational. All three played very important roles in the Broncos rise to prominence that the organization continues to enjoy to this day.

YEAR TEAM GMS REC YDS AVG TD LNG
1968 BUF 14 42 633 15.1 2 55
1969 BUF 14 39 752 19.3 5 55
1970 BUF 14 39 726 18.6 2 45
1971 BUF 12 23 470 20.4 2 73
1972 BUF 5 3 60 20.0 1 25
1972 DEN 8 15 224 14.9 5 33
1973 DEN 14 28 518 18.5 8 76
1974 DEN 13 34 559 16.4 2 42
1975 DEN 14 29 505 17.4 2 42
1976 DEN 14 25 498 19.9 7 71
1977 DEN 14 27 539 20.0 4 35
1978 DEN 16 37 744 20.1 5 42
1979 DEN 16 54 943 17.5 6 64
1980 DEN 15 38 674 17.7 4 33
1981 DEN 16 15 246 16.4 1 30
Career Stats 199 448 8091 18.1 56 76

His stats were not really all that impressive, but it was how he got those stats that set him apart from the rest. In fact, I would call him the Lynn Swann of the Broncos. He came up big when it mattered the most. In fact, he may even have been a bigger game breaker than Swann as Moses held an 18.1 yard per reception mark for his entire career compared to 16.3 for Swann. That puts Moses 20th all-time in NFL history, which puts him almost a full yard ahead of the next Bronco on the list in Steve Watson.

Why does he make my list over guys like Louis Right or Rick Upchurch? It really comes down to one game; the 1977 AFC Championship against the hated Oakland Raiders. In that game, Haven Moses would have just five catches, but those five catches produced an explosive 168 yards and the Broncos only two touchdowns in the game. Craig Morton would complete passes for just 56 yards to everyone else. The performance was so impressive that after the game, the team was asked, "How led us to the promised land?" to which they responded in a thunderous roar, "Moses Moses Moses!"

Vote for the best!

Aside from Randy Gradishar, Billy Thompson and Haven Moses, I have also included Tom JacksonLouis WrightRick UpchurchPaul Smith and Lyle Alzado.  Any one of those players could have a valid argument to be voted on for this decade.

So who would you choose for the greatest Bronco player of the 1970s? Vote in the poll below.

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