With the Denver Broncos first playoff game since 2005 looming large tomorrow, let's take a moment to look back at the Broncos' very first playoff appearance. Sure, the six years that have gone by since Denver was last in the playoff seems like a long time, but it's not our longest drought by far. In their first seventeen year of existence, the Broncos never once tasted the playoffs. In 1977, that all changed.
On December 24, 1977 the Pittsburgh Steelers - the Terry Bradshaw & Steel Curtain Steelers - came to Mile High in Denver's first experience with the playoffs and success.
Stick with me after the jump for a look at this historic matchup.The Divisional Playoff meeting between the Steelers and Broncos was actually their second meeting of that year. On November 6, 1977 the Steelers came to Denver confident that they would shut down the Broncos much as the Raiders had the week before. By halftime the Steelers had been shutout. Rob Lytle ran for a TD, Rick Upchurch returned a kick for a TD and Craig Morton/Haven Moses connected for a touchdown. For the rest of the game, Morton would only throw five more completions for 101 yards. Interesting note, according to Terry Frei's book '77: Denver, The Broncos and a Coming of Age, Craig Morton missed the post game press conference in order to make a flight to be married the following day (he was back in time for meetings on Tuesday). So... Broncos Country be sure to mark November 7th on your calendars as Craig Morton's anniversary.
As fate would have it, the Broncos (13-2) would see the Steelers (9-6) again at Mile High, this time on Christmas Eve. It's easy to see how the Steelers could have been favored to beat the Broncos regardless their regular season records. The Steelers roster included 11 future Hall-of-Famers (including owner and coach) while the Broncos featured just... ahem.. none. Not one. As it would seem, one team should have been happy to just be there while the other team was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
Leading up to the game, again quoting Frei's book, scalpers were "getting between $25-$35" which appears to be only slightly less than tickets for tomorrows game are going for on the NFL Ticket Exchange website. Leading up to the game, many people don't know this, but Craig Morton had a pretty severely injured hip that required treatment from doctors and chiropractic student/Broncos WR Jack Dolbin.
Rob Lytle and Otis Armstrong would combine rushing touchdowns for 14 points tying the game at the conclusion of the first half. Riley Odoms would haul in a catch a 30-yard pass from Craig Morton for a touchdown in the third quarter. Then, to cap it all off in the fourth quarter, two Jim Turner field goals and a 34-yard Jack Dolbin catch for a touchdown would seal the Steelers fate. The Broncos won, 34-21. The player of the game, however, would be on defense. Tom Jackson picked off Terry Bradshaw twice and recovered a Franco Harris fumble. I think it's absolutely hilarious that Jackson and Bradshaw are both commentators on competing pregame shows all these years later.
Craig Morton was a Tebow-esque 11 for 23, for 164 yards. Following the Pittsburgh game, he checked into St. Luke's Hospital where he would remain until a few hours before the following week's AFC Championship game against the Raiders. His hip was black and blue (some reports even say green). So battered was he that Red Miller had to tie his shoes in order for him to take the field against Oakland. You want to talk about a gamer, let's talk about Craig Morton.
So, what does all this have to do with tomorrow?
For all those that say the Broncos don't have a chance, I beg to differ. If the Broncos of 1977 with a horrifically beat up quarterback could best what is probably the most hyped defense of all time, we got a chance. If the birth of Broncos playoff football has taught us anything, it's that no matter what people think of our presence in the playoffs the mere fact that we're there is opportunity enough to shock everyone and play great football. Nobody picked us in 1977 as favorites to go to the Super Bowl... Just like very few are picking us to win tomorrow.
Here's hoping the Broncos conjure up a little of that vintage 1977 mojo and come victorious...
Long live the Orange Crush and the Mile High Salute.