We have taken a look back at the opening day games from the 1960s and the 1970s. We saw how the Broncos had played twelve of those twenty games at home and had won twelve of the twenty contests.
In the 1980s, the Broncos took a huge step forward towards football relevance. They posted a winning record in seven out of those ten seasons (1980-89). In fact, they only had one losing season, 1982 -- a season hit by a 57-day strike which reduced the schedule to just nine games.They qualified for the post season five times in the 1980s and won the AFC Championship three times. Sadly, the Broncos were not able to win any of their Super Bowl appearances in the 1980s.
Take a jump with me.
This decade started with high expectations: the Broncos had gone 10-6-0 and made the post season in 1979 (a loss to the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card round). Unfortunately, the opening contest of the season was a sign of how the team would fare in 1980. The Broncos travelled to Philadelphia where they quickly fell behind 20-0 at the half. Two Fred Steinfort field goals in the the third quarter made it a two-touchdown game. Unfortunately, Denver was not able to generate more offensive scores and fell 27-6. Denver stumbled to an 8-8-0 record.
September 6, 1981: Oakland at Denver, Denver won 9-7
Denver bounced back the following season. They hosted division rival Oakland to start the game and fell behind 7-0. A 44-yard pass from Morton to Upchurch narrowed the score to 7-6 when a two point conversion pass fell incomplete. Steinfort added a field goal in the second quarter to give Denver a 9-7 lead. That proved to be all they needed to win the game. The Broncos finished the season at 10-6-0 and in a tie for 1st place int he AFC West. Unfortunately, they not only lost the divisional tiebreaker with San Diego, they also lost the playoff tiebreaker with the 10-6-0 Buffalo Bills and missed post season play.
September 12, 1982: San Diego at Denver, San Diego won 23-3
1982 was a season marred by a 57-day players' strike and by the move of the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. For the second season in a row, the Broncos opened against a division rival -- San Diego. For the second time in three seasons, Denver opened the season with a loss. After falling behind 3-0, the Broncos tied the score on a 40-yard field goal by Rich Karlis in the second quarter. The scoring was all on San Diego's side after that as they scored another three points in the second quarter and seventeen points in the third. Denver only managed to scrape out a 2-7-0 record.
September 4, 1983: Denver at Pittsburgh, Denver won 14-10
Denver turned their fortunes around when they travelled to Pittsburgh for their second opening game on the road. This was a see-saw battle. The first quarter was scoreless. Then the Broncos struck first on a 1-yard run by RB Sammy Winder in the second. The Steelers tied the game before halftime. The Broncos fell behind 10-7 in third quarter but rallied to win it 14-10 on a 2-yard pass from QB Steve Deberg to TE Ron Egloff. Denver went on to finish the season at 9-7-0 and qualify for the post season as a Wild Card team. Unfortunately, they lost that Wild Card game to Seattle by a score of 31-7.
September 2, 1984: Cincinnati at Denver, Denver won 20-17
Although the Broncos acquired QB John Elway in 1983, Elway only appeared in eleven games -- with ten starts -- and posted a 4-6-0 record. So, 1984 represented Elway's first full season as a starter -- he missed just one game that year. The Broncos started that season with a victory. After falling behind 3-0, Elway rallied the team with a 35-yard pass to WR Butch Johnson (the point after attempt failed) in the second quarter. RB Gene Lang added a touchdown on a 1-yard run to give Denver a 13-3 halftime lead. The Bengals fought back in the third quarter, narrowing the score to 13-10 then took a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Broncos eked out the victory when QB Gary Kubiak completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to TE Clarence Kay. Denver went on to finish the season at 13-3-0 and won the AFC West. They lost to Pittsburgh 24-17 in the divisional round of the playoffs.
September 8, 1985: Denver at Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles won 20-16
This was Denver's third and final opening game on the road of the 1980s. It was also their second loss in an opening game on the road. The Rams struck first with a field goal in the first quarter. Denver tied the score in the second quarter on a 24-yard Karlis field goal. Los Angeles took a 10-3 lead before Elway struck twice: a 28-yard pass to Butch Johnson closed the score to 10-9 (the point after attempt failed), then a 25-yard Elway to WR Clint Sampson touchdown pass gave Denver a 16-10 lead. Unfortunately, Los Angeles was able to post ten points in the fourth quarter for the victory. Denver finished the season at 11-5-0. This put them behind the 12-4-0 Los Angeles Raiders for the division title. Denver then lost the tiebreakers with the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.
September 7, 1986: Los Angeles Raiders at Denver, Denver won 38-36
The Broncos opened this season against one of their most bitter division rivals. Elway opened the scoring with a 35-yard pass to WR Steve Watson. The Raiders surged back to take a 16-7 lead in the first quarter behind two touchdowns and being able to tackle Elway in his own end zone. Los Angeles extended its lead to 19-7 before the Broncos struck back on a 23-yard pass from Elway to RB Steve Sewell. The Raiders added another field goal before Denver's Lang scored on a 1-yard run to make the score Los Angeles 22, Denver 21 at the half. The Raiders again tried to pull away and extended the score to 29-21 but Denver fought back when LB Ken Woodward scooped up a fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown to make the score 29-28, Los Angeles. The Raiders added a touchdown to make it 36-28 at the end of three quarters. The fourth quarter, however, belonged to the Broncos as they scored twice: first on a 51-yard field goal by Rich Karlis, then on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Lang. Denver finished the season at 11-5-0 and won the AFC West. They defeated New England 22-17 in a divisional round game then went on to defeat the Cleveland Browns 23-20 in overtime in the AFC Championship game -- a contest that gave Broncos fans "The Drive." Sadly, Denver was not able to continue their success and fell to the New York Giants 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI.
September 13, 1987: Seattle at Denver, Denver won 40-17
For the fourth time in the first eight seasons of the 1980s, Denver opened the season against a division rival -- this time, the Seahawks. Seattle scored first but Elway tied it on a 72-yard pass to Sewell. The Seahawks then took a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and extended that lead to 17-7 in the second. It was all Denver after that. Two Karlis field goals (37- and 42-yards) narrowed the score to 17-13 before a 4-yard Elway to Watson pass put Denver ahead 20-17 at the half. The Broncos then scored twenty points in the 3rd quarter -- Elway to TE Orson Mobley, 5 yard touchdown pass; Elway to WR Vance Johnson, 59-yard touchdown pass, two Karlis field goals (25- and 29-yards) to give Denver all the points it would need for the victory. The Broncos went on to a 10-4-1 season (1 game was missed due to a players' strike) and their second consecutive AFC West title. Denver defeated the Houston Oilers 34-10 in a divisional round playoff game. They then defeated Cleveland for a second consecutive year, 38-33 in the AFC Championship game. The Washington Redskins proved to be too strong for the Broncos and won Super Bowl XXII handily by a score of 42-10.
September 4, 1988: Seattle at Denver, Seattle won 21-14
For the second consecutive season Denver opened the season at home against Seattle. This marked the fifth time in the 1980s that Broncos opened against a division rival. Sadly, this game did not go Denver's way. Seattle took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter but Elway was able to tie it on a 1-yard pass to Mobley. Seattle put up two more touchdowns in the third quarter and that would prove to be all they would need for the victory, though the Broncos did make it close on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Elway to WR Mark Jackson. Denver finished the season at 8-8-0 and missed the playoffs.
September 10, 1989: Kansas City at Denver, Denver won 34-20
Denver closed out the 1980s by opening at home for a seventh time, and opening against a division rival for a sixth time. This time, it was the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver scored early and often, jumping out to 17-0 lead in the first quarter on a 41-yard field by David Treadwell, a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown by DB Tyrone Braxton and a 2-yard touchdown run by Winder. The Chiefs did make it challenging by scoring ten points of their own in the second quarter and then adding three more points in the third to make it a 17-13 contest. The Broncos responded with a third quarter touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Elway to Sewell, then added three more on a 29-yard Treadwell field goal in the fourth and a 27-13 lead. Kansas City made it interesting by adding a touchdown in the 4th before Denver iced the game when DB Randy Robbins returned an interception 18-yards for a touchdown. The Broncos finished the season at 11-5-0 and added another AFC West title. They defeated Pittsburgh 24-23 in a divisional round game, and defeated Cleveland for a third time in the AFC Championship game, 37-21. In retrospect, the Broncos may have wished that Cleveland had won that game after getting drubbed by San Francisco 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.
There are some interesting things to note about Denver's season openers in the 1970s:
Opening Day Records
|Opening Day Record||6-4-0||18-11-1|
Records versus Opponents
|Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders||2-0-0||3-0-0|
|Los Angeles Rams||0-1-0||0-2-0|
|New England Patriots||0-0-0||4-0-0|
|St. Louis Cardinals||0-0-0||1-0-0|
|New York Jets||0-0-0||0-1-0|
|Largest Win||1987||vs Seattle||23 pts||40-17||1969||vs Boston||28 pts||35-7|
|Narrowest Win||1981||vs Oakland||2 pts||9-7||1981||vs Oakland||2 pts||9-7|
|1986||vs LA Raiders||2 pts||38-36||1986||vs LA Raiders||2 pts||38-36|
|Largest Loss||1980||vs Philadelphia||21 pts||27-6||1963||vs Kansas City||52 pts||59-7|
|Narrowest Loss||1985||vs LA Rams||4 pts||20-16||1962||vs San Diego||3 pts||34-31|
Next time: Opening games of the 1990s.