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Super Bowl History: The 1977 Denver Broncos Rise to Power

The 1977 season for the Denver Broncos was one of legend and lives on today as strong as ever, shaping the fanbase into a maniacal one full of orange fervor.
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By the Fall of 1977, the Denver Broncos had existed for 18 years without a single playoff appearance. It was a long climb from the bottom of the barrel to football excellence. Ironically, 1977 was also the second season for the Seattle Seahawks who had joined the AFC Western Division only to be manhandled by the Orange Crush defense early in the season, 24-13.

The Broncos rise to prominence wasn’t about beating down the fledgling Seahawks franchise though; it was about the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders we know and hate today are the bottom of the barrel, but their heyday was definitely the 1970’s when most of us were either not even twinkles in our parent’s eye or still learning how to not soil ourselves on a daily basis.

It's all over fat man! -Tom Jackson to John Madden
October 16, 1977

The Broncos, led by Randy Gradishar and the Orange Crush defense, steamrolled through the regular season to a 12-2 record and the best record in the AFC, which afforded them home field advantage through the playoffs.

Week Date Opponent Result Game site Record Attendance
1 18-Sep St. Louis Cardinals W 7–0 Mile High Stadium 1–0 75,002
2 25-Sep Buffalo Bills W 26–6 Mile High Stadium 2–0 74,897
3 2-Oct at Seattle Seahawks W 24–13 Kingdome 3–0 53,108
4 9-Oct Kansas City Chiefs W 23–7 Mile High Stadium 4–0 74,878
5 16-Oct at Oakland Raiders W 30–7 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 5–0 53,616
6 23-Oct at Cincinnati Bengals W 24 – 13 Riverfront Stadium 6–0 54,395
7 30-Oct Oakland Raiders L 14–24 Mile High Stadium 6–1 75,007
8 6-Nov Pittsburgh Steelers W 21–7 Mile High Stadium 7–1 74,967
9 13-Nov at San Diego Chargers W 17–14 San Diego Stadium 8–1 45,211
10 20-Nov at Kansas City Chiefs W 14–7 Arrowhead Stadium 9–1 54,050
11 27-Nov Baltimore Colts W 27–13 Mile High Stadium 10–1 74,939
12 4-Dec at Houston Oilers W 24–14 Astrodome 11–1 46,875
13 11-Dec San Diego Chargers W 17–9 Mile High Stadium 12–1 74,905
14 18-Dec at Dallas Cowboys L 6–14 Texas Stadium 12–2 63,752

The biggest games of the regular season were against the aforementioned Raiders. The Broncos went into Oakland and embarrassed a good Raiders football team, 30-7 in Week 5 of the regular season. Tom Jackson after that game yelled out at John Madden on the sideline, It's all over fat man!" as the Broncos asserted their dominance over the AFC West. However, the Raiders would then come into Denver two weeks later and hand out a 24-14 defeat, so the rivalry had certainly intensified and nothing really was over at that point.

Much like the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers this season, that heated rivalry carried over into the playoffs. In the AFC Championship game, the Denver Broncos finally ended the domination of the Raiders over our beloved franchise once and for all. Never again, would the Raiders win 20 consecutive games or even half that against the Broncos.

The 20-17 victory sent the mile high city into the stratosphere, giving prophetic meaning to the words Tom Jackson had taunted John Madden with earlier in the season.

I found fragments of that historic day on YouTube, so I added those at the bottom of this story. Oh and wouldn't you know it, 1978 was also The Year of the Horse. They finally overcame their arch nemesis, but a new one was about to rear its ugly head. The Super Bowl.

Round Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance
Divisional Playoffs 24-Dec Pittsburgh Steelers W 34–21 Mile High Stadium 75,011
AFC Championship 1-Jan Oakland Raiders W 20–17 Mile High Stadium 74,982
Super Bowl XII 15-Jan Dallas Cowboys L 10–27 Louisiana Superdome 76,400

The final act of that glorious 1977 season was a rematch against the equally dominant Dallas Cowboys, who also finished the season 12-2. The Cowboys got a few dubious calls to go their way and the game got away from the Broncos as their offense was built for close, defensive struggles. In the end, the Super Bowl loss could not diminish the greatness of that first playoff run and how it forever put the Broncos franchise on the winning track that it continues to enjoy today.

That first Super Bowl loss did not crush the souls of Broncomaniacs that day, but some twenty years later and three more crushing Super Bowl defeats, it would be the biggest heartache for all of us fans. It would take another heroic season to slay that dragon, but that is for another post.