In 1960, the Denver Broncos began play in the American Football League Western Division with the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Texans (Kansas City Chiefs), and San Diego Chargers. It's this core that that became the AFC West after the AFL-NFL merger and it stands today as the oldest continuous division in the NFL. While the Seattle Seahawks enjoyed a run with the big boys from 1977-2002, the other AFC West team that is often forgotten is the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 1976, the Tampa Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks were added as NFL expansion teams to satiate a term of the merger agreement between the AFL and NFL. Needing a division to place the teams into, the NFL decided that pretty much anywhere would do. While the placement of the Seahawks in the NFC West, where they currently reside, made sense, putting the Florida-based Buccaneers in the AFC West is a head scratcher to say the least.
Expansion teams are historically horrible and the 1976 Buccaneers were the gold standard for awful. It's important to note that in 1976 the Broncos and Buccaneers only met one time. Thank goodness for Tampa Bay, their record 26-game losing streak would likely have much longer.
...but who were the 1976 Denver Broncos?
The 1976 Denver Broncos were a team on the rise. After having never had a winning record in their history, the Broncos would finish with a 9-5 record, but would miss the playoffs. This was the year that Woody Paige coined the 'Orange Crush' moniker that the 1977 Denver Broncos would live up to. Although the Broncos first Super Bowl was still a year away, the seeds of something special were being sown and they were on display. November 7, 1976.
The 5-4 Denver Broncos welcomed the 0-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a chilly and sold out Mile High Stadium. Denver struck first with a Jim Turner field goal and a 36-yard pass to running back Otis Armstrong from quarterback Steve Ramsey.
Tampa Bay responded with a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter. Unfortunately, the Broncos were unable to respond before the end of the half.
The third quarter became interesting when Ramsey threw an interception detailed by longtime Mile High Report member broncfanstuckinsd in this 2008 article written by Tim Lynch.
When the score was tied at 10 [Broncos quarterback Steve Ramsey] throws a pick to a TB LB, but as luck would have it, or in the Bucs case no luck, he falls down as he is streaking towards the endzone. Denver's defense holds them to a FG.
Those would be the last points that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would score that day.
Next offensive series Ramsey hits [wide reciever] Haven Moses on 71 yard TD pass to put Denver up 17-13. After that it was all Denver, well mostly the defense. As [linebacker Randy] Gradishar, and [defensive back] John Rowser both had a 31 and 32 yd int returns for TD, respectfully. Sanwhiched in between [running back] Lonnie Perrins TD run. To end it all Randy Poltl returned a fumble for 6. Denver ends up winning 48-13.
It was an okay day for the Denver Broncos on offense. Steve Ramsey completed 50% of his passes for 200-yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Otis Armstrong had a great day, hitting 116-yards on 18 attempts. Steve Spurrier, (yes, that Steve Spurrier) had a typically terrible day, going 16 for 32 attempts for 131 yards and an interception.
In 1977, both Steve Ramsey and Steve Spurrier would both get cut in camp before the season began. Ramsey, by the New York Giants and Spurrier by the Denver Broncos... what a small world.
The Broncos defense clearly did a stellar job and are the reason for the huge margin of victory over Tampa Bay. However, because defensive stat keeping back then wasn't what it is today, the only defensive blips in the box score are Gradishar and Rowser's interceptions.
When Denver travels to Tampa for this Sunday's game, they should keep the 48-13 shellacking of 1976 in the back of their minds. No team beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worse during their first and only year in the AFC West than the Denver Broncos did that day. Heck, nobody beat them worse during their historic 26-game losing streak than the Denver Broncos did. Let's celebrate the 40th anniversary of that Broncos victory in style with a tribute win.