My co-hosts and I at Something Something Broncos continued our trek down Denver Broncos memory lane this week. We had already delved into the vaunted Orange Crush defense a few weeks ago, but we jumped ahead a decade or so to the fabulous late 1980s with the Three Amigos.
For about two years starting in 1987, there was John Elway and then there were the Three Amigos - Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Ricky Nattiel. They were larger than life for that short period of time and it was a fun ride.
Drafted in the second round, 31st overall, Vance Johnson was the tallest of the three at 5’11” and a speedy kind of deep threat who once ran a 4.28 40-yard dash. Johnson was the only one of the Three Amigos to crack the 1,000 yard plateau and he did it only once in 1989. However, it was how all three complemented each other - especially how Mark Jackson and Johnson complemented each other.
My favorite Vance Johnson story came when I was 12 years old in 1991. I lived in Northern California and would only get to watch the Broncos on television a few times a year, unless they went to the playoffs. Well they went to the playoffs that year. I got to watch The Drive II live and when Elway rolled out on fourth down and 10 finding Johnson wide open for the game-winning throw that set Denver up for a field goal that would hand them with a 26-24 win over the Houston Oilers I went absolutely nuts. It was probably the first time I ever lost my shit during a Broncos game. It wouldn’t be the last.
At 5’9”, Jackson wasn’t a big guy, but he played bigger than he looked. It could have been due to the fact that he came into the league as a sixth round pick with a lot to prove. He became John Elway’s security blanket in the late 1980s.
His biggest game, and my favorite Mark Jackson story, was from The Drive during the 1986 playoffs. I became a Broncomaniac that day living in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. While I cannot pinpoint exactly what I remember from that day, mostly due to the fact that I’ve rewatched this game a hundred times since, I do know that Mark Jackson had his best moments as a professional football player in this final moments. He and Elway connected to convert a critical 3rd and 18 and then Elway found him for the game-tying touchdown. He’ll forever live on as a part of that legendary drive.
When the Broncos drafted Nattiel in the first round (27th overall) of the 1987 NFL Draft, he was supposed to put the Broncos over the top offensively. Initially he did just that, setting a Broncos rookie record with 20.3 yards per catch after hauling in 31 passes for 630 yards in his rookie year. He had an even better second season, but after that his career kind of flamed out a bit as the league evolved towards bigger, strong wide receivers.
However, he’ll forever be the guy who scorched the Washington Redskins on the first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XXII. If only that 10-0 lead didn’t turn into a 42-10 blowout loss that year.
Those are my favorite Three Amigo stories. What are yours?