Not having Broncos playoff football this time of year is a disappointment. However, it’s not the first time in their history they’ve had to build on meager success to carve out an identity. Recently, I stumbled upon the Denver’s very first appearance on Monday Night Football, available for viewing on YouTube.
Over the years, I have heard about how big a deal this game was for the city of Denver. National exposure in those days was few and far between. Only the most worthy of teams had appeared on Monday Night Football since its premiere in 1970. The Broncos were hardly that, especially on the national stage, at that time and, because of their history and bizarre time zone, they weren’t at all part of the national football conversation.
On October 22, 1973, Howard Cossell, Don Meredith, and Frank Gifford descended upon the Mile High City to call this historic game in Broncos history. Mayor William McNichols declared it an “Orange Monday” wherein every Broncos fan was urged to wear orange.
I haven’t seen so much orange since we played Texas in 1957. - Don Meredith
The city of Denver lavished attention on the three Monday Night Football broadcasters during the three days prior to the game and even threw them a luncheon for which they all said they were grateful.
During the game, the fans and team were showcased as the rest of the country had no real idea of who they were. While Howard Cossell took time to detail how devout Broncos fans were, there was the air of inferiority that permeated his commentary as though he expected the Broncos to bottom-out against the all-mighty Oakland Raiders. Don Meredith balanced things out by commenting on how pretty the girls were in Denver... multiple times.
Howard Cossell seemed surprised as Denver Broncos legends disproved whatever unspoken misconceptions he may have held throughout the game. Charley Johnson, Lyle Alzado, Floyd Little, Riley Odoms, Billy Thompson, Paul Smith, Barney Chavous, and Haven Moses all took his breath away, not with their superior play, but with their commitment, grind-it-out tenacity.
These were Broncos Ring-of-Famers that were going up against Hall-of-Famers Willie Brown, Fred Bilitnikoff, Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Jack Tatum, and a 37-year old John Madden. Yet, the Denver Broncos, on that night, were every bit as good as they were.
It was a different time back then. In the pregame ceremonies, you could audibly hear the entire stadium sing the National Anthem (but not John Madden). Head coach John Ralston encouraged hand-holding in the huddle, much to the bewilderment of the broadcasters. There were hand-drawn signs on the old chain link fence at Mile High.
One of the best things about this broadcast on YouTube is that the original commercial are part of it. I don’t know whatever happened to “Skittle Pool” or “Skittle Bowl,” but I think I need to get a couple sets off eBay if they’re available. Most notable of the commercials was this little gem with Bill Cosby who, in all cringey-ness, declares multiple times that he’s gonna “get you.”
The Monday Night Football broadcast of the 1973 Broncos-Raiders game was a moment in time that will never happen again. This was a time when the Broncos fight song was played by a band multiple times during a game and not just as part of pre-game ceremony. When kickers like Jim Turner and George Blanda kicked straight-on and not soccer style. Shoot, back then Gillete Razors only had two blades.
In this era of frustrating football, it’s refreshing to look back at a time when a tie was considered a win and Broncos fans were devoted despite their struggles. Here’s to history and the Denver Broncos.
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1973 MNF - Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (1st Half) - YouTube
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