Key Dates in A.E. (After Elway) Broncos History
1983. The Trade. Elway is picked first in the draft by the Colts and subsequently traded to Denver.
Oct 15, 1984. The Snow Bowl, Broncos vs. Packers on MNF in a raging blizzard. The game caused a boom in ski industry bookings. Ever since, Denver business and government interests have prayed for snow on all our national broadcasts. Rich Karlis kicks game-winning field goal and Broncos win 17-14.
Nov 17, 1985. The Broncos beat the Chargers at Mile High, 30-24. I remember this game for how it ended. The game went into overtime and the Chargers got the ball first and promptly drove to the Denver 23 before trying the game-winning field goal. Dennis Smith charged through the line and blocked the kick. But Denver had called a timeout right before the snap and the Chargers got to rekick. Dennis Smith then ran through the line and blocked the kick AGAIN — and Louis Wright ran the ball back for a touchdown, Broncos win.
Jan 11, 1987. The Drive. Broncos 23, Browns 20. Keith Bishop delivered the most famous line in Broncos history. As the offense huddled with the ball at their own 1 1/2 yard line, down a touchdown with 5:34 left, he said, “We got ’em right where we want ’em.”
The first five plays of The Drive show the Dan Reeves Era in a nutshell (the remaining plays were all Elway):
(5:34) 1st & 10 @ Denver 1.5 yard line. Elway fakes handoff to Willhite, then passes to Winder for five yards.
(about 5:00) 2nd & 5 @ Denver 7-yard line. Pitchout to Winder for three yards.
(4:11) 3rd & 2 @ Denver 10-yard line. Denver calls time out. Winder runs over left guard for two yards and a first down.
(about 4:00) 1st & 10 @ Denver 12-yard line. Winder carries over left tackle for three yards.
(3:40) 2nd & 7, Denver 15-yard line. Forced out of the pocket, Elway scrambles for 11 yards to the Denver 26 and a first down. After this play, there was 2:51 remaining and we were still only at our 26 yard line!
Jan 25, 1987. Super Bowl XXI, Black Sunday #2. Giants 39, Broncos 20. We stayed with my godfather in La Jolla and drove up to the game at the Rose Bowl. Sadly, we had incredible seats, maybe the best I’ve ever had at a Bronco game. Key play: me not attacking the patronizing Giants fans sitting behind us.
Jan 17, 1988. The Fumble. The Broncos beat the Browns 38-33. Key play: With just over a minute left in the game, and with Cleveland at the Broncos three yard-line, Ernest Byner fumbled and Bronco Jeremiah Castille recovered.
Jan 31, 1988. Super Bowl XXII, Black Sunday #3. Redskins 42, Broncos 10. Again we stayed at my godfather’s house in La Jolla but this time the game was at Jack Murphy in San Diego. I’ll never forget our first play of the game, a 56-yard Elway touchdown bomb to Ricky Nattiel. I’ve successfully blocked out the rest of the game. My brother missed the Giants and Redskins Super Bowls because he was in the Peace Corps. He listened to our humiliating losses like he listened to other Broncos games during this period — via Armed Services radio while sitting in a field in the middle of the night in a Senegalese village.
Jan 28, 1990. Super Bowl XXIV, Black Sunday #4. 49ers 55, Broncos 10. I was at Stanford when this game happened and had the privilege of watching this game with a bunch of 49ers fans. Not good times.
Jan 4, 1992. Broncos 26, Oilers 24 at Mile High. The Drive II — Elway’s favorite comeback. I missed seeing this one in person because I was in Washington, D.C. The score was 24-23 Oilers and the Broncos had the ball at their own two yard line. Sound familiar? This time there were only two minutes left and the Broncos had no timeouts. Elway and the Broncos overcame two 4th downs on the drive and Treadwell won the game with a 28-yard field goal with twenty seconds left.
Jan 12, 1992. AFC Championship Game, the Bills beat the Broncos 10-7. I watched this one at a bar in D.C. It’s sad to be almost relieved when your team does not make it to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, the Redskins beat the Bills 37-24 in SBXXVI.
1995. Mike Shanahan hired as head coach.
Sept 17, 1995. Broncos 38, Redskins 31. On the last play of the game, Rod Smith catches a 43-yard touchdown pass from John Elway. It was Smith’s first NFL catch and first TD and it was the only time in Elway’s career that he won the game on the last play. What’s makes this all the sweeter is that I was at the game and the catch was in our end zone. (The end zone nearest our seats.)
Jan 4, 1996. Jaguars 30, Broncos 27. Black Sunday #5. Some might call it the worst loss in Bronco history. I as there and it almost felt more painful than the Super Bowl losses. In my nightmares, I still see Mark Brunell scrambling up and down the Mile High turf and Michael Dean Perry never makes it off the field. I give Brunell credit, though. It was an incredible performance. He only rushed for 44 yards. It seemed more like 400. The good news is that it beat the sense of entitlement out of the Broncos and spurred them to Super Bowls in the next two years.
Dec 27, 1997. Broncos 42, Jaguars 17. The Broncos begin their revenge tour at Mile High.
Jan 4, 1998. Broncos 14, Chiefs 10. They continue it at Arrowhead in Kansas City.
Jan 11, 1998. Broncos 28, Steelers 21. They finish it at Three Rivers in Pittsburgh. The play I remember from this game is that amazing Shannon Sharpe catch that kept our drive alive in the game and kept the Steelers offense off the field.
Jan 25, 1998. The Broncos beat the Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII. During most of this season I was on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. I had very little energy and definitely not the energy I needed to live and die with the Broncos as I usually had done in the past. So as we entered the playoffs, I decided to attain a Zen-like peace with the gridiron. I have never watched Broncos game so intently yet dispassionately. I simply believed we were going to win all our games. It was as if I was pretending I knew the outcomes of the games and was merely watching a replay. For the away games, my Dad and brother would come up from the basement to my makeshift “hospital room” periodically to talk with me about the game. I couldn’t even handle watching them with anyone else. After the Super Bowl, my friends called me from their Super Bowl Party and I was able to celebrate vicariously with them. And laugh as I heard a couple of them had stripped down to nothing and run down the street into the night.
1998. The Broncos go 13-0 before losing to the Giants and then Dolphins in consecutive weeks. We finished 14-2.
Jan 17, 1999. Broncos 23, Jets 10. I got to see this one in person and cheer as loudly as I wanted to with my two healthy donor lungs. I remember worrying about us when we were down 10-0 at the end of the first half but we pulled out a win. It was Elway’s last game at Mile High and he knew it. Shanahan probably did too. At the end of the game, at Shanny’s suggestion, Elway walked around the perimeter of the field waving at the wildly cheering fans with the AFC Championship trophy.
Jan 31, 1999. The Broncos beat the Falcons 34-10 in Super Bowl XXXIII. More cheering and no small amount of beer. My family has had season tickets since the late 60s and we have a low priority number. That’s how we got tickets to the Broncos first three Super Bowls. No dice on tickets for the last three though.
Sept 10, 2001. Broncos 31, Giants 20 on MNF in the first regular season game at Invesco Field at Mile High. I was there and remember the most memorable and horrible moment — McCaffrey getting hit and his leg breaking. The next day, as they say, the world changed.
Jan 14, 2006. Broncos 27, Patriots 13. The last Broncos playoff win. Key play: Champ Bailey’s INT of Tom Brady two yards deep in our end zone. He ran it back to the Patriot one-yard line before being knocked out of bounds in an incredible show of hustle by Patriot TE Ben Watson.
MY TOP TEN ALL-TIME FAVORITE BRONCOS
1. John Elway (83-98), #7. Is he the best QB in pro football history? I think so. Blah blah blah Montana Marino blah blah Manning Brady. I could say, you’re behind with two minutes left in the 4th quarter, who would you put in? Elway, of course. With Elway, the game was never over until the final gun. This was a great advantage for the Broncos and disadvantage for their opponents because the Broncos never lost confidence they could win. They could be down two touchdowns in the 4th quarter and, as one Bronco lineman said, you could still see the fear in the defense’s eyes. But the ultimate argument for Elway’s greatness is: which QB would you rather watch play? Nobody was more fun to watch than John Elway. He may not have always had the best game stats but do you want great stats or do you want to win? In this respect, I think his contemporary equivalent is Vince Young. John just won games. In Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers, he didn’t have great stats. But no play inspired the team more than his famous helicopter dive.
2. Terrell Davis (95-02), #30. Without him, we would not have those two Super Bowl wins. Like Elway, he was fun to watch. He was smooth and deadly in his cuts. I have to confess one thing though: I’ve always thought the Mile High Salute was kind of dumb. (Like the IN-COM-PLETE chant at the stadium.) But dammit, if Terrell wanted to salute he could salute.
3. Steve Atwater (89-98), #27. The guy was a force.
4. Louis Wright (75-86), #20. He was Champ Bailey before Champ was Champ. The most exciting part of any game is a big play on defense. Wright gave us a lot of them.
5. Craig Morton (77-82), #7 & Haven Moses (72-81), #25. The M & M Connection.
6. Tom Jackson (73-86), #57 & Randy Gradishar (74-83), #53. The heart and soul of the Orange Crush.
7. Rod Smith (94-present), #80. Undrafted free agent makes it big. Nobody works harder and does more for the team. I really hated it when Shanahan put him back to receive punts, especially in recent years. Can he get a play off? Sadly, he’s been injured and his career may be over.
8. Ed McCaffrey (95-03), #87. I’m not just putting him on this list for that incredible block in the Super Bowl. And not just because he was never afraid to run across the middle and take the big hit and get up almost every time (with a neck bob or two). And not just because I named my dog after him. For all these things and his work ethic and drive.
9. Tyrone Braxton (87-93,95-99), #34. The guy who barely made the team every year. All he did was make big plays when we needed them most.
10. Rich “Tombstone” Jackson (67-72), #87. Is it the Fu Manchu mustache? The nickname? The brute force of his trademark head slap? The fact that he looked like a beast on the field, a man among boys? I’m not sure but for some reason he is my favorite Broncos of all the Broncos who were really before my time. Floyd Little probably should be my favorite Bronco in this category but for some reason Tombstone is. It’s too bad Tombstone injured his knee in 1972. Might he have still been playing in ’77? We sure could have used him in that Super Bowl.
Honorable Mention: I’ve come to realize that Honorable Mentions on lists like this are a cop-out. Yeah, my combos are also cheating a bit.
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Denver Broncos History, by Adrian Dater (2007). If I were to recommend one of these books, it would be this one. These books all tell many of the same stories — e.g., the Half-Loaf Game, Floyd Little tests as a homicidal maniac, and the meatball story. So reading them all can be a little repetitive. This is the best-written overview.
Game of My Life, Denver Broncos: Memorable Stories of Broncos Football, by Jim Saccomano (2007). This one has some great biographies of various important Broncos and the gimmick (a good one) is that Saccomano asks each guy what game he considers the game of his life. I enjoyed reading about some of the Ring of Fame guys I really didn’t know much about.
NFL Films: Denver Broncos – The Complete History. This would make a great Christmas gift for any Broncos fans. I loved the older, pre-Elway footage best because the post-Elway footage was already so familiar to me. They had shots of the old Bears Stadium, Harrison catching a TD pass (I think it was the same Harrison who pulled the gun on Alzado), and some shots of Frank Tripucka looking more like a fifty-year old brewmaster than an NFL quarterback, along with some other good stuff. The extras are great too — extended biographies of John Ralston, Tombstone Jackson, Floyd Little and others.
’77: Denver, The Broncos, and a Coming of Age, by Terry Frei (2007). This book isn’t out yet but I’m really looking forward to it. It comes out December 1st. I read Frei’s book about the 1942 Wisconsin Badger football team going to fight in WWII and enjoyed it. This should be a great history of the craziest year in Broncos history.
Floyd Little’s Tales from the Broncos Sideline, by Floyd Little and Tom Mackie (2006). Well-written account of Little’s life. I enjoyed it because I didn’t know a lot about him.
Mile High: The story of Lyle Alzado and the amazing Denver Broncos, by Lyle Alzado with Paul Zimmerman (1978). Fun account of Alzado’s life and the first Super Bowl season.
Stadium Stories: Denver Broncos: Colorful Tales of the Orange and Blue, by Larry Zimmer (2004). This general history was a little disappointing. I love Larry Zimmer but I think he’s a much better broadcaster than he is a writer. My kingdom for some transition sentences!
Sunday Best – The Making of a Stadium: Invesco Field At Mild High, by Jefferson County Students. This is like a yearbook for the building of Invesco Field at Mile High and it’s put together by some local high school students with a big assist from the Metropolitan Football Stadium District. Kind of a fun coffee table type of book. My only complaint is that it doesn’t talk in detail about the finances of the stadium, other than to say the Broncos paid for 25% of the stadium plus cost overruns (the stadium was built slightly under-budget).
The official website of our Denver Broncos. They have some great Bronco history on there. I have to give Pat Bowlen a lot of credit for his emphasis on Bronco history. The Ring of Fame, for instance, was his idea.
Go to Part Uno