Days of glory and days gone by, but always as a Bronco fan I will never forget the 1977 Denver Broncos. "The Orange Crush."
After the 1976 season (the same year I graduated High School), Denver Broncos head coach John Ralston stepped down as the coach and Denver welcomed in Red Miller as the new leader of the Broncos on January 1, 1977. We knew this was going to be something special. Although Red only coached for 4 years with Denver (1977-1980) we always will remember him the most for that 1 unforgettable season.
Red took a team of talented defensive players and solidified a team that was already beginning to show dominance while with Ralston. A defense that gelled. A defense that helped the Broncos to a 12-2 regular season record. The only 2 losses coming at the hands of the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys on the final game of regular season.
The 1st string defense consisted of NT Rubin Carter, RILB Randy Gradishar (1977 1st team All-Pro, Pro Bowl), ROLB Tom Jackson (1977 1st team All-Pro, Pro Bowl), LILB Joe Rizzo, LOLB Bob Swenson, RDE Lyle "the animal" Alzado (1977 1st team All-Pro, Pro Bowl), LDE Barney Chavous, SS Bill Thompson (1977 1st team All-Pro, Pro Bowl), FS Bernard Jackson, RCB Steve Foley and LCB Louis Wright (1977 Pro Bowl).
What a talented unit. Hard hitting and flying all over the field. Never giving up. Making offensive players pay dearly for every yard they got. The fans, dressed in orange, would yell so loud, the stadium shook like thunder. We've all heard of "Black Sunday." This was "Orange Sunday."
While the Broncos defense did finish up the year ranked 27 out of 28 teams against the pass, it still ranked #1 against the run. Dominance on the front line was total and unyielding. Led by Carter in the front, Randy Gradishar was like a madman, playing the middle linebacker role to perfection. Tom ("It's all over, fat man") Jackson was always there to insure that the offensive player would remember not to roam in his area too often. Bring on the pain.
Lyle Alzado... What can be said to explain this mans passion and intensity on the field? He was an animal, pure and simple. Quarterbacks hated to hear those footsteps behind them. It meant they were about to receive a possible game ending hit. And Lyle would not help them up off the field. Nope, get up on your own. I already helped you down. Why should I help you back up?
Louis Wright and Steve Foley made great bookends. Foley was more of the hitter while Louis Wright swatted down everything that came his way.
Yes, the stats showed them bad in the air but stats can be misleading. Most of the yardage against them was because teams just couldn't run against them. Abandon the run and just pass, pass, pass. While they gave up the yardage in the air, teams couldn't score against them often in the end zone. As a matter of fact, no team that Denver played scored more then 14 points during the regular season. To go a step further, opposing teams were held under 10 points, 7 out of 14 games.
The only team that scored more then 14 points (but still lost, 34-21) was the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Divisional Playoffs and the Oakland Raiders (who Denver split the season with but won when it really mattered, 20-17) in the Conference Championship.
Denver went on to the Superbowl to again play the Dallas Cowboys. Led on offense by QB Craig Morton (an old Dallas Cowboys QB himself) the offense struggled with a quarterback who couldn't move in the pocket due to "water on the hip", suffered during the Oakland game. The defense tried to hold on, but in the end the game got away from them and they missed out on ending the season with what could have been a truly "Mile High Magic" moment.
As Jon Keyworth sang, "Make Those Miracles Happen", Denver rode the miracle as far as they could. Denver may have come up short in the end, but what a ride.