This article was written to show some of the newer fans of the Denver Broncos that the current version of this team isn't the way the D always played. We weren't called the "Orange Crush" strictly as a marketing gimmick. This tag was earned with the blood, sweat and tears of a lot of great players over the years.
In fact, the defense carried the Broncos to several Super Bowls where the offense wasn't good enough to win it all and maybe shouldn't even have made it that far.
In this history of great defenses, I have put together a list of the biggest hitters over the 50-year history of the Denver Broncos.
You may not agree with all my selections or their order, but you will have to say these guys made watching the Broncos on Sundays (and Monday nights) a hell of a lot of fun over the years.
Brian Dawkins, 6'0", 210 lbs.
Brian Dawkins would be in the top five if he had come to Denver a year or two earlier. He made his bones as a hard hitter while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and many fans there are still angry that the Eagles let him go.
In his two years with Denver, Dawkins has had 150 tackles, three INTs, three forced fumbles and two sacks.
Dawks' hard hits on opposing TEs and WRs, as well as RBs, are the stuff of legend in Philadelphia and he has continued that work here in Denver. His ability to separate the football from the ball carrier has solidified his stature and will earn him a bust in Canton when he finally retires.
Trevor Pryce, 6'5", 295 lbs.
Pryce was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round (28th overall) in the 1997 NFL draft out of Clemson.
In his second year with the Broncos, he started 15 out of the 16 games and made 43 tackles and a then-career-high 8.5 sacks. He was also a member of the Broncos Super Bowl XXXIII team. In the 1999 season he started in 15 games and recorded 46 tackles and a career-high 13 sacks. He also earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
The following season, 2000, he started all 16 regular-season games and finished the season with 46 tackles and 12 sacks. He was also voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. In 2001, he was voted to his third consecutive Pro Bowl after finishing the season with 41 tackles and seven sacks.
The 2002 season saw Pryce voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth year in a row after finishing the campaign with 46 tackles and nine sacks. Pryce was named to the Broncos' 50th anniversary team.
He finished his nine-year career with Denver accumulating 249 solo tackles and 64 sacks. His tenacious approach to the game, his intelligence and his athleticism have made him the Denver Broncos all-time leader in sacks. He was always on the opposing QB's mind whenever he lined up against them.
John Lynch, 6'2", 220 lbs.
Lynch, who was drafted out of Stanford and played his first 11 years with Tampa Bay, signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent and played another four years. He won a Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay but not with the Broncos.
He finished his Denver career with 196 unassisted tackles, seven sacks and three INTs. And he also had 16 forced fumbles. That last number tells you something about how hard Lynch could hit. He averaged four forced fumbles a year for his last four years in the NFL.
But what also sticks out for me was how he could absolutely level a WR or TE across the middle with a bone-jarring hit, whether he caught the ball or not, causing said player to think just a little bit before coming back inside the next time. And if he did, he did it with alligator arms.
Some of the changes in the rules regarding personal foul penalties on hitting "unprotected" ball carriers or receivers were a direct effect of Mr. Lynch's aggressive play.
Richard Samuel Jackson, 6'3", 255 lbs.
Although Rich Jackson started his career with the hated Raiders, drafted out of Southern University, he played his best football in a Denver Broncos uniform. His nickname was "Tombstone" and he was one of the first to use the "head slap" on opposing offensive linemen. He actually broke the helmet of a Green Bay player with that ferocious head slap and was one of the reasons this has since been outlawed as a legal move in the NFL.
Jackson's career was shortened by a major knee injury or he likely would have made the NFL Hall of Fame. He finished with an unofficial career total of 43 sacks, including a 10-sack season in his first year as a Bronco.
He was also a unanimous first-team All-NFL choice in 1970 and is in the Broncos Ring of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
According to Sports Illustrated's football expert, Paul Zimmerman, "Tombstone Jackson was perhaps the finest overall defensive end and pass rusher I ever saw."
Dennis Smith, 6'3", 205 lbs.
Smith and Steve Atwater were arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL from 1989 to 1994. Their tenacious coverage, fierce hitting and nose for the football were the stuff of legend.
And those that don't believe me, just ask Raiders TE Todd Christensen in this picture. He dreaded each meeting he had against the Broncos and Dennis Smith.
He had 30 INTs, 17 fumbles recovered (one for TD), 1,152 tackles and was a six-time Pro Bowler.
If it wasn't for the next guy on this list, Smith would be the hands-down No. 1.
Stephen Dennis Atwater, 6'3", 218 lbs.
A first-round draft choice out of Arkansas in 1989, Atwater was known as the "silent assassin" for his quiet demeanor off the field but ferocious hitting on the field. One of the toughest to ever play the position. A prime example was this fumble-causing hit on QB Brett Favre in Super Bowl XXXII that led to a 51-yard Jason Elam FG and Denver's first Super Bowl ring.
He has 24 INTs, one TD, eight fumbles recovered and five sacks.
To complete this article and put to rest once and for all who is the biggest hitter ever for the Broncos, I have included this YouTube video with a nice selection of whacks and smacks.
But the hit that would forever etch the "smiling assassin" into the minds of Broncos fans was the lick he put on the Kansas City Chiefs' huge RB, Christian Okoye, on a Monday Night Football broadcast in 1990. Okoye was a 250-pound running back that made a living running over defenders. It was a typical Kansas City running play, but the results were nothing typical. Steve Atwater burst towards the line of scrimmage and hit Okoye full speed, knocking him flat on his back. It was one of the greatest hits in NFL history and is still played on NFL Films to this day.
Before the game, Atwater was fitted with a wireless microphone to capture the sound of the shot. “That's the hit people will remember him for, Mike Shanahan said. “Steve was a pro's pro and we'll always remember him for the kind of person he is and the kind of leader he was.”
During this game, in only his second year, Atwater knocked an opposing player out of the game for the second consecutive week. The previous week he knocked future Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen out of the game with 10 stitches.
I hope this presentation will bring back some fond memories of Broncos defenses of the past and that we will also see some of the same type of play in the very near future.
Just one Bronco fan(atic)'s opinion.