Why Raiders vs. Broncos Is the Biggest Rivalry in the NFL

Carl CockerhamSenior Analyst ISeptember 8, 2011

Why Raiders vs. Broncos Is the Biggest Rivalry in the NFL

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    A lot of people will call the Raiders/Chiefs or Cowboys/Giants the biggest rivalry in the NFL. Others will say the Packers/Bears or Steelers/Ravens are the NFL's biggest all-time rivalry.

    The Packers/Bears goes back further than the rest, but they never really played for a whole lot since the merger. Cowboys/Giants is a pretty good one, but since the merger, the Giants were nothing until the mid-'80s.

    Raiders/Chiefs goes all the way back to the '60s, as Lamar Hunt and Al Davis feuded but have since fizzled. From the merger until now, the Raiders/Broncos rivalry has withstood the test of time, more so than any other.

    The rivalry has had no shortage of highly contested games, meaningful games, controversy and crowd noise.

    Turn the page for a closer look.

The History

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    The fire that burns behind the Raiders/Broncos rivalry was truly ignited back in the '70s. That fire is still as strong as ever, as the two teams have battled it out like no other for over 40 years.

    Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Raiders have won 13 division titles to the Broncos' 10. The Raiders have gone to five Super Bowls, winning three, as the Broncos went to six, winning two.

    Despite being in the same division, both teams have eliminated each other from the playoffs. The Broncos beat the Raiders in the AFC Championship game 20-17 at the end of the 1977 season en route to the Super Bowl.

    The Raiders beat the Broncos 42-24 at the end of the 1994 season in the wild-card game.

    That's just where it starts!

Excitement Made for Monday Night

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    There have been some blowouts along the way, but the Raiders versus Broncos matchup is usually a barn burner. No matter how good one team is, and how bad the other team is, the game is sure to speed your heart up.

    This is why Monday Night Football loves this matchup and has called for the two teams to open the season. I'm sure a big part of why is because over the years, the two teams have played on Monday night 19 times, with 12 being decided by seven points or less.

    The end of these games are usually as dramatic as they come, too.  

    But it doesn't end with Monday night.

'70s Memorable Games

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    In earlier years, the Raiders and Broncos had more of a big brother/little brother type of relationship. The bitter rivalry was truly born on a Monday night in 1973, with the Broncos making their first prime-time appearance.

    After a see-saw battle, Bronco kicker Jim Turner kicked a field goal to force a 23-23 tie. This was a colossal turning point for the Broncos, who had only one seven-or-more-wins season and, one second-place-or-better finish in the AFC West in the 13 years prior. 

    After the 1977 season, the Broncos stepped the rivalry up in the playoffs after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders, who were the defending Super Bowl Champions, had their hearts broken 20-17.

    The Broncos were aided by the Raiders being tired from their double overtime, "Ghost to the Post," playoff win the previous week against the Baltimore Colts. They were also aided by the refs, as Bronco running back Rob Lytle clearly fumbled on a short yardage run that the Raiders returned for a touchdown.

    But the play was somehow ruled not a fumble, and the touchdown didn't count.

'80s Memorable Games

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    In the mid to late '80s, the Broncos won their fair share of heart-breakers over the Raiders, with the magic of John Elway or a Raiders turnover. Former Bronco kicker Rich Karlis also came into the equation as Elway often put him on the map.

    But fast forward to 1988, during the brief Mike Shanahan era, as he was the head coach of the Raiders. Behind two touchdown runs by Tony Dorsett and a touchdown pass by Elway, the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead.

    The Raiders were forced to make a huge comeback behind the arm of Jay Schroeder, the legs of Marcus Allen and the feet of Chris Bahr. The final score of the game was 30-27 in favor of the Raiders, who set a franchise record for comeback-win margin in a game.

'90s Memorable Games

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    In the season finale of 1994, the Raiders and Broncos, both with 9-6 records, had a battle for second place in the AFC West. Then-Raiders quarterback Jeff Hostetler, and John Elway, both threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Raiders came out on top 33-30.

    They had a rematch a week later in the wild-card game, and the Raiders won that one 42-24. The Broncos would avenge these losses by eliminating the Raiders from the playoffs in 1995.

    It was another nip-and-tuck battle that Elway brought his fourth quarter magic with a late touchdown pass to close the gap. Elway then ran in the extra point to tie the game and engineered another drive for kicker Jason Elam to win it with his foot.

    We've had enough of Elway memories! 

'00s Memorable Games

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    The battle of these two historical rivals picks right up at the turn of the century. In 2000, the Broncos ended the Raiders' six-game win streak with some late-game heroics from Brian Griese.

    The game-winning drive Griese engineered ended with another dagger of a field goal by Elam. Just when you think everything's okay because Elway is gone, Griese brings more drama to the Raiders.

    Who can forget the 500th telecast of Monday Night Football back in 2002? Rich Gannon had a game in which legends are made, as he was 34-38, setting a franchise record with 21 straight completions for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

    Two of those touchdowns were to Jerry Rice, and Rod Woodson did what he did best with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Five years later in 2007, the madness continued with the Raiders and Broncos going back to their usual scratching and clawing with a touch of gamesmanship.

    After another tough battle between the two teams, the Raiders were ready to kick a game-winning field goal in overtime. Just before the ball was kicked 52 yards through the uprights, Shanahan called a timeout.

    The Raiders reloaded, did it again, but this time Sebastien Janikowski was no good and the Broncos would take the ball then go on to kick their own game-winning field goal. It was Elam again doing what he does best, propelling the Broncos to another heart-breaking win over the Raiders.

    Neither team was very good that year, but they came together to make another great game. 

2010's Memorable Game

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    In 2010, the Raiders gave the Broncos a colossal behind-kicking, winning the game 59-14. It wasn't a close game, but it was memorable to me because it was one of those games in which everything went right for the Raiders and wrong for the Broncos.

    Jason Campbell was 12-for-20 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 127.9. Running back Darren McFadden had 165 yards on 16 carries and four touchdowns, one of them coming on a pass.

    Chris Johnson had a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown.

    Too many guys did too much in that game for me to mention.

    What really makes this a memorable game is that the Raiders had seven straight double-digit loss seasons. Both teams were 2-and-4 at the time, with the Broncos expecting a win to get themselves back on top.

    What this win did was give the young Raiders team the confidence to finish .500 or better for the first time since 2002. If the Raiders turn the corner this year, you can say that this game was just like the Bronco victory in 1973. 

    Stay tuned for the result on that!


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    Remember Mike Shanahan, former head coach of the Raiders and Broncos, and current head coach of the Washington Redskins? After not getting much of a chance as a young head coach of the Raiders, he was summoned to Denver to coach the quarterbacks for the Broncos.

    Infuriated by this, Davis refused to pay Shanahan the money remaining on his contract. Shanahan would later become the Broncos head coach and unleash his H-E-double hockey sticks on the Raiders.  

    Shanahan went 21-and-7 against the Raiders in his head-coaching stint with the Broncos.


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    There's a lot of player movement within the AFC West, but there is the one that still haunts Davis! The Raiders actually got the better of the Broncos in the early years, with Hall of Fame corner Willie Brown and defensive lineman Lyle Alzado.

    But what Raiders fans should really hate the Broncos for, was for a player who never became a Raider.

    Elway was a rocket-armed, mobile quarterback who was coming out of Stanford and who wouldn't play for the then-Baltimore Colts. He even went as far as writing a letter to them, informing him that he would rather play professional baseball.

    Al Davis then made a deal that would have made Elway a Raider, but the Broncos came in and snaked him at the last minute, without Davis' knowledge. This was colossal, because John Elway, despite being a Bronco, was the best to ever do it at quarterback.

    I still wonder what it would have been like if Elway had been able to throw to the world-class sprinters the Raiders had. His tight end would have been Todd Christensen, and Marcus Allen would have been his running back for the better part of his career.

    He would have had Bo Jackson for a couple of years, and his main target for most of his career would have been Tim Brown. From the mid '80s to early '90s, Elway took Bronco teams to the Super Bowl with no help.

    Meanwhile, the Raiders had stars in every position but they had horrible quarterbacks. If you put Elway on the Raiders at that time, the 49ers dynasty never happens because the Raiders would have dominated then.

    I'm sure Davis hasn't gotten over that one.


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    The saga continues Monday!

    The noise at Invesco Field will be unbelievable as the Broncos look to avenge the 59-14 behind-kicking they took there last year. Over four decades of bad blood plus last year's game will be poured out into a deafening noise that can only be achieved when the Raiders are in town.

    As I said before, there have been a few blowouts in this rivalry but I wouldn't bet on one for Monday. If the past is any indication, the overwhelming odds are that this will be another noisy, high-drama contest with a touch of controversy.

    Don't touch the dial once it's on!


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