Denver Broncos and the Birth of the Orange Crush

orangecrushWith Las Vegas making the Denver Broncos the prohibitive favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, I thought I would take a few articles to look back in Broncos’ history and review some of the greatest seasons in team history.

This week I look back at the 1977 Broncos.

This was the time that I became a Broncos fan for life. I remember watching the Broncos take on the two-time Super Bowl champion Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. I was all of nine-years old but something told me to root for the underdogs, clad in orange.

In 1976 under Coach John Ralston, the team finished with its best record as a franchise to that point, 9-5, but failed to make the playoffs. The veterans on the team sensed that it was poised to go to the next level but did not trust Ralston to get take them there so they went to ownership to get him fired. The owner took the players’ side and Ralston was ousted.

Enter rookie head coach Robert “Red” Miller, who specialized in creating ferocious defenses. Led by Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Louie Wright, the Broncos defense dominated the 1977 season and earned the nickname the “Orange Crush”. The defense would finish the season third in points allowed.

The offense, led by ancient quarterback Craig Morton, was 10th in points scored. However, with the defense only giving up 10 points a game, it was asked just to not make mistakes and score a couple of touchdowns each week.

The season started with three home wins and three road wins, including a 30-7 domination of the Raiders in Oakland. Along with the Steelers, the Raiders were the prohibitive favorites in the AFC and the pummeling of the Silver and Black signaled the arrival of the Orange Crush.

Oakland would not go away quietly however as the Raiders returned the favor by beating the Broncos at Mile High Stadium 24-14. The next week the Broncos beat the Steelers 21-7 in Denver, followed by five more wins before losing the season finale to the Cowboys in Dallas.

Armed with a 12-2 record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the road to the Super Bowl would not be easy but it would have to go through Colorado.

On Christmas Eve, the Orange Crush gave Bronco fans the present they asked Santa for as they forced five turnovers. Tom Jackson had a brilliant game, picking off Terry Bradshaw twice and picking up a Franco Harris fumble, directly leading to 17 points. Denver handily beat the Steelers 34-21 to get the first playoff win in team history.

In the AFC championship game, the Broncos would face the hated Raiders. To say the rivalry was one-sided in favor of Oakland at that point would be a huge understatement. The Raiders were so dominant that Bronco fans once celebrated a tie with Oakland like they would celebrate a playoff win today.

In a very close contest, Denver beat the Raiders 20-17 to advance to Super Bowl XII. John Madden, then the coach of the Raiders, would argue for the next two decades that a bad call robbed them of a fumble recovery and a 14-point swing which would have flipped the outcome. However, Madden conveniently forgets that the refs made a makeup call by robbing the Broncos of a Morton touchdown pass to Jack Dolbin that replays showed should have been good for seven points and a 21-3 lead.

By the time the Broncos left for New Orleans, Orange Crush had become a phenomenon. While Denver would inevitably lose its first Super Bowl appearance, the 1977 team began a tradition of winning that would continue to the present day.

In two weeks: Denver Broncos and The Drive