Denver Broncos and The Fumble

elway-broncosWith 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 1987 Broncos.

The 1987 NFL season was an odd one. A 24-day players strike canceled the third week of the season and caused NFL owners to use replacement players (called “scabs” by the pro players) for weeks four through six. After that the players ended their strike and returned to work.

Denver had beaten the Seahawks and tied the Packers before the strike and went 2-1 with replacement players. After losses to the Vikings and Bills dropped the record to 4-3-1, the Broncos won four straight to take control of the AFC West. Thanks to the tie, Denver finished 10-4-1, besting Cleveland (10-5) for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Broncos offense ranked fourth overall and John Elway was named AP Most Valuable Player for his regular season performance. The defense played well also, finishing seventh in points allowed.

In the second round of the playoffs, the Broncos hammered the Oilers while the Browns demolished the Colts, setting up a rematch from the previous year’s AFC championship game. The Browns and their fans desperately wanted to get revenge after losing the game known as The Drive.

Early on it looked like Denver would romp, taking a 21-3 halftime lead. But Bernie Kosar and Earnest Byner went nuts in the second half and by the middle of the fourth quarter the score was tied at 31-31. Elway threw a 20 yard touchdown to Sammy Winder with six minutes left, eerily similar to what happened in reverse the year before.

Now it appeared Kosar and the Browns would march down the field and send the game into overtime. The Browns advanced to the Broncos’ eight yard line with 1:12 left. Kosar gave the Broncos defense a pass look but audibled into a draw play to Byner. Cornerback Jeremiah Castille noticed that it was a draw play, hit Byner before he could cover up the ball and Byner fumbled. The Broncos recovered the fumble, took an intentional safety and won 38-33 to advance to the Super Bowl.

Fans forget that if it was not for Byner, the Browns probably would have been blown away. On the day, he had 67 yards rushing, 120 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer put part of the blame on receiver Webster Slaughter, who was supposed to drag Castille to the corner of the end zone, but instead just stood and watched the play. This allowed Castille to get the angle on Byner and force the fumble.

When the 13-2 Forty Niners were upset by the Vikings in the NFC playoffs, it appeared the road was clear for Elway and the Broncos to win a first Super Bowl. However, thanks to the game plan of Joe Gibbs and the Redskins offensive line (which gave Doug Williams plenty of time to throw and Timmy Smith wide running lanes), the Broncos were once again blown off the field in the Super Bowl.

Byner would eventually win a Super Bowl ring with the Redskins (after the 1991 season) while it would take Denver until the 1997 season to finally taste championship glory.

Up next: Back to Back championships