Monday, August 24, 2009

The Day Floyd Little Was Fired

It was great to hear the news today that Floyd Little is a Seniors finalist for the Hall of Fame. One of the most memorable Bronco home games in the first year I had season tickets was the day Lou Saban "fired" Floyd. Recently I was watching an old 1980 tv special where I relived the twists and turns of this game. I'll let Floyd and Lou tell the story:

I was a 12 year old sitting in the South Stands that day. Floyd's diving reception to setup the winning field goal is still one of the best catches I've seen in my 40+ years of being a bronco fan. It was cold, too! (I remember shivering in the dark watching Floyd's fumble and then awesome catch).

That game, and that play, symbolized what Floyd Little was all about. He was an inspiration to me and many Denver area youth in the late 60's and early 70's. The message Floyd gave us: never give up, always give your best, and good things will happen.

Here's hoping Floyd Little gets a long overdue locker in Canton when the Hall of Fame committee decides on his nomination in a few months. The nomination today will give a new opportunity for the Hall of Fame voters to hear of Floyd's credentials - read 44 Reasons To Elect #44 for the many accomplishments of this great Bronco.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Remembering Lou Saban

Former Bronco head coach Lou Saban passed away in March of this year. Young Bronco fans may think back to the Lou Saban era and think "it must not have been very fun to be a Bronco fan back then." And while Saban never had a winning record in Denver, there were still some exciting games that this old timer remembers. Here in tribute to Lou are my five favorite Bronco wins in the Saban era:

5. Denver 13 Detroit 7 (preseason 1967)

The first ever win by a team from the AFL over the NFL. The town was super excited with their new coach (Saban), and he delivered with this historic win. I wasn't at this game (played at the old DU stadium) but remember listening to it on the radio. Detroit lineman Alex Karras boasted before the game that he would "walk back to Detroit" if the Broncos won. He's still walking.

4. Denver 21 NY Jets 13 1968 Few fans realize that in the miracle Jets championship season New York only lost 3 times - and one was to the Broncos! Steve Tensi led the Broncos to this early season road win. I remember the announcer on NBC saying "the Broncos now have their quarterback!" Well Tensi struggled and later was outperformed by rookie Marlin Briscoe that year, but for one game at least the Broncos shocked the football World with an upset of the Jets.

3. Denver 26 Kansas City 13 1970 In this early season showdown the Broncos beat the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in Denver to go to 3-0. Fans like myself at the time thought the Broncos had finally arrived and would be a contender. Despite the fast start the Broncos faded to a 5-8-1 record that year.

2. Denver 21 NY Jets 19 1969 Another early season upset of a defending Super Bowl Champion by the Broncos, one year earlier than the Chiefs victory. This is still one of my all time favorite Bronco home games. The game featured one of the best bronco catches of all time (a diving td catch by Mike Hafner), a long punt return by Floyd Little, and the longest punt in NFL history (98 yarder by the Jets Steve O'Neal). This exciting game, televised to the nation by NBC, put Denver on the pro football map for at least a day.

1. Denver 27 Cleveland 0 1971

Lou Saban's last win as Bronco coach was his best. Art Modell had said during the NFL/AFL wars that the Denver Broncos would never play in his stadium. In the Broncos first visit to Cleveland they totally destroyed the Browns 27-0. To this day one of the most dominant Bronco performances I have ever seen and so unexpected. Cleveland was a contender that year (the Browns ended up 9-5) while the Broncos struggled (with a 4-9-1 record in 1971).

The Broncos would become Cleveland's nemesis in the NFL for years, and it all started with this great win.


Since the 70's I've been saving newspapers reporting on great Bronco victories - here are sports pages from #3 and #1 on my list:


Lou Saban never brought Bronco fans a championship or even a winning season, but there were still lots of fun memories from his Bronco teams. Thanks Lou.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Orton Hears A Boo

That's going to be the title of a book summarizing this Bronco season, I'm afraid, if new Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton doesn't improve on his public performances so far. After a horrid scrimmage a week ago Orton followed up with a 3 interception first half in his inaugural Bronco preseason appearance against the 49'ers Friday night.

In my 40+ years of being a Bronco fan I have learned one lesson "Don't take preseason games too seriously!" A couple of weeks ago I compared this year's team to the 1977 team. In that 77 preseason new Bronco qb Craig Morton looked terrible and was booed by the home fans. You know what happened the rest of 77 - Morton's preseason struggles gave no hint to the remarkable year he would have in leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

Enough with the 77 analogies, though. There is cause for concern with Orton's play. Orton doesn't show the arm strength of Jay Cutler or even an average NFL quarterback. He was billed as a quarterback who "doesn't make mistakes" but Denver fans are seeing no evidence of this so far.

If Orton continues to struggle it'll be interesting to see long new head coach Josh McDaniels sticks with him. A wrong quarterback choice has doomed Bronco head coaches in the past:

  • In the late 60's Lou Saban traded two #1 draft choices to get Steve Tensi. Tensi struggled, and was replaced in the latter half of the 68 season with the unorthodox and exciting Marlin Briscoe. Briscoe was a better quarterback for that team - a terrific scrambler with a good arm. Yet in 1969 Saban went back to Tensi and traded Briscoe away. Saban paid a high price for Tensi and was not about to give up on his hand picked choice for qb. This decision eventually cost Lou his job.
  • After a mediocre 1975 season John Ralston decided to stick with his quarterback, Steve Ramsey, instead of making a change. Ralston had hoped Ramsey would be a solid replacement for the retired Charlie Johnson. Ramsey had a bad 1976 season, and Ralston was shown the door soon thereafter.
  • In 1980 Bronco head coach Red Miller traded for NY Jets backup Matt Robinson. I remember reading an anonymous nfl scout saying at the time "this move will be the end of Red Miller." The scout was right, as Robinson was a disappointment for the Broncos and Miller was replaced by Dan Reeves.
The one ray of hope last night for Bronco fans was the play of backup quarterback Chris Simms. Simms showed good arm strength and presence in the pocket - after a fumbled snap he improvised to throw a 52 yard td pass to rookie Kenny McKinley.

This preseason is starting to remind me of 1999. Bubby Brister entered camp that year as Mike Shanahan's hand picked successor to John Elway. Brister struggled in exhibition games and Brian Griese was named the starter for the regular season. The 2 time defending Super Bowl champ Broncos got off to an 0-4 start. As 1999 showed, it's never good for an nfl team to make a starting quarterback change in the preseason. If McDaniels does decide on Simms as the starter how much practice time was lost with Simms watching Orton take 1st team snaps?

Here's hoping Kyle Orton bounces back and has a good game on the road against the Seahawks this week. Maybe like Craig Morton in 77 he'll go on to have a successful season. Orton will need a boost of confidence before the Jay Cutler showdown at Invesco field on August 30th. I can guarantee you if Kyle struggles in that game, the boos aimed at Cutler will be redirected to Orton. Multiply "Orton Hears A Boo" by 75,000!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Visit to CU Buffs Practice

My personal preseason training camp tour continued today as I took in the CU Buffs scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado.

I used to live in Louisville, a neighbor of Boulder's, in the 80's. I loved to going to CU games that decade to watch Bill McCartney's teams rise from doormat to national power.

These days I don't get to Boulder nearly as much. I found the drive up to be spectacular as always - the view coming into Boulder on US 36 is breathtaking. Folsom Field's setting, right next to the Flatirons, makes it one of the most scenic stadiums in college football.

As for the scrimmage itself, the Buffs were inconsistent as can be expected after only a week in camp. Cody Hawkins again looked like the best quarterback. The Buffs are deep at running back and their offensive line is huge. On defense the line looked a little undersized, but there is good talent at linebacker and in the secondary. Last year's field goal kicker, Aric Goodman, looked much better in this practice than he did in games last year (he made 10 of 14 field goals and boomed kickoffs far into the end zone this day)

I expect the Buffs to get back to a bowl game this year. Only 3 weeks until opening kickoff against CSU!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Growing Up In The South Stands

I mentioned in my first blog post I have had Bronco season tickets since 1968. "Good to hear from an old timer!" was a typical reply I received. Well, I'm old (at age 53) but not THAT old. You see, I have had Bronco season tickets since age 12!

Yes, in 1968 I bought Bronco season tickets for the huge amount of $2 a game ($14 for the season!) The Broncos at the time had a reduced endzone price for kids age 12 and under. I only had $25 in my savings account. I begged my Mom to let me buy Bronco tickets with my best friend and next door neighbor Greg. "Are you sure this has lasting enjoyment?" Mom asked. Dad was on a business trip. Mom let him give the final approval. "Well if its your own money and you think you'll like it, go ahead," said Dad. I was ecstatic!

Greg's Mom drove us to the stadium where we picked out our two seats in the South Stands. Section CC Row 39 seats 23 and 24 - right in the middle 2/3rds of the way up. My Bronco season ticket would become my prized possession in my growing up years in the late 60's and 70's. I attended every home game. Floyd Little was my favorite player. There were many losses, but a few memorable wins. A victory over Joe Namath and the defending Super Bowl Champ NY Jets in 1969 was one of the best.

Sitting in the middle of the South Stands was anything but comfortable. We were packed in like sardines, with little leg room (even for a 12 year old). Since we were over 20 seats from an aisle, it was almost impossible to get out during the middle of a game. One Sunday we were able to buy the seat next to ours for Greg's Dad. He was not impressed. "If I have to take a pee," he said, "I'll never get out. I'll have to take a leak in my thermos!" Still there was just enough room to pound our feet on the hard metal floor. The sound of 8,000 stomping South Standers was deafening, and disrupted many a play from Broncos opponents over the years. Rocky Mountain Thunder was born.

Despite the packed conditions, we loved our seats. We had a fantastic view of the field, right behind the goal posts. I remember having a great sightlines to see immediately if a field goal was good or not. I knew Jim Turner's 53 yarder at the gun to beat Cleveland in 1975 was between the uprights soon after the ball left his foot. We could see Rick Upchurch weave his way through the opposition for many thrilling punt return td's. John Elway's arm strength was amazing to witness from my vantage point high in the end zone. The "fumble"at the South 5 yard line that decided the 1988 AFC Championship game was within easy view.

We also developed a close relationship with those sitting around us. We saw the same people EVERY home game. An elderly businessman sat behind us. "I own seats on the 50 yard line," he used to tell us, "but I'd rather sit here. You can really see the plays open up from the end zone." I came to be known as the "radio kid". Every game I would bring my transistor radio to listen to Bob Martin's play by play as I watched the action below. Those sitting around me would ask "what's the score of the Raider game?" "are the Chiefs losing?" No iphones in those days - my little radio was our link to the outside world.

After 33 years and too many memories to count I left the South Stands in 2001. The view from my current seats is pictured at the the top of this blog - I'm now in the Northwest corner of Invesco field, section 319 2nd level. Having bought out my friend Greg in the 80's I own two season tickets. Unlike the South Stands I can easily get out at halftime for a restroom break or refreshments. My view of the field is good, but not quite the same as the old days. It seems I have different people sitting next to me every game.

Early in 2001 I toured Mile High Stadium for the last time, shortly before it was torn down to become a parking lot for the new stadium next door. I took the picture on the right of my wife and 7 year old twin boys playing on the field with the South Stands in the background. On that cold January day I remembered all the fun times and memorable games I attended in this place. I walked up to the base of those rusty metal stands, put my hand on the wall, and said "Goodbye old friend."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

bronco practice at invesco 8/6/09

I attended a Denver Broncos public practice at Invesco Field on August 6, 2009. A crowd of about 13,000 watched the Broncos go through a variety of drills followed by a scrimmage. Below are some short videos I took with my casio camera.

New Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton was unimpressive in his first appearance at Invesco. Most of his completions were just short dump off passes like these:

One of his better passes was this 18 yarder (partially obstructed at the end):

and this short one to Tony Scheffler:

Orton did not connect on his long passes. One was intercepted on a good play by cornerback Andre Goodman. Others like this one were just off the mark:

Yes Orton was unimpressive but I say give him some time. This was only a practice early in camp. I've seen Orton effective in NFL games (like last year's Thursday night game against the Saints) so I'm not ready to give up on him yet. From tonight, though, I can tell Orton lacks the arm strength of the great Denver quarterbacks of the past (Elway, Cutler, Morton). If he succeeds in Denver he'll be more of a Charlie Johnson type.

The Bronco running game had its moments. Here's a good run by Buckhalter:

and one by Hillis:

Overall it was not an encouraging night for the Broncos offense. The defense looked good (especially the secondary) but that could be in part because of the team's inept passing game.
I say not to overreact on one sloppy practice and let's see how the team looks in the 1st exhibition game 8 days from now vs. San Francisco. It'll be good to get Moreno in camp, too.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Visit to Bronco Training Camp

I visited Bronco training camp Sunday night for the first time in several years. My son Andrew and I had front row seats at around the 10 yard line.

I could see some differences in the way McDaniels ran training camp compared to Mike Shanahan. The players came out to music blaring, and there was a longer time devoted to stretching.

For this evening practice the pace was relaxed. Some of the veterans didn't suit up and the brief scrimmage at the end featured mostly 2nd and 3rd teamers. That's rookie quarterback Tom Brandstater (left) who took all the snaps in the scrimmage.

I was impressed with rookie wide receiver Kenny McKinley (shown at the right before catching a pass from Brandstater). McKinley had a few nice receptions and showed good agility. Had McKinley not caught the pass on the right I think it would have hit my camera!

I'm hoping to attend the workout at Invesco later this week where hopefully I'll see more 1st teamers in action.