Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #6 Morton To Moses

Continuing the countdown of my greatest bronco plays of all time:

January 1, 1978. It was a cold day in Denver (18 degrees) as the Broncos hosted the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Oakland dominated the game early and took a 3-0 lead before this play changed the entire game:

To consider how big a play this was, go back to the atmosphere before that game. Yes the Broncos had an amazing season up until that point, a 12-2 season and a first round playoff win against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. But there was alot of doubt as to whether the Broncos could really beat the Raiders this day. For one Craig Morton was hurting - bad. With a painfully bruised leg there were questions whether Morton would even play. The Raiders had also beat the Broncos convincingly in their matchup in Denver earlier that season (Raiders 24 Broncos 14 in week 7)

This play turned the whole game around. It gave the Broncos confidence that Morton could play, and play well, despite his injury. Morton and Moses went on to have a huge game (Moses scored twice on 168 receiving yards)

For me personally this was the greatest sports event I have ever attended in Denver. I was there for all the AFC Championship home games, for the many John Elway comebacks, for Eric Young's opening day homer, for the Avs beating the Devils in Stanley Cup game 7. None topped this game. The excitement in the South Stands that day is something I will never forget.

This play, #6 on my list, was key in sending the Broncos to their first Super Bowl:

Next: before getting to my top 5 bronco plays of all time I'll show some great highlights that deserve honorable mention.

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #7 Champ picks off Brady

Next in my countdown of greatest all time bronco plays: the only entry on this list where the play makes BOTH the Broncos all time list and the opponent's. Champ Bailey's game changing interception and return in the playoff game against the New England Patriots in 2006. Here's a feature from NFL Network telling the New England side of that play:

With Denver clinging to a 10-6 lead and the Patriots threatening to take the lead in the 3rd quarter, this play changed the game. It was the most important of several big interceptions for Champ Bailey in the 2005 season - the finest season I've ever seen from a Broncos cornerback. Fortunately Ben Watson's great play to cause Champ to fumble at the 1 was not ruled a touchback, and Mike Anderson's followup 1 yard touchdown run gave the Broncos a comfortable 17-6 lead.

Tom Brady came into this game with 3 Super Bowl Rings and having never lost a playoff game. With credentials like that I am sure Brady will get a locker in Canton, but for some reason he never seems to play well in games at Invesco Field. I was at this game and noticed Brady missing open receivers all game. Three years later in facing Josh McDaniels Broncos at Invesco Brady was equally off target.

Next on the countdown: a game changing play from the miracle 77 season

Monday, March 29, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays: #8 The Immaculate Deflection

Resuming my countdown of my all time greatest bronco plays:

Some of you may be thinking "Are we going to see any recent plays in the countdown?" Well here's a play from last season that will go down as one of the great Bronco finishes ever:

I'll always remember this play in part because of the dramatic finish and in part because of the unusual circumstances in which I saw it. Here's my story:

Since 1968 I have probably missed watching a complete Bronco regular season game less than 10 times - this was one of them. I had an early morning flight to Las Vegas for a business conference that was going to start that Sunday afternoon. I did not want to miss Josh McDaniels first game as head coach. I knew it was going to be a key game, as I wrote about in my blog the week before the game:

"If the Broncos beat the Bengals ...

It'll be a huge boost in the team's confidence. All the critics of the offseason changes and disappointing preseason will be quieted. If the Broncos can beat a good Bengals team on the road, I predict they start out 4-0. The schedule then gets much tougher, and they'll finish with an 8-8 record."

My flight was delayed and I finally got to my hotel towards the end of the third quarter. I had to find a sports book so I could at least watch the finish! I walked over to Caesar's Palace and the Broncos/Bengals game wasn't on any of their big screens. Finally I spotted in a small corner of the sports book a single tv showing the game. I stood with a crowd of about 15 broncos and bengals fans watching the last 6 minutes.

I arrived at the tv just in time to see the Bengals start their go ahead drive. When Cincinnati scored the go ahead td with 38 seconds left I didn't have much hope. I was already late to my business conference so I started walking out of the sports book. Just then Caesar's Palace switched the game to one of their "big screens". I stopped, turned around, and thought "I might as well watch the last couple of plays."

Then the miracle happened. This 53 year old Bronco fan was jumping up and down like a 12 year old as Stokley crossed the goal line! Bronco fans in the sports book were high fiving each other. A Bengals fan ripped up his wager ticket in disgust.

I said "forget the conference!" and stuck around the sports book to see the replay about 15 times.

Finally I did make it over to the conference and I was in meetings until late that night. I got back to my hotel after 10 pm and saw a guy with a Chicago Bears jersey in front of the elevator. "I'm from Denver, how did Cutler do tonight?" I asked (not knowing anything about the Packers/Bears Sunday night game)

The Bears fan glared at me and walked away without saying anything.

For one game at least, McDaniels was looking pretty good as the new Denver head coach, and Cutler's 4 interceptions gave Bears fans a glimpse of what was to come later in the 2010 season. It was a good day to be a Bronco fan!

Next on the countdown: Another big play by a current Bronco player

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays: Gradishar/Jackson hits

The famed Orange Crush defense of the late 70's and early 80's were tough! Here are some big hits by Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson.

Gradishar was especially good in short yardage situations as the first highlight shows - he had an innate ability to time his charge just right to stop a ball carrier dead in his tracks.

Younger fans may just think of Jackson as a likable analyst on ESPN joking with Chris Berman. As these highlights show Jackson was a heat seeking missle on the field - not very big but could he hit!

Next I'll resume my top 12 All Time Bronco plays countdown with a recent highlight you will all remember.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays: Dennis Smith's big hit

So many highlights to choose from for my top 12 all time bronco plays! This one didn't make my top 12 but I decided to include some of my other favorites before resuming the countdown.

A game changing play in Dennis Smith's rookie year - a big hit forcing a fumble in overtime from the Brown's Calvin Hill. Smith had the smarts to stay in bounds and recover the fumble too. I included a couple of plays after the fumble to show the Broncos win - 10 minutes later Calvin Hill was still dazed walking off the field!

From the clip you'll also see future Broncos play by play man Dave Logan of the Browns protesting that the ball was out of bounds.

This was a key win for the Broncos in Dan Reeves 1st year as head coach (1981). Denver went on to finish 10-6.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #9 Louie Wright's Blocked FG Return

Continuing the countdown of my all time greatest bronco plays:

Louie Wright returns a field goal blocked by Dennis Smith to beat San Diego in Overtime in this 1985 game:

I can't remember old Mile High Stadium being any louder than when Louie Wright was running this blocked kick in for a touchdown. What looked like defeat was transformed to sudden victory in just a few seconds! This play was actually a "replay" - just before the Broncos blocked San Diego's field goal and looked to be running in for the winning score, when the refs ruled that the Broncos had called timeout before the play began. The crowd was stunned. The Broncos solution? Do it again! Dennis Smith broke through to block the field goal, and there was no way a kicker was going to catch Wright as he ran for the winning score.

This game was key to the Broncos finishing 11-5 in 1985, however that was also the year an 11-5 record did not get the team a spot in the playoffs. One year later an 11-5 record won the AFC West and the Broncos went to their first John Elway Super Bowl.

Next: So many good highlights to choose from! I'm going to throw in an "honorable mention" play, one that didn't make my top 12 but deserves another look.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #10 Gradishar's Long TD

Continuing the countdown of my all time greatest bronco plays:

#10 Gradishar's Long TD. Randy Gradishar intercepts a pass from Cleveland's Brian Sipe and runs 93 yards for a touchdown - the longest interception return for a td in Bronco history:

The Broncos were 1-3 going into this game in Cleveland. Trailing 10-6 at the time with the Browns within a few yards of another score, the Gradishar interception turned the game around. The Broncos ended up beating Cleveland this day 19-16. One of the few highlights of an otherwise very ordinary 8-8 1980 season for the Broncos - Red Miller's last as head coach.

Next on my list: More Mile High Magic from another member of the Orange Crush Defense

Monday, March 22, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #11 Elway to Nattiel SB 22

Counting down my 12 greatest Bronco plays of all time.

#11: John Elway throws a touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel on the Broncos first offensive play in Super Bowl 22:

When evaluating this play don't think about what happened later in the game. Instead put yourself in the moment right before the Broncos first snap. Two weeks of Super Bowl hype. The crowd on the edge of their seats. The normally conservative Dan Reeves went for it all with this first play, and John Elway delivered! I can't remember a Bronco play where I cheered louder at the result than this one.

Unfortunately this great start did not carryover to the rest of the game, as Bronco fans were again were disappointed with the team's 42-10 loss to the Washington Redskins that day. But for one brief moment, it looked like Elway and the Broncos just might be on their way to winning the big one ...

Next on my list: a play by a bronco defensive great who always found himself around the football.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Greatest All Time Bronco Plays, #12 Morton to Dolbin

I'm starting a series featuring my Greatest All Time Bronco Plays. Being a season ticket holder from 1968 to today I've had my ups and downs with the Broncos. The plays I've selected always bring a smile to my face.

#12 on my list:

Craig Morton throws the clinching touchdown to Jack Dolbin on December 24, 1977 to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Broncos first playoff game ever:

I was a 21 year old sitting in the South Stands for this game. 33 years later this game still is pretty incredible when you think about it. The Broncos were playing perhaps the greatest team of all time that day. The Steelers were in the middle of their fantastic run of 4 Super Bowl championships in 6 years with Terry Bradshaw as their quarterback. Yet the upstart Broncos beat Pittsburgh on what will always be a memorable Christmas Eve in Denver.

This play showed Craig Morton's amazing arm - the best of any Bronco quarterback besides Elway in my book. I also loved the enthusiasm of Broncos owner Gerald Phipps on the sideline. Phipps saved the Broncos in the mid-60's when the franchise almost folded. I was glad to see Phipps finally experience a playoff win after many down years - without Gerald Phipps there would be no Denver Broncos today.

Here's a picture of the December 25th Denver Post sports section - the Broncos gave the city a wonderful Christmas present that year!

Stay tuned for #11 on my list - a highlight from the 80's featuring the great John Elway.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thumbs Up on the Brady Quinn Trade

The Broncos traded Peyton Hillis and two late round future draft choices for Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn yesterday. I like this trade. I first saw Quinn in action in the 2007 preseason when the Browns played the Broncos in Denver's first home game of the year. The score is long forgotten (the Browns won 17-16) but Brady Quinn looked good that night. The nfl writeup for the game says "Brady Quinn delivered his second straight standout performance for the Browns, as he completed 7-of-11 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown."

Quinn did not build on his good rookie preseason performances as he has suffered through three injury plagued mediocre years in Cleveland. I saw Quinn when the Browns played the Broncos in the first home game of the 2009 season and I was not as impressed.

I think Quinn is shell shocked by playing for a bad Cleveland team and here's hoping Josh McDaniels and a more potent Denver offense can revive the career of this former #1 draft choice. Don't look at Cleveland highlights to see the potential in Quinn. Instead look back at his college career at Notre Dame. Here's a video of Notre Dame Quinn highlights. Note around the 1:25 mark Quinn shows good running ability followed by an accurate deep pass - two abilities lacking in Denver starter Kyle Orton last year.