Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jets/Broncos 41 years ago

As I am excited about going to the Broncos/Jets game tomorrow I think back to one of the most memorable Broncos/Jets games played in Denver - September 21, 1969.

It was my 2nd year of having Bronco season tickets. I was 13 years old, sitting in the South Stands for the game. The Broncos had won handily over the Patriots in the first game that season (35-7), but the Jets would be a much stiffer test. Joe Namath's team was coming off a stunning Super Bowl winning season, and the Jets had easily defeated the Bills 33-19 in their opener. This Bronco/Jets game in week 2 of the AFL season was to be televised across the country on NBC, one of the first ever national games featuring the lowly Broncos. The draw of course was Broadway Joe and the Jets, not the Broncos.

This game featured 3 memorable plays:

1. The Hit - Dave Costa's helmet to the gut hit on Joe Namath (pictured above) is one of the best sports photographs ever and captures what AFL football was like in the late 60's. No doubt Costa would be suspended for weeks if he made such a hit in the sanitized NFL of 2010 - back in 1969 there were no such restrictions. The grizzly old vet Costa had a clear shot at Namath and he took full advantage of it.

2. The Catch - The Broncos had quickly fallen behind the Jets 13-0 after the 1st quarter and it looked like it would be a long day for the home team. Floyd Little scored to make it 13-7, then later in the quarter Mike Haffner made one of the greatest catches in Bronco history to give Denver a 14-13 lead. Haffner was wide open in the end zone, but Bronco quarterback Pete Liske overthrew him. Haffner dived and caught the ball with his fingertips in the back of the South end zone. I wish I had an old video clip to show you how great a catch this was. Haffner's catch made all the football highlights shows that week, including a showing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

3. The Perfect Punt - This one comes from the Jets. With New York backed up to its 1 yard line Steve O'Neill pulled off the greatest punt in AFL/NFL history. I was sitting in the South Stands watching the punt come towards me from the shadow of the North goal posts. The punt came off O'Neill's leg like a low rocket. Not much height - just a line drive. Bronco returner Billy Thompson misjudged the ball and jumped up trying to catch it, but it sailed over Thompson's head. When it hit the ground the ball rolled and rolled and rolled before resting on the Broncos 1 yard line - a 98 yard punt! To this day that punt has never been equaled, and what made it more amazing was that it went from the 1 yard line to the other 1 yard line. Truly the perfect punt!

More than these three plays, the best thrill of the day was watching the Broncos upset the Jets 21-19 on a national stage. For one day the Broncos upset was the talk of the pro football world.

Would the 2-0 Broncos finally be contenders? It was not to be, as Denver went on to a disappointing 5-8-1 season, while the Jets again made the playoffs with a 10 win 4 loss record.

Tomorrow the injury plagued Broncos are again the underdogs with the Jets coming to town. New York is rated the 2nd best team in the NFL by Sports Illustrated and ESPN coming into the game, very much like that powerhouse Jets team of the late 60's. Will the Broncos win? I don't know, but one thing I have learned over the years is never count the Broncos out at home. Maybe, just maybe, like that Denver team of the late 60's, the Broncos have a Mile Hi surprise waiting for the visitors from New York!


  1. From BJ Kunkel-Haffner (Mike Haffner's wife, newlywed this year). Thanks for the beautiful comment about Mike's catch. We wish we had video of it too; There was one on YouTube but it was removed shortly after we discovered it. Darn! Mike has a FB page..... Mike Haffner ....... Come visit there! Thanks again!

    1. Do you remember Joe Namath writhing on the field after Rich Jackson hit him? I was 12 years old sitting with my dad on the east side of the stadium at about the 45 yard line about 30 rows up. I was the confetti kid on the east side of the stadium (the floating side) and there was others on the West side, but we sure had fun throwing after rare victories by the broncos. We moved to Indiana in 1971, so I haven't been back to a Denver Game in Denver since. Maybe someday but it won't be Bears (Mile High) Stadium, so not quite the same. But I have those visions emblazoned in my memory, especially when Rich hit Joe around the Jets 45 hardline as I recall. Joe was gutsy though....after writhing in pain for about a minute he got back up and played. And the portable van Marquis down in the Southwest Corner of the stadium said "Bring on the Baltimore Colts"......."Bring on the Baltimore Colts"......after Denver won that game.

    2. Olivia - yes I remember Joe Namath writhing on the field but I thought it was from the Dave Costa hit that I talked about in my blog post. Rich Jackson sure had his share of hard hits in those days too. I agree Namath was tough - he did bounce back from the big Costa hit to return to the game. - Tim