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:
I posted this video in 2010 as part of my own "top 12 bronco plays of all time series". 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 a lot 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.
Today the Broncos play their second ever game on New Years Day. While not as big as that game 34 years ago, it's still big - a win and Denver gets to host a home playoff game for the first time since 2006. I think the key to today's game for the Broncos is what Oakland didn't do 34 years ago - get pressure on the quarterback. If Kyle Orton gets time to throw he's going to pick apart Denver's depleted secondary. On that cold January day in 1978 the limping Craig Morton was not sacked - one big hit would have put Morton out of the game. As Bronco fans are well aware, Orton goes down easily or throws interceptions when faced with a strong rush.
Let's hope tomorrow we see a "playoff bound" headline celebrating a big Bronco win. On January 2, 1978 this was the headline in the Rocky Mountain News: