The Denver Broncos dominate my list of the top Denver sports moments of 2015. Here's my list:
10. Nuggets draft Emmanuel Mudiay #1.
The Nuggets draft young point guard Emmanuel Mudiay with the 7th pick of the first round of the NBA draft. Many experts rated Mudiay as one of the top three in the draft, so Denver was fortunate he fell to them at pick 7. Mudiay got off to a promising start in his rookie year but at year's end he is struggling with injuries and turnovers. Still he has shown enough promise to lead future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to say "(Mudiay) will be better than me."
9. Colorado Rockies win opener 10-0 over Milwaukee.
In their most impressive opening day performance in team history, the Rockies stunned the Brewers in Milwaukee 10-0. Baseball opening day always draws more interest than other games on the long 162 schedule. Would this opening day blowout be a sign of better things to come for the Rockies? No, as they struggled to a last place finish in the NL West once again. But for one day the Rockies were the talk of the baseball world.
8. Colorado Rockies sweep the defending champ Giants in mid-April.
The Rockies opening day win was not their only highlight in April. A surprising sweep of the defending World Champ Giants in San Francisco temporarily put the Rocks in first place. At least they held Denver fans interest until the NFL draft and Bronco mini-camps later in the month!
7. Denver Nuggets beat Houston Rockets in the season opener.
The Nuggets surprised the Houston Rockets on opening night with a convincing 105-85 win over the Rockets in Houston. This game was doubly sweet as former Nugget Ty Lawson struggled while his point guard successor, Emmanuel Mudiay, had 9 assists. Like the Rockies, opening day would not be a sign of better things to come for the Nuggets, as they have lost 7 of their last 8 at year's end.
6. Broncos Beat Ravens 19-13 in season opener.
It was a good year for openers for most of our teams as the Broncos edged the Ravens 19-13 to start their season. The Ravens had a chance to score the go ahead TD in the closing minutes when Steve Smith dropped a sure TD pass from Joe Flacco. The win setup the Broncos to go on a 7-0 start while the Ravens never recovered. This was the same Raven team that almost beat the Super Bowl champ Patriots in the playoffs in January.
5. Broncos Beat Kansas City 31-24 in Thursday night football opener.
This was to be the game where the Chiefs finally beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. It sure looked that way for most of the game before Denver tied the score in the closing minute, then stunned the crowd with a fumble return td just when it looked like the game would go to overtime. This sent the Chiefs reeling to a 1-5 start before KC recovered with a 9 game winning streak. As it looks like the Broncos will once again win the division at year's end, they could not have done it without this victory.
4. Colorado edges Colorado State 27-24 in overtime.
Lots of Colorado fans do not like this annual rivalry game to be played at Denver's Sports Authority Field. And the game had lost its appeal in Denver in recent years. But this 2015 game was a classic in the series. A near sell out crowd for the first time in five years added to the atmosphere. As a CU fan I liked the result - one of the few highlights in an otherwise disappointing season for the Buffs.
3. Broncos win the battle of the unbeatens on Sunday Night Football 29-10 over Green Bay.
In a prime time battle of two 6-0 teams, the Broncos had their best performance of the season in dominating the Packers for an easy win.
2. Broncos edge Bengals 20-17 in overtime.
In a game which should decide the 2nd seed and first round bye in the playoffs, the Broncos overcome a 14-0 first half deficit to edge the Bengals in overtime. The game had many twists and turns, with the Broncos winning on a fumble recovery in overtime. It was the third coldest home game in the team's history but the Broncos comeback win warmed the hearts of the Mile Hi faithful.
1. Broncos beat New England 30-24 in overtime.
It was a thrilling year of overtime victories for the Broncos (3). None was sweeter than this 30-24 win over the defending Super Bowl Champ Patriots. The Patriots dominated much of the game and had a 14 point lead early in the 4th quarter, but Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler, making his first start, led an amazing comeback for the win. The frigid weather, the first "snow" game in Denver in 10 years, added to the Sunday night atmosphere. Whatever happens to the Broncos in the playoffs, CJ Anderson's 48 yard clinching td run will long be remembered as one of the great moments in Broncos history.
And these two didn't make my top 10 but deserve honorable mention:
University of Denver wins ncaa lacrosse championship
In a sport dominated by eastern colleges, DU became the first school west of the Mississippi to win the national championship in lacrosse.
Broncos part ways with John Fox, hire Gary Kubiak
After a surprising and disappointing playoff exit against the Colts in Denver, the Broncos part ways with head coach John Fox and bring home former long time assistant and player Gary Kubiak.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Klis has covered the Broncos as a reporter first for the Denver Post (2005-2014) and this year for Channel 9 television in Denver. I liked that Mile High Magic was more than a rehash of old newspaper stories - Klis interviewed many Bronco stars of the past to get their current take on memorable events in the team's history. "The Drive was kind of my coming out party," John Elway relates when thinking back to the #1 moment in the book - the 98 yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the 1987 AFC Championship game in Cleveland. "That legitimized me in big games." I enjoyed reliving the great moments of the Broncos past through the eyes of the players that made them happen.
The book is beautifully illustrated, with classic color photos from past game action. This is your ultimate coffee table Broncos book. I would buy it just for the pictures alone.
In addition Mile High Magic is packed with interesting little facts about the team that even the most ardent Bronco fans may not be aware of. Moment #18 is John Elway's 43 yard pass to a leaping Rod Smith in a September 1995 game to beat the Washington Redskins as time expired. "It was the only football game Elway had ever played in - high school, college, or pro - that he threw a touchdown pass on the final play to win the game," Klis writes. I did not know that!
A minor beef I had with the book: Klis has too much Manning in the book, and too little "Little". Peyton Manning has five of the team's great moments, while Hall of Famer Floyd Little only has one. Some notable Floyd Little games that did not make the Klis top 25:
1. The Broncos 21-19 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Jets in 1969. I talked to another long time fan recently and we rated this game, and last month's amazing victory over the undefeated New England Patriots, as the two best Bronco regular season home games ever. Why was this game great? Read my previous post about it here.
2. The Broncos 27-0 win over Art Modell's Cleveland Browns in 1971 after Modell had said during the NFL/AFL wars that the Denver Broncos would never play in his stadium Starting with this game the Broncos would be the Browns' nemesis for decades.
3. The Broncos first Monday Night Football appearance ever - a 23-23 tie against the hated Raiders in 1973.
While Floyd's Bronco teams were not nearly as successful on the field as Peyton's, these games from the late 60's and early 70's were important in establishing the Broncos' franchise identity on a national level. Why not condense the five Manning moments into two or three, and bump the number of Floyd Little moments in the list to match Peyton's? Manning, after all, is going into the Hall of Fame as an Indianapolis Colt, and not as a Denver Bronco.
But every long time fan will no doubt have their own top 25 moments that won't necessarily match the author's choices. This does not detract from the book. Mile High Magic is a wonderful walk down Denver Broncos memory lane. A must read for fans who have lived through many of the team's great moments like I have.
Friday, December 11, 2015
It's been quite the week for the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club. On Wednesday we were guests of the Broncos Huddle TV show (read my report on that here). Then the very next night we were treated to a presentation by Mike Klis, Bronco insider for Channel 9 and author of the new book: "Mile High Magic - The 25 Greatest Moments In Denver Broncos History".
Klis is a two-time recipient of the Colorado Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He's been covering the Broncos since 2005 - first with the Denver Post and this year for Channel 9 TV in Denver. I always thought Klis was one of the most knowledgeable media types who cover the team. It was great to meet him and hear his stories in person.
Klis' book will bring back pleasant memories for long time fans of the team. On this night he shared a few stories from the book. One was moment #21 - The Morton Miracle. I was in the South Stands for this game (September 23, 1979). The Broncos fell behind 34-10 to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the 2nd half and things did not look good for the home team. The book features current interviews with the major players in Bronco history, like Morton. 36 years after the game Morton recalls, "Red (Miller) came up to me and said, 'Craig, why don't you go in?' (in place of Bronco starting qb Norris Weese). I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. I'm not going in there. It's 34-10. What the hell do you want me to do?" Morton was frustrated because of being benched for Weese, and because the coaches had ignored his play calling suggestions. "They wouldn't listen to me so I said, 'I'm not going in there'. But some players started coming over and said 'Come on, lets just try it.' I said 'All right, let's go'" Red Miller had a play he wanted Morton to run. Craig said "Coach, if I'm going in this game, I'm going to call the plays." Morton proceeded to lead the Broncos to a 37-34 win, as Klis relates, the greatest second-half comeback in Broncos history and tied for the 5th largest second-half comeback in NFL regular season history.
Klis also answered questions about the current Broncos team. I asked him what kind of contract Brock Osweiler could expect to get when his current deal runs out at the end of the season. "If the Broncos had signed Brock in the preseason, they could have had him for two years and 10 million," Klis said. "Now with his good play they'd probably sign him for four years and 36 million. If Brock wins out he could get 12 million a year." Klis also told us how it would be difficult for the Broncos to keep all the players they have on their last years of their contracts: Von Miller, Brock, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Ronnie Hillman, and Danny Trevathan. "We better win it all this year," said a member of the audience, realizing that the Broncos could look like a very different team next season.
Klis had other little tidbits on the team that he shared (like Trevathan swallowing two teeth and likely not to play this week under the concussion protocol). Our qb club group enjoyed picking the brain of Klis to get his real impressions of the team (you have to come to our meetings to get the inside scoop from Broncos insiders like Klis - we promise our guests the most juicy comments made at our meetings are "off the record"!)
A new feature at our meetings this year is an impressive Bronco jersey and memorabilia collection by Jamie Teumer and Tom Jacobsen. Jamie and Tom brought jerseys this day to match the stories in Klis' book.
If you are a Broncos fan living in the Denver area, joining the QB Club is a bargain. Only $50 for a family membership, and $20 per person for our dinner meetings. During the season we have ticket giveaways, too. At this meeting pairs of tickets were given away to the upcoming Oakland, Cincinnati, and San Diego Bronco home games.
Guests are welcome to try out our meetings before deciding on membership. We have a mix of reporters covering the team and players as speakers at our meetings. Visit www.denverbroncosqbclub.com for more info. Our next meeting will be January 12th featuring former Bronco offensive lineman Mark Cooper.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Tonight I was fortunate to have a front row seat for the recording of Channel 9's Broncos Huddle TV show! Pictured above (from left to right) are Channel 9's Rod Mackey, player co-host Emmanuel Sanders, and player guest Malik Jackson.
The production was done in the Broncos indoor practice facility - the UCHealth Training Center. This was my first time for seeing this mammoth building, too.
As I walked in the door this full size cutout of a Bronco cheerleader, collecting charitable goods for the holidays, immediately caught my eye. Behind her was the entrance to a new and expanded Broncos team store.
The team store is much bigger than the one the Broncos formerly had in their other building. Any fan can walk into the training facility and shop in the team store. From the hallway you will have a good view of the practice field.
In addition to a variety of fan gear sold in the store, there were some special items, too, like this John Elway autographed game ball.
From the main hallway we could see where the Bronco Huddle recording would be done - in the corner of one of the end zones. Our Bronco QB Club group was cleared one by one with security and we were led to the field where ...
... I got this awesome view of the whole regulation sized field, a warm place to practice on those cold and snowy Denver afternoons. The Broncos in the past had an indoor "bubble" they practiced in. This state-of-the-art facility was much bigger.
Banners of Bronco greats adorned the walls surrounding the practice field. Over the end zone where we were seated were pictures of the three Bronco NFL Hall of Famers - John Elway, Floyd Little, and Shannon Sharpe.
On the side walls were banners of former Broncos in the team's Ring of Fame.
Our QB Club group felt priviledged to get this insider view of the Bronco facility and the Broncos Huddle TV show.
Player guest Malik Jackson was all smiles as he waved to us. During the show Malik and Emmanuel Sanders talked about their week of practice and how they were not overlooking the visitors to Mile High this Sunday - the Oakland Raiders.
As part of the show, a member of the audience was picked to ask Emmanuel Sanders a question. One of the youngest in attendance, this seven year old, did not let the TV lights phase him as he calmly asked Emmanuel, "When did you start playing football? When do you recommend I start playing football?" Sanders answered that he does not recommend tackle football until age 10 at the earliest. He said he started playing at age 12. He recommended before that to develop athletic skills playing a variety of sports and flag football. He gave teammate Demaryius Thomas as an example of how you do not have to start at a young age to excel at this game - Thomas first played football as a junior in high school.
After the show the players returned to their meetings. Channel 9 host Rod Mackey stayed around to chat with the fans, including the youngster who asked the question on the live show.
A new co-host for the Broncos Huddle? No - that's me! Rod talked to us "big kids" too. He liked my University of Colorado jacket (Rod is also a CU Alum). We all were given the chance to take a picture with Rod on the set.
Overall this was a great evening of getting an insiders perspective of Denver Broncos football. Only one example of the fun and informative activities of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club! Don't miss out on our future events - join today!
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Atwater was in town for the induction of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen into the team's Ring of Fame. "Mr Bowlen is a great individual," Atwater said. "His philosophy was a huge part of our success as a team. #1 he wanted us to be number one at everything #2 He said the team's success was not about him, it's about others." Sadly, Bowlen will not be at the ceremonies on Sunday as he is in the advanced stages of battling Alzheimers disease. "I wish he could be there," Atwater said.
After his brief introductory remarks about Pat Bowlen and his appreciation of the Denver fans, Atwater took questions from the crowd. A sample of some of his answers are listed below:
What running backs and wide receivers gave you the most fits in your playing days?
Marion Butts from the Chargers was tough - 6'1" and 250 lbs. We had some good battles. I had to take advil after a day of tackling Marion.
Jerry Rice was the best wide receiver I faced. Before the 1989 season's Super Bowl we had been going over a play in practice where Rice comes over the middle. He did that exact play in the game and I thought "I'm going to crush him!" I hit Rice, he bounced off and ran into the end zone. I was so down at half time of that game. I felt like calling my Mom and saying, "can you come over and pick me up?"
How did you feel before the Green Bay Super Bowl?
We had lost to Jacksonville the year before and the players were stunned. The next year we went 12-4 and we felt we could do it. The worst day in my life was that first Super Bowl loss to San Francisco, and I didn't want to experience that feeling again. We have an AFC Championship ring from that year - I have never worn that ring in my life. It's like a loser's ring. We wanted to beat Green Gay for the fans, for Mr Bowlen, and for the AFC (the AFC had a long streak of Super Bowl losses before the Broncos win that day)
Tell us about your relationship with Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby
Bradley went to the same high school as my son. I could see his talent right away. I told his Mom, "if he stays healthy he'll be in the NFL." Bradley's extremely bright - he scored over 2000 on the SAT. He was raised by his Mom, a single parent. He's a very hard worker. I give him words of encouragement today.
Who was your biggest rival in your playing days?
I loved beating the Raiders and the Chiefs. I didn't feel as strongly about games versus the Chargers.
What were the most hostile visiting cities to visit?
Oakland, KC, and Buffalo. In buffalo you had to deal with the snow balls. Kansas City was the loudest stadium I played in. My family from St Louis would come to my games in KC and they didn't want to wear Bronco gear - they got yelled out too much by the fans when they did.
What was it like to be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2005?
Pat Bowlen called me to say I would be inducted and I said, "what?" It was a surprise. In my playing days when the national anthem played I looked around at the names in the ring of fame and thought of all the sacrifices those players made to build the franchise. Getting inducted meant the world to me. It wasn't just an individual honor - it was a credit to my teammates who made plays in front of me putting me in a position to succeed.
Do you want to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
I hope some day it'll happen, but I'm fine if it doesn't. I still had a great career and had great relationships with many players and coaches.
Did you have a feeling the Broncos would draft you?
I didn't know who would draft me. I did meet with two Bronco scouts who came out to Arkansas to time me. I ran my best time ever - 4.47 seconds in the 40. Really? I thought to myself, I ran that fast? After I retired I had dinner with those two scouts. I brought up how fast I ran that day. One scout said, "I can make that clock say whatever I want it to say. I liked you!"
After answering our many questions Atwater was very kind in talking to all the fans who wanted autographs and who wanted pictures with this former Bronco great. In standing next to Atwater I could imagine what Christian Okoye must have felt to be hit by this man - he towered over the fans in attendance this day.
Atwater had his 49th birthday 3 days prior. The QB Club surprised him with a birthday cake and he was all smiles as we sang him Happy Birthday. It was the least we could do. I was very impressed with how gracious Atwater was in donating his time on a busy ring-of-fame weekend to spend two hours with our club.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
A new location for The Denver Broncos Quarterback Club meetings! We had our first meeting at CB&Potts restaurant near Arapahoe and I-25. Club members enjoyed yummy appetizers before listening to a Bronco insider - Andrew Mason, senior digital reporter from denverbroncos.com
Andrew spoke briefly about his background and role with the team. He has been covering the NFL for 17 years, including a stint with the Carolina Panthers when John Fox was the coach there. Combined with his time with the Broncos "no one has covered Fox more than me" Andrew said. He told us how denverbroncos.com has grown over the years, with 6 full time employees now working on the site.
The bulk of the meeting featured a question and answer session with Andrew - a reporter as close to the team as anyone. Some of the questions asked and a summary of Andrew's responses:
Can Peyton Manning still play at a high level?
"Father time is undefeated," Andrew said. But Manning is able to adjust to a new reality better than any player he has ever seen. Manning is trying to do what Brett Favre nearly did in 2009 - reach the Super Bowl at an advanced age (Favre was 40 when the Vikings almost made it). Also losing Wes Welker and Julius Thomas has affected the offense as Welker and Thomas were reliable targets for Peyton.
Will Brock Osweiller be the next Bronco starting qb?
"Brock is at an impasse in his development. He needs snaps in real games. Some players do tell me that Brock looks terrific in practice."
What has Wade Phillips brought to the defense?
"The Colts playoff game showed that a change needed to be made. Chris Harris told me the week before the game that he wanted to cover TY Hilton, yet Jack Del Rio kept Aqib Talib on Hilton and the results weren't good. The Colts offensive line had been decimated by injuries yet the Broncos rushed the same 4 guys every play with little variation. The Colts knew what was coming. In contrast Wade moves guys around, showing so many different looks. It's a simple defense for the Bronco players to run, but can be tough for the opposition to adjust to. Wade still has wrinkles up his sleeve that we haven't seen yet - we've only seen a fraction of what the defense can do."
"No one has benefited more from line coach Bill Kollar than Sly Williams. Kollar is the best defensive line coach in the game. You could hear Kollar yelling alot during training camp. Sly responded to that and has shown the biggest improvement."
How about the offensive line?
"It's a work in progress. People should remember that under Alex Gibbs most linemen had a year or two to develop before being thrown in as starters. Ty Sambrailo doesn't have that luxury."
"The pistol requires a quarterback to take a 3 to 5 yard drop behind the center. Peyton plays it with a 5 yard drop. Last week 31 of the 53 snaps were out of the pistol. We're going to see alot more of it as the season progresses."
Who will be the next Bronco in the Hall of Fame?
"We may see two Broncos next year. Terrell Davis candidacy is gaining momentum. The other is John Lynch. Safeties are under represented in the Hall because it is hard to statistically quantify that position - that helps Lynch's chances. Louie Wright has some momentum to be nominated out of the Senior Committee."
How about who is next for the Broncos Ring of Fame?
"Other than Pat Bowlen, who will be inducted this year, I'm guessing it'll be Jason Elam. Mike Shanahan definitely is a strong candidate but he has to clearly define he's done coaching in the NFL to get in."
At the meeting we also had an interesting display of Bronco jerseys and the infamous "striped socks".
Overall it was a great evening of Bronco football discussion from one of the most knowledgeable reporters who covers the team. If you are a Broncos fan living in the Denver area, joining the QB Club is a bargain. Only $50 for a family membership, and $20 per person for our dinner meetings. During the season we have ticket giveaways, too. One lucky fan won two tickets to the upcoming Green Bay game at Tuesday night's gathering.
Guests are welcome to try out our meetings before deciding on membership. We have a mix of reporters covering the team and players as speakers at our meetings. Visit www.denverbroncosqbclub.com for more info.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Every year I post my prediction on this blog before the first game for the Denver Broncos season. Here are my thoughts for 2015:
- The opener is very tough - against what may have been the best team in the AFC at the end of last season (the Ravens had the Patriots beat in the playoffs before New England, with the aid of some trick plays, came back from a 14 point deficit to win). The Broncos are coming into the opener with lots of questions. Peyton Manning hasn't looked sharp in preseason and he hasn't played much. The offensive line has been revamped. Demaryius Thomas isn't in top form and Emmanuel Sanders has missed significant time in the preseason. The pass rush and secondary look great for the defense but what about stopping the run? Baltimore will test the Broncos with a strong running game (I think the team will miss Terrance Knighton on the defensive line). Still I never bet against the Broncos at home. Here's hoping the defense will carry the Broncos to an opening day win.
- Even if the Broncos win the opener, I predict a 1-2 start. Playing at KC in the opening thursday night game only four days after the Baltimore game will be a challenge. Then another tough road game at Detroit the following week. I see a loss at KC and one win/one loss between the Baltimore opener and the Lions road game.
- This Bronco team will get better as the season goes along, hopefully peaking when it's playoff time. And I do expect Denver to make the playoffs once again. I predict a 10-6 record with the Broncos narrowly edging out Kansas City for the division crown.
- I don't think the Broncos get back to the Super Bowl, though. I see a road playoff loss to end the season, and lots of uncertainty as to whether Peyton will come back for another year or if the team will move on to another qb. And will that qb be Brock Osweiller? Brock is in the last year of his contract and the Broncos haven't signed him to an extension as of today.
- I do think Gary Kubiak and his staff will be an upgrade over the previous regime. It's just going to take more than a season to transition to Kubiak's run based offense and to identify who the next Broncos quarterback will be.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Steve Watson spoke to a packed house at the August meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club. Watson entertained the crowd with stories from his illustrious playing career and had words of inspiration for us, too.
Watson started his talk by showing highlights from actual game broadcasts of the big plays in his career. His breakout three touchdown game against the Colts in 1981, his 95 yard td catch against the Lions, and other stellar plays were featured. It was fun to relive those great moments in Bronco history.
Watson joked that he was known for his "famous burst of slow". He had a desire to become an NFL receiver in his youth, but he was largely overlooked by the college recruiters. He did have scholarship offers from West Point, Duke, Delaware, and Temple. His eventual college choice showed how Watson thought through every big decision in his life. "Army was out - with a 5 year service commitment after graduation I'd be too old for the NFL. A Duke coach wanted me to run a 40 for him on my recruiting trip - against ncaa rules. I couldn't play for a coach that did not have ethics. Delaware ran the Winged T offense with little opportunity for wide receivers to shine," Watson related. He decided on Temple because "I'd be a small fish in a big pond." The Owls played a very good schedule (with teams like pitt, penn st, syracuse, and boston college) so Watson figured "the pro scouts who come to watch these other schools will see me."
Watson told us of his goal setting process: "Set the bar way up there, set bar as high as you can get it," he said. He said there are three components to that:
1. make good decisions
2. exhaust all possibilities leave no stone unturned
3. relentless perseverance, never stop pursuing your goal
These principles served Watson well in his football career, and he encouraged us to follow them in our own lives and careers. "When an opportunity bumps into you, do you take advantage of it? Are you ready?" he asked.
At Temple Watson starred as a wide receiver, catching 98 passes over his four years and earning All East honors. He played in the East-West Shrine game after graduation. Broncos coach Babe Parilli worked out Watson at Temple. "We're going to pick you in the third round," Parilli told Watson. But Watson was undrafted (he related how 39 other wide receivers were picked in the 1979 draft). Disappointed though not giving up his dream to play in the NFL, Watson soon received six offers from different NFL teams to sign as a free agent. He picked the Broncos because "they have an old wide receiver ready to retire - i’m going to take his job!" Watson remembered. That receiver was Haven Moses, who Watson later became close to. "Haven taught me how to run routes," Watson said.
At his first Bronco camp Watson ran the 40 yard dash. Not known for his speed, Watson wasn't sure how he'd match up to the other camp hopefuls. Turns out he ran the fastest 40 of all the players trying out that day. Bronco QB Craig Morton was watching. Morton introduced himself to Watson afterwards and the two developed a bond that lasted during the rest of Morton's playing career with the Broncos. "Craig threw a hard ball even though he didn’t have legs," Watson said. "Morton was almost straight legged when he threw. For a guy who played as long as he did he could really throw it."
In his first two years with the Broncos Watson played special teams and was largely unknown (only catching 6 passes in each of the 1979 and 1980 seasons. Then in the 1981 season, an opening game injury to Rick Upchurch gave Watson the opportunity he was looking for. Before that season Watson had taken karate lessons ("That helped me beat press coverage") and learned slight of hand card tricks ("that developed my flexibility"). In the third game that season, his breakout game against the Colts, Watson scored his first three NFL touchdowns with 7 receptions for 143 yards. Before his last touchdown that day Craig Morton told him in the huddle, "Blade this one's coming to you!" Watson, known as "Blade" for his skinny 6'4" frame did not disappoint, making a leaping catch over the Colts defender for a 48 yard touchdown.
That 1981 season was the highlight of Watson's career, with 13 touchdown receptions and earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. In his nine year Bronco career, the only NFL team he played for, Watson had 353 receptions for 6112 yards and 36 touchdowns. In addition to playing with Craig Morton, Watson played several seasons with John Elway. The most memorable part of his time with Elway was "The Drive".
"I’ll never forget it," Watson told us, describing the climatic moments of the 1986 AFC Championship game in Cleveland. Faced with 98 yards to go with time running out in Cleveland's noisy Memorial Stadium, the situation looked hopeless. "The fans were winging these dog bones - they were ringing off my helmet. They'd never get away with that today," Watson said. "I looked at the ref and said 'Tell them to quit it!' 'Just go play' was the ref's reply."
Watson continued as our QB Club group listened intently to his every word. "It was very quiet in the huddle. Then Keith Bishop says, 'Hey Wood! We’ve got em right where we want em' "(Wood was Elway's nickname). "We were so pumped after that - it was an unbelievable feeling in huddle. Everyone was confident," Watson recalled. It was awesome to relive one of the greatest moments in Broncos history from a player who was a big part of it.
Watson told us of the injuries that ended his playing career, and how tough it was to leave the game. Today Watson is a successful realtor for Keller Williams in the Denver area.
After his talk Watson took questions from the crowd. "What do you think of Gary Kubiak?" he was asked of his former teammate. "Between him and Rick Dennison, they'll get the running game going," Watson said. He want on to explain that in a zone blocking scheme a running back has 1 cut in a downhill running stayle. "Young college running backs like to dance - there is no dancing in a zone blocking scheme," Watson said. "It guarantees you'll always have positive yardage. Once a running back learns now to do it, if he follows the rules, he'll have a 1000 yard season." Watson said the zone blocking scheme can work with offensive lines that aren't that big. "Dennison prefers a smaller, quicker line," he said. Watson told a story about former Broncos oline coach Alex Gibbs, a mentor to Rick Dennison. In practice a young running back was dancing behind the line. Gibbs stopped the practice, ran into the huddle and said "Son, your ass is out of here if you do that again!"
Watson answered other questions and stuck around to talk to our QB Club members. It was one of our best meetings and brought back great memories for this long time fan. The underdog Steve Watson turned out to be a great NFL wide receiver, and he inspired us to achieve our own goals by never giving up.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Here is a summary of some of his comments:
John Fox: John Elway wasn't intent on firing Fox. Rather John wanted Fox to make some changes, like replacing a couple of coaches (on the offensive and defensive lines) and finding more playing time for young players (Michael Schofield and Cody Latimer hardly saw the field last year). Elway also was disappointed in how the team performed in big games. Then the situation changed towards the end of the season. Fox wanted a contract extension which Elway was unwilling to give. Fox leaked that he was looking for other opportunities around the league on the morning of the Colts playoff game through Fox Sports Jay Glazer. This upset the front office and many players. Raiders owner Mark Davis told defensive cooordinator Jack Del Rio when the Broncos visited Oakland in November that he wanted Del Rio as the next Raiders coach. Del Rio knew he was leaving the morning of the playoff game. Finally offensive coordinator Adam Gase was up for the San Francisco job at the time of the playoff game and Gase figured the playoff game might be his last one in Denver, too. After the playoff loss Elway sat down with Fox and both agreed it was time for Fox to move on.
Gary Kubiak: His time in Houston didn't end well but overall he did a good job rebuilding that franchise. Kubiak is a teacher and his new staff are teachers, which Elway hopes will work better with the young players. Kubiak and Elway realize the Broncos can't be the NY Yankees, with a big free agent splash each year, because of the salary cap. So the development of young players is key. Kubiak's style is to pound the ball with the run while mixing in play action passes. The offense will be designed to run a few plays really well rather than running a whole arsenal of plays like the Gase offense. Kubiak has no ego. Rather than telling Manning the type of offense that was going to be run, he reached out to Peyton to make Peyton part of the planning process. Kubiak's offense isn't that much different than what Peyton ran in Indianapolis when running back Edgerrin James was featured as the Colts lead runner.
Wade Phillips: Wade's Bronco defense is going to blitz. In his last stint as defensive coordinator with Houston the Texans blitzed 47 % of the time. This season's Bronco defense may give up more yards, but they'll get more turnovers. TJ Ward will be used much like he was in Cleveland in an attack mode rather than playing like a stay at home safety/linebacker in Del Rio's defense.
The draft: Linebacker Shane Ray is a top 10 talent. It was a great move to trade up as Manny Ramirez probably wasn't going to make the team, and the 5th round draft picks surrendered were inconsequential. Ray has a motor, a great first step on the pass rush - skills that can't be taught. Second rounder Ty Sambrallo at offensive tackle got physically manhandled a few times in college but he's a smart player - the broncos hope he'll excel in the zone blocking system. The Broncos valued Sambrallo more than the rest of the NFL. 4th rounder Max Garcia is another offensive lineman with average physical skills who is very smart. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, selected in the 3rd round, is 6'6" 250 lbs and still growing. He played hurt in his senior year. If Ray is a star and one other draft pick is a solid starter, this will be a successful draft. Troy was surprised the Broncos didn't draft a linebacker. Watch Lamin Barrow's playing time as he needs to be more than a special team player this year to give the Broncos depth at linebacker.
Brock Osweiller: the old offense didn't fit him. It was too complicated for Brock to grasp and as a result he played slow. The new offense is similar to what Brock ran in college and he's much happier. He's been in Denver since March throwing to wide receivers in his own workouts, and texting his teammates. He's completely engaged. Had Gase stayed another year Brock would be gone after this year. Under Kubiak he has a chance to stick around, Elway loves him, but the true test will be how Brock performs in practice and in the preseason with the new offense.
Terrence Knighton: Troy questioned why the Broncos got rid of him. Pot Roast was an effective run stopper even at an inflated playing weight. Wade Phillips thought they needed a player with more flexibility at that position.
Demaryius Thomas: DT wants a new contract, and sitting out is his only leverage. The thing to watch is that DT is a very sensitive person - he lets things bother him. Troy thinks it's 50/50 that the Broncos sign DT to a new contract before camp. If they don't, Troy thinks DT is gone next year as DT won't be comfortable playing under the "franchise" tag two years in a row.
Troy had other comments on the Broncos, on his time covering the baseball Rockies (from 2002 - April 2014), and covering CU football during the national championship year. He is one of the most knowledgeable media persons in the Denver area and it was great to hear his opinions in this offseason of change for the Broncos.
If you are a Broncos fan living in the Denver area, the Quarterback Club is a great place to hear from media people like Troy who follow the team closely, from former and current players, and more. Membership is only $50 for a family, with an additional $20 per person charge for our dinner meetings.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
ESPN's Cecil Lammey made his annual appearance at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club this week and as usual he had some interesting opinions on the current state of the team. I think Cecil is one of the best NFL insiders around. Some of his comments:
- John Fox had to go. Fox gave Peyton Manning full reign to run the offense. New head coach Gary Kubiak now has the last say on what type of attack Denver will run. An offensive system different than what Peyton has run in the past. While Manning likes to change the play at the line of scrimmage, "Kubiak doesn't audible" says Cecil. Kubiak will emphasize a run first, zone blocking system. John Fox never told Peyton "no". Now Kubiak is the boss.
- CJ Anderson is a perfect fit for the new offense. "He'll get 1500 rushing yards this season," said Cecil. Manning loves CJ, calling Anderson "his little genius". CJ is a north/south runner who doesn't dance - just right for Kubiak's zone blocking system.
- Julius Thomas had to go. He would have cost too much - he was not the right fit at the right price. Virgil Green will get a chance to shine with JT's departure. Green has 24 career NFL receptions. "He'll have that by week 8 in Kubiak's offense," Cecil said. Virgil was Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver in college. He was known more for his receiving than blocking coming into the NFL. Now Virgil is a great blocker who didn't have the opportunity to show his receiving skills under the previous regime. That will change.
- 2014 #2 pick Cody Latimer won't see the field much under Kubiak's offense. Kubes likes two wide receivers and two tight ends in his base offense.
- Wade Phillips will unleash the Orange Crush defense. The Broncos have two of the best pass rushers in the league in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, yet former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio didn't blitz much. This was especially baffling in the Colts playoff game, because of the Colts weak offensive line. With the new Bronco D playing the 3/4, like the Orange Crush of old, Wade will be very creative in how he uses the Broncos defensive talent. Von Miller could break the NFL sack record under Phillips scheme.
- The secondary is in good shape. Cornerback Chris Harris could have made 30 to 40% more in salary had he hit the open market - the Broncos have a tremendous value in Harris. Pro Bowlers Aqib Talib and TJ Ward are solid at the other corner and strong safety respectfully. Darian Stewart is an up and coming player who will be fine in replacing Rahim Moore at free safety.
- If Sylvester Williams is the Broncos starting nose tackle, teams will run on Denver all day. Williams has never played the position. Cecil expects Marvin Austin to be the starting nose tackle instead. When Austin came out in the 2011 draft Wade Phillips told Cecil at the time that Austin had "top ten talent".
- Why didn't the team re-sign Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton? Knighton's excess weight was not the issue, according to Cecil. Instead it was something else that Cecil said he couldn't reveal.
- Defensive line coach Bill Kollar is the hire no one is talking about. He's a super coach. At Houston he helped develop JJ Watt into the best defensive player in the game. Watt was good in college, but at pick #11 he wasn't expected to be the dominant player he turned out to be. Kollar had something to do with that, and he'll make the Broncos defensive line better.
- Outside of finding a good right tackle and nose tackle, the Broncos are set to make one final run under Peyton. This will be Peyton's final year, and Cecil thinks the next Bronco qb is not on the roster. "This is a weak qb class in the draft," Cecil says, "next year will be much better." Of this year's draft eligible quarterbacks the Broncos like CSU's Garret Grayson and Baylor's Bryce Petty. Grayson can be a good but not great pro, according to Cecil. He doesn't like Petty, who ran a "gimmicky" offense in college. If the Broncos wanted to keep Brock Osweiler around they would have signed Brock to a contract extension. Cecil did say that it's a strong offensive tackle class, and that could help the Broncos.
Friday, February 20, 2015
"I gave it my all"
Former quarterback Jake Plummer said that in describing his playing career to a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club audience on Thursday night. Jake mesmerized the crowd with stories of his playing days along with giving us his observations of the Broncos today and the NFL. I summary of some of his comments below:
On new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak:
Gary Kubiak is a great coach. He did a lot for me in my career. He would fight for me when I disagreed with Mike Shanahan. He sees the game at different angles. The Broncos offense will be lethal with either Peyton or Brock under Gary's guidance. I shed tears when Kubes left the Broncos.
(Kubiak was Jake's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in his first three years with the Broncos - 2003 to 2005. Given Jake's glowing praise for Kubiak this night it's not surprising that Jake's last year with the team (2006) was not as successful. Jake quit the game after the 2006 season)
On growing up in Idaho:
My two older brothers loved football and got me into the game. I was a Raiders fan - Kenny Stabler was my favorite quarterback. I took my nickname "Jake the Snake" from "the Snake Kenny Stabler"
(Jake's mention of the Raiders was the only time all night he drew boos from the crowd :-)
On Broncos owner Pat Bowlen:
He's an amazing person - a class act. The players were always number 1 on Mr Bowlen's list. If something wasn't right Pat would fix it. One time we asked if there could be TV's in our locker room. Mr Bowlen had TV's installed the next week. He'd always be around the team - even participating in our college "pick em" contest for the weekend's games with the players. Having ownership support was a big difference from what I experienced in my time with the Arizona Cardinals. My grandfather had Alzheimer's so I know what Mr Bowlen is going through now.
On Brock Osweiler, like Jake an Arizona State quarterback in college:
We don't know how good Brock is yet. He needs to play right away or get traded. Sitting on the bench another year won't help him. The scout team quarterback these days is told exactly where to throw the ball in practice. When I was on the scout team I didn't do that - I improvised and tested the defense. That made the defense better. Brock has a golden ticket with this offense under Kubiak, he just needs to get experience and play. The clock is ticking on his career.
On his most heartbreaking loss as a Bronco:
The AFC Championship game loss to Pittsburgh at the end of the 2005 season. If we had won, and then won the Super Bowl, I was ready to retire. I didn't want 5 Super Bowl Rings - just one.
On his playing style:
I never scripted anything. I improvised. I had a way of making tacklers miss. That's why they called me The Snake.
On Pat Tillman, ex teammate who was killed in Afghanistan:
Pat was an amazing person. He was always thinking. He treated the people around him wonderfully. He made me appreciate life. He made you want to be better. We need more Pat Tillmans
On the current Broncos team:
Wade will have those boys ballin' on defense. They missed Danny Trevathan a lot this year when Danny got hurt. They need a tight end - like Jordan Cameron of Cleveland.
On his life today:
I live in the Boulder area. I moved back to Colorado because that's where my wife is from (former Bronco cheerleader Kollette Klassen). The kids are the #1 priority at home (he and Kollette have a 4 year old and 1 year old). I work part time at the Pac 12 network - they fly me to San Francisco and I spend a Saturday in the studio watching and commenting on games. I like to go to games and sit in the stands (he periodically attends CU Buff games and Bronco games). I still play handball and I work with coaching kids.
That was just a sample of what Jake shared with us that evening. Jake was very gracious with his time - staying late to talk to every fan, give every autograph, take every picture. I could see why he was so popular with his teammates during his playing days. He may not have been the most talented quarterback in the league, but he had a big heart and really cared about his teammates.
|The line was long afterwards for fans to talk to Jake 1 to 1.|
|This kid was too young to remember Jake's playing days, yet still wanted an autograph|
|The older fans appreciated Jake, too, like this 92 year old celebrating her birthday this night.|
|And I got to talk to Jake too - it's always a thrill for me to meet former Broncos who I cheered for in the past.|