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.