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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Orange Crush

28 Sep

On this week’s NFL schedule two old American Football League Western Division rivals clash – the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos. Their rivalry continued in the NFL after the merger, but it was pretty one-sided up until the 1977 season. It got pretty heated that year, as coach Red Miller’s Broncos and their vaunted “Orange Crush” defense came out of nowhere to challenge the Raiders in the AFC West. Oakland’s club was the defending Super Bowl champions, yet the two regular season meetings between these teams were a wash. They played each other twice in a three week span in October, with Denver’s defense dominating the first meeting, intercepting Ken Stabler 7 times and sacking him 3 times en route to a 30-7 rout. Oakland got some revenge two weeks later with a 24-14 win, and both teams advanced in the AFC playoffs to set up a “rubber match” in the AFC Championship game. Denver was actually the higher seed as AFC West champs so the game was played in the Mile High City but history-wise, the Raiders had a distinct advantage. They were coming off their first-ever Super Bowl title, and had been one of pro football’s winningest franchises since the mid-1960s. Denver, however, had been the losingest team in the old AFL, and had never even qualified for a playoff berth in their history prior to the ’77 season. They were post-season infants.

The title game was played on New Year’s day, January 1st, 1978. It was mostly a defensive struggle, and neither team could muster much of a ground game. The Broncos held Oakland’s main weapons, running back Clarence Davis and receivers Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, in check while their journeyman quarterback Craig Morton found his favorite target, Haven Moses, 5 times for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Stabler found his tight end, Dave Casper for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter but the home team hung on for a 20-17 win to advance to the Super Bowl. Denver’s defense was led by Bronco legends like Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Lyle Alzado, Steve Foley and Rubin Carter. The “Orange Crush” club was a bit of a one hit wonder, though. They lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl and didn’t have much post-season success after the ’77 season. Miller, who passed away just this week, coached 3 more years in Denver before being dismissed.

 

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Tom Jackson pursues “The Ghost”, Dave Casper, in 1977 AFC title game (AP Images)

 
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