Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, for the final installment ever of KY1980sDBs, #7, the quintessential 1980s Denver Bronco, John Elway.

John Elway, from an AP photo during The Drive

An AP photo taken during The Drive.

Remaining editions of KY1980sDBs: 0! By now, I have probably driven off all readers of this blog, if there were any to begin with.  But you can come back now.  I won’t be writing any more of these things.

After a standout college career at Stanford, which I do not hold against him, John was highly sought-after as both a professional football and baseball player.  The Baltimore Colts had the first overall pick in the 1983 draft and wanted to take John, but he famously refused to play for them, stating that if they drafted him he would play baseball instead.  The Colts relented and traded him to the Broncos, where Elway would spend his entire 16-year pro career.  John went on to become one of the greatest players in not only Broncos history, but NFL history.  He combined a legendary strong arm with fantastic mobility, and had an uncanny ability to force good things to happen for his team, winning dozens of games on fourth-quarter comebacks.  He is inarguably the greatest Bronco player ever, leading the team to 148-82-1 record, multiple division titles, and five Super Bowls (an NFL record), and two titles.  John holds a very prominent place on all-time NFL leaderboards as well.  He is fourth all-time in career passing yards and completions, fifth in touchdowns, and second in wins as a starting quarterback.  He is sixth all-time in rushing yards gained as a quarterback.  He is also the all-time leader in getting sacked, no doubt thanks to Denver’s often sketchy offensive lines and his insistence on waiting as long as possible to make the best play.  He was named league MVP in 1987.  John was enshrined in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1999, the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, and the NFL Hall of Fame in 2004 (the first player to be inducted as a Bronco).

  t-shirt

Also, here is a ridiculous(ly awesome) shirt with John's face.

He played in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.  This pretty much cemented John’s and the Broncos’ reputation as big-game punching bags.  They finally redeemed themselves when John and game MVP Terrell Davis led the Broncos to glorious victory over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, 31-24.  The following year, the team went 14-2 (starting the season 13-0) and cruised to a second title over the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII.  John was named Super Bowl MVP and retired in the offseason, his work as an NFL legend completed.

So what makes John Elway so awesome? Wow, where to begin?  John spent most of his youth in my favorite town in the world, Missoula, Montana. He was a Sunday staple, providing me and all Broncos fans hope that we could win every week for 16 years.  The Drive.  We suffered with him through painful Super Bowl losses, the Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips eras.  We triumphed with him on January 25, 1998, when a Super Bowl finally came to Denver.  He is in any conversation about the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  He reportedly sent a free designer recliner to a student who was teased for wearing a Broncos’ jersey.  John Elway isn’t my all-time favorite Denver Bronco, but he’s near the top and is probably the reason I grew up to write 22 editions of KNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS.

Since retirement from football, John has participated in a number of Colorado business ventures including car dealerships, appearances in video games and other commercials and sponsorship deals, and ownership of an Arena League football team.  These have all no doubt made him much more filthy rich than he was as just a football player.  He has recently married an ex-Raiders cheerleader and gives money to Colorado Republicans, both of which make me sad.  Of course, both of these acts are in his personal best interest (one for love, one to benefit rich guys), so why shouldn’t he?

Then Morton Said to Elway: The Best Denver Broncos Stories Ever Told

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #7…no, not that #7.  Craig Morton, of course.

Craig Morton

Craig Morton readies to pass while a 1980s San Diego Charger bears down.

Remaining editions of KY1980sDBs: 1.

A highly-touted prospect out of Cal, Craig was drafted in the 1st round (5th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys in 1965.  (He was also drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the AFL, but, like, who cares?  I guess the Raiders hoped he might have trouble signing with Dallas or not want to be a backup and they’d have rights to him if he turned to the AFL.) He went on to play for 18 years in the NFL.  Initially backing up Don Meredith, Craig was anointed the team’s starter for the 1969 season.  Later, after losing the starting role to Roger Staubach, Craig spent time with the New York Giants before coming to the Broncos in 1977.  That year, his performance earned him the AP Comeback Player of the Year award, given to players who have a great year after being down with injuries, or in Craig’s case, being not so good.  He spent his last six years in Denver, through the strike-shortened 1982 season.  A strong-armed downfield passer, Craig led the league in yards per attempt three times, once with the Broncos.  He is the Broncos’ best all-time in that category, among regular starting quarterbacks.  He threw for 11,895 yards and 74 touchdowns with the team, retiring as the team’s all-time leader, and still good for second place in both categories.  Craig was enshrined in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1988 and elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

He played in Super Bowl V for the Cowboys, enduring a close loss to the Baltimore Colts, 16-13.  He later led the Broncos to Super Bowl XII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by Roger Staubach’s Dallas Cowboys 27-10.  Craig had an infamously terrible day, getting hounded by the Cowboys’ defense, throwing four interceptions, and getting benched in favor of Norris Weese.  However, Craig long held the distinction of being the only quarterback in NFL history to have led two different teams to the Super Bowl (a feat later equaled by Kurt Warner).

So what makes Craig Morton so awesome?  He is the oldest Denver Bronco ever, having suited up for his last game with the team in 1982 at age 39 years, 289 days, about a year older than any other player in team history, and more than 3 years older than the next oldest 1980s Denver Bronco, Paul Howard.

These days, Craig works as the Cal athletic department’s Major Gifts Officer, where, according to this article, it is his job to ask for money.  He is also an active voter in the Harris Interactive College Poll, which determines college football’s BCS rankings.  He also recently co-authored a book, Then Morton Said to Elway… The Best Denver Broncos Stories Ever Told, which I suppose would be good reading if you are the kind of person who will miss Know Your 1980s Denver Broncos.

Then Morton Said to Elway: The Best Denver Broncos Stories Ever Told

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, Head Coach Dan Reeves.

Head Coach Dan Reeves

From my beloved 1982 Broncos yearbook, a glorious UNCREDITED (!) painting of giant Coach Reeves surveying the entire team tackling a hapless Seahawks player. Behind him, the majestic Rocky Mountains*.

Remaining editions of KY1980sDBs: 2.

Dan was hired as head coach of the Broncos before the 1981 season, at age 37, the youngest head coach in the league at the time.  He succeeded the successful (but not successful enough!) Red Miller, and there should be a league rule mandating that there is always at least one head coach named “Red.”  Dan came along at the right time, just two years before the Broncos obtainedJohn Elway, and Coach Reeves got to spend the rest of his tenure relying on one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.  Dan’s approach was to base his offense on a strong running game, defense, and conservative play calling.  This occasionally led to spats with his star quarterback and Broncos fans, who felt that his approach didn’t suit the talents of the team at the time.  Nevertheless, a football coach is charged with winning games, and Dan did that, compiling a 110-73 record (a .601 winning percentage) over his 12 years with the team, winning the division six times and making it to the Super Bowl three times.  After a mediocre 1992 season, and a perception that more success may be found going in another direction, Dan was fired by the Broncos. He coached for another 11 years for the New York Giants, then the Atlanta Falcons.  In 1993 and 1998, once with each of those teams, he was named AP NFL Coach of the Year.

He coached in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.  Dan later led the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, in which his team was pummeled by the Mike Shanahan-led Broncos, 34-19.

So what makes Dan Reeves so awesome? Despite his overconservative coaching reputation, Dan managed to consistently adapt and succeed as the Broncos’ coach.  As one example of his adaptability, he was willing to hand some playcalling duties to John Elway when the quarterback was in his prime.  Though the two often clashed, Dan’s mentoring helped turn John into the great player he became.  Dan’s leadership guided the Broncos to three 1980s Super Bowls, and despite the team’s pummelings on the biggest stage, it cemented the franchise as one of the consistently best in the NFL.

These days, at 66 years old, Dan serves as a broadcaster for the Westwood One radio network.  He has shown interest in returning to the sidelines since his tenure with the Falcons ended in 2003.  He briefly served as a consultant for the Dallas Cowboys, has interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers, and has implied he would like to work with current Buffalo Bills’ coach Chan Gailey, whom he had coached as a youth player.

*This picture is almost as good.  He looks like Clark Kent about to enter a phone booth.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #57, Tom Jackson.

Tom JacksonAnnouncement!  This edition covers the first of the three remaining as-yet-unprofiled 1980s Denver Broncos in the Ring of Fame.  (The Broncos’ Ring of Fame does have a few more Broncos who played in the 1980s, but I do not consider them 1980s Denver Broncos, if you follow me.  Haven Moses and Billy Thompson both played through 1981, and would be important points of discussion in KNOW YOUR 1970s DENVER BRONCOS, but I will omit them from this series.)  Upcoming editions of KNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS will cover the other two, plus one bonus edition.  And…those will sadly mark the conclusion of the series.  I know what you’re thinking: that, according to Pro Football Reference, there are 148 1980s Denver Broncos, and this will only be 22 of them.  But I don’t think I can come up with something interesting to say about the remaining 126.  So, let the countdown begin.

Tom was drafted by the Broncos in the 4th round of the 1973 draft, and went on to play his entire 14-year career with the team. To this day, only John Elway and Jason Elam have played more games as a Bronco. He is among the all-time team leaders in interceptions, and would probably be near the top for tackles and sacks, had they been adequately recorded during the bulk of his playing days.  Tom was elected to three Pro Bowls and, in 1977, to the league’s All-Pro Team, as one of the leaders of the Broncos’ vaunted Orange Crush defense.  He was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1992.

He played in Super Bowl XII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 27-10, and Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20. The team’s even more severe pummelings in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV might be attributable to the loss of Tom’s veteran leadership on defense.

So what makes Tom Jackson so awesome? He remains one of the team’s signature players both on and off the field.  Not only statistically, and in terms of leadership, but as a highly visible personality for an ofter-overlooked team.  He routinely picks the Broncos to do well on ESPN and clearly shows a level of bias all fans of the team appreciate.

These days, Tom is a highly successful broadcaster.  He remains entrenched on ESPN’s featured NFL shows, where he has had a position since 1987, 23 years to date, much longer than he was a player!  The relative lengths of his player and broadcaster information on his Wikipedia page speaks to his increased visibility in his current position, as well as the fact that most people who edit Wikipedia have only ever known Tom as a broadcaster.  He’s a skilled and intelligent presence on ESPN, and is unfortunately subject to the overbearing personalities of the (approximately) twelve hundred other panelists on NFL Countdown.  Tom lives in Cincinnati, and, according to his Wikipedia bio, loves spicy food so much he wants to market his own hot sauce.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #43, Steve Foley.

Steve FoleySteve was drafted by the Broncos in the 8th round of the 1975 draft, a round so late it doesn’t even exist anymore.  He overcame this humble beginning to spend his entire 11-year career with the Broncos, and remains near the top of the team’s all-time games played.  Steve started out as cornerback, but shifted to the free safety position in 1980, where he remained until his retirement following the 1986 season.  He is the Broncos’ career leader in interceptions.

He played in Super Bowl XII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 27-10, and Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20.  The team’s even more severe pummelings in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV might be attributable to the loss of Steve’s veteran leadership on defense.

So what makes Steve Foley so awesome? He is the star of one of my more vivid 1980s Denver Broncos memories, a famous Monday night snow game matchup against the Green Bay Packers (here is another link with story about the game and a photo, but also approximately four million ads, so please decide for yourself how badly you crave more information about it).  Wintry conditions lead to two separate Broncos defensive touchdowns via fumble return, including one by Steve.  An additional Rich Karlis field goal put Denver up 17-0 at the half, which was unfortunately my bedtime*, and I would have to wait until the next morning to learn the outcome of the game**.

These days, Steve runs FS Land, LLC, the Denver-area land-development company, with his business partner Bob Swenson, another 1980s Denver Bronco.  Per a 2007 Denver Post article, the two have remained close friends and enjoy cajoling each other and taking about themselves in the third person.  They also consider themselves to be in the “people-development” business, which I found disconcerting.

*Nowadays my bedtime is also at halftime of night games.  These games start at the same time they did in the 1980s (in fact, they might start a little earlier now), and my bedtime is now probably two hours later than it was when I was seven, but now I live two time zones further east.
**Though I went to bed disappointed since I imagined there would be dozens, if not hundreds more zany snow-induced scores, the second half was relatively boring.  The Packers scored two touchdowns to get as close as 17-14, but that was all they could muster, and the Broncos won despite failing to score any offensive touchdowns.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #49, Dennis Smith.

Dennis SmithThe Broncos selected Dennis as their first round pick (15th overall) in the 1981 draft, and he went on to become one of the greatest safeties in team history.  Dennis became a starter in his second year and remained an anchor in the Broncos’ secondary until his retirement following the 1994 season.  He developed a reputation as an extremely hard hitter and was feared by all rational offensive players.  He was voted to six pro bowls and four all-pro teams during his career.  Dennis recorded over 1,000 tackles for the team, making him one of the all time team leaders (tackles were not officially or consistently recorded for most of his career).  He also is among the all-time team leaders in interceptions and fumble recoveries, and is behind only to John Elway, Jason Elam, and Tom Jackson in total number of games played for the Broncos.   Dennis was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 2001. He’s also considered one of the great players in USC history, but I don’t hold that against him.

He played in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.

So what makes Dennis Smith so awesome?  Like his protege Steve Atwater, Dennis was a fantastic combination of power and speed that recent Broncos teams have sorely lacked.  Dennis also deserves Hall of Fame consideration, but has never seriously gotten it as a safety with low interception numbers playing for an unglamorous western team.  (Yes, I believe there is an East Coast bias in sports journalism.)  Further, he played his entire career with the Broncos and is one of the better options for defensive players to control in Tecmo Super Bowl.

These days, Dennis lives in southern California and owns several properties there.  In lieu of opposing running backs, he attacks the needs of children by donating his time and money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Covenant House.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #53, Randy Gradishar.

Randy GradisharDrafted in the first round (14th overall) in 1974 by the Broncos, Randy rewarded the team’s high pick by becoming one of the greatest players in franchise history.  Randy became a starting linebacker during his first season with the team and by his second year had made enough of an impact to be named to the Pro Bowl.  By the late 1970s, the Broncos’ defense had become notoriously tough, earning the nickname The Orange Crush.  Randy was one of its most feared defenders, making three straight Pro Bowls from 1977-1979 (he would play in three more in the 1980s, for a total of seven appearances) and earning All Pro honors in 1977 and 1978.  In 1978 he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Randy continued his stellar play through his the 1983 season, his tenth and final campaign.  He was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1989.  He’s also considered one of the greatest players in Ohio State University history, but I don’t hold that against him.

He played in Super Bowl XII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 27-10. Note that his Orange Crush defense gave up fewer points than any of the 1980s Super Bowl teams did, by a significant margin.  So, they still lost, of course.  Just by less.

So what makes Randy Gradishar so awesome? I grew up in a Denver Broncos household and my parents were wearing Randy Gradishar warmup shirts on Sundays for years.  So his legacy lived on long past his retirement.  He’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player and has made it as far as being a finalist twice, and even to the final ten, but has not garnered the necessary support to get into the Hall.  Randy is undoubtedly shortchanged by a lack of national recognition.  Linebackers are best remembered by reputation.  Tackles were not kept as an official statistic until 2001, though according to unofficial statistics, Randy remains the all-time NFL leader.  But Randy didn’t have the terrifying demeanor of Jack Lambert, to whom his career often merits comparison.  Further, his team didn’t win Super Bowls like Lambert’s Steelers did.

These days Randy is the Director of Corporate Communications for the Phil Long car dealerships in Colorado.  He has donated his energies to numerous charities and has made several visits to troops overseas.  He seems like a nice dude.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, #76, Ken Lanier.

Ken Lanier doing some shot putting

Ken Lanier wearing some tall socks and putting a shot at FSU

Ken was a critical member of the Broncos’ revolutionary offensive line of the 1980s.  He was drafted in the 5th round of the 1981 draft and spent all but one of his fourteen years with the team.  He generally played right tackle.  Like Keith Bishop (previously featured on KNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS), Ken was lighter and more athletic than the typical offensive lineman of his day.  He fit in with the club’s approach of eschewing oversized players in favor of more athletic lineman.  Year after year the team had one of the lightest lines in the league.  Their more nimble offensive line specialized in zone blocking techniques (very effective for creating running lanes but not without controversy).  His athleticism had helped him become a two-sport star at Florida State, and his 1979 school shot put record still stands*.

He played in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.Ken Lanier

So what makes Ken Lanier so awesome? Longevity and reliability.  Thirteen years as a Bronco, plus from 1982-1992 he missed only five starts.  This continued a trend he’d begun during his college years, where he was known as the Ironman for starting 46 straight games (every single game of his college career).

After retirement from football, Ken embarked on numerous business ventures in the Denver area.  Unfortunately they have not been as successful as his playing career.  A recent Rocky Mountain News profile detailed his declaration of bankruptcy owing to compounding business debts.  Hopefully Ken (and the rest of the economy) will pull through, like a right tackle plowing over an overmatched defensive end.

*According to the FSU fan site I found the shot put picture at and my copy of the 1982 Broncos’ Yearbook.  So it seems possible his record may have since been bested.

Ken Lanier wearing some tall socks and putting a shot at FSU.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, the third in a series of team-leading runners, #26, Bobby Humphrey.

Bobby HumphreyLooking to replace the retiring Tony Dorsett and the aging Sammy Winder, the Broncos selected Bobby in the 1989 Supplemental Draft.  He had two terrific seasons for the Broncos, gaining over 1100 yards both years, making one Pro Bowl, and helping the team reach a Super Bowl.  Denver seemed to have found the star runner they had long sought to complement John Elway, and the future looked bright.  Of course, Bobby knew how important he was to Coach Reeves and the team, so he sadly decided to leverage his value by holding out in an attempt to get a new contract.  Most holdout situations magically resolve around the time that either the brutal training camp schedule ends or the paying schedule of actual games begins.  But Bobby sat out for most of the 1991 season, waiting in vain for the team to accept his demands, while the Broncos stuck to their team policy of not negotiating with holdouts.  Realizing the Broncos were doing well even without him, Bobby relented and returned for the final few games of the season, but did not play a major role for the team.  He was traded to the Miami Dolphins before the following season, where he played only sparingly for a year.

He played in Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.  He did his part to earn those 10 points, though, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards.

So what makes Bobby Humphrey so awesome?  Well, tough call.  His hair, for one thing.  He was also probably the most talented running back the Broncos had during the 1980s (if one considers only the worn-down Broncos version of Tony Dorsett).  But talent only goes so far.  By contrast, Sammy Winder contributed a great deal more to the team’s successes and should be more fondly remembered.  Bobby’s career derailed before he really had a chance to establish himself.  Bobby was a good player that could have had a major role on a powerful team for years.  Instead, his disastrous decision to hold out before he’d really earned his place  pretty much ruined his football career.  He never regained his stride or the respect of team management.  A 2006 Denver Post article called his decision “the most infamous holdout in Broncos history.”  I guess that’s an accomplishment.  Bobby seemed regretful of his actions in the article, noting that it was a decision he made in youth and inexperience that didn’t pan out well, and that he should have handled himself better during the negotiations.

Since leaving the NFL, Bobby has spent time as an Arena League coach and currently works for a concrete dealer in his home state of Alabama.  His son is a notable football prospect that will attend the University of Arkansas starting this fall.

Steve WatsonKNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS

This week, the second in a series of team rushing leaders, #33, Tony Dorsett.

Tony DorsettAs the 1980s Broncos evolved into a perennial contender under the coaching of Dan Reeves, it was clear that they would need a top-tier running back to enable Reeves to not change his lumbering offensive system in any way, despite the presence of John Elway.  Towards this end, for the 1988 season the Broncos traded for aging future Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett.  Tony had spent the first eleven years of his career with the Cowboys, amassing over 12,000 yards rushing, one of the best figures in NFL history.  He had finished among the league’s top ten rushers for eight consecutive years from 1977 through 1985.  But by 1988, Tony was coming off of a couple of uncharacteristically mediocre seasons, and the Cowboys were giving progressively more of the workload to Herschel Walker.  Taking advantage of a fresh start, Tony became Denver’s feature back for the 1988 season, and led the team in rushing, splitting carries with Sammy Winder, who otherwise served as fullback.  However, injuries and advancing age encouraged his retirement after just a single year in Denver.

Tony played in Super Bowl XII, following the 1977 season, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 27-10.  Fortunately for Tony, he played for the Cowboys at the time.  This pummeling would have prepared Tony for life as a 1980s Denver Bronco, but unfortunately his lone season with the team came in the year sandwiched between the team’s appearances in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV.  He also played in Super Bowl XIII, in which the Cowboys lost to the Steelers.

So what makes Tony Dorsett so awesome?  Well, the obvious reason is that he is without question one of the best running backs ever to play in the NFL.  He remains the league’s 7th all-time leading rusher.  He came into the pros as a much-hyped Heisman trophy winner and lived up to his promise.  A second reason is that his time with the Broncos makes more for an interesting story than a sports achievement: future Hall of Fame player sent packing by original team, who found a temporary place with the Broncos before retiring.  Denver has had few HOF members, and ever fewer who recognize the Broncos as their team. (Uh, Tony does not.)  But his year leading the team in rushing remains part of 1980s Denver Bronco lore.  But the real reason is that Tony successfully changed the pronunciation of his name in mid-career, a rare achievement.  Initially it was read like “DOR-sit”, but at some point he wanted it pronounced “dor-SETT”.  And everyone went along with it!  (Except his mom, per legend.)

These days Tony does charity work and makes occasional celebrity appearances.  Most notably, he hosts the Tony Dorsett Celebrity Golf Classic for McGuire Memorial, a ministry and charitable organization in western Pennsylvania.

Image from SI’s “Legends in the Wrong Uniform” Gallery.