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The Final Countdown for Mile High

This is the last time of the regular season that the turnstiles will be open at Mile High Stadium. It will be the 237th consecutive regular season sellout for Denver Broncos games. Add in postseason games and the number is 250. That means that there has been a full house for every Broncos game (with two exceptions) since the opening game of the 1970 season.

The two exceptions are stories in their own right. Following the second game of the 1987 season, the NFL Players Association went on strike, and the owners decided to continue the season with replacement players. After a one week cancellation of games, the Broncos(?) took the field to play Houston. All of the tickets were sold, but the teams agreed to refunds if ticket holders so desired. 38,494 showed up for that game. Houston beat the Broncos 40-10. Ken Karcher was the quarterback, and the leading running back was Joe Dudek, a small college All-American at Plymouth State. He had been a cover boy for Sports Illustrated because of the record rushing and scoring numbers he amassed in college. He was drafted by Denver and became a crowd favorite, but didn't make the final roster. He was called back on the replacement team and in three games rushed for a 44-yard average and scored two touchdowns. The next week, the Broncos played Monday Night Football against the Raiders. This time 61,230 were in the stands, and with many veterans having crossed the picket lines, the Broncos beat the Raiders 30-14. The attendance at that game was a record for the "replacement games" and again proved the loyalty of Denver fans. By contrast, the Broncos played in Kansas City in the third and final "replacement game." Denver beat the Chiefs 26-17 before only 20,000. These games are only a footnote in Mile High's history, but an interesting one.

In the past nine issues, I have talked about some of the great moments. Elway's comebacks against Kansas City and Baltimore, the Elway-Montana shootout, the Cleveland AFC Championship games, the playoff games against the Steelers, Denver's first AFC Championship game in 1977, the first Monday Night Game, Craig Morton's three touchdowns in 1:19 against Seattle, Elway parading the AFC trophy around the field in what proved to be his final game against the New York Jets in 1999. I've talked about Rich Jackson and Tom Jackson, Lionel Taylor and Haven Moses, Floyd Little and Sammy Winder, Randy Gradishar and Karl Mecklenburg, Louis Wright, Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater. The list goes on and on.

I've often been asked about my personal preferences. All the above top the list of Mile High memories, but there are others.

The Broncos win over Oakland to propel them to their first Super Bowl still tops my list, but I'll never forget the excitement and electricity surrounding the first major league baseball game in Denver when the Colorado Rockies faced the Montreal Expos. The Rockies had opened on the road with two losses to the New York Mets and came home to open the home season on a beautiful spring day, April 9, 1993. The Rocky Mountain region had waited nearly a century for this day, and 80,227 people jammed Mile High to set baseball's all time single-season attendance record. When the Rockies came to bat in the bottom of the first, the fans cheered every pitch, but nobody anticipated the moment, when the leadoff hitter, Eric Young, hit a 3-2 pitch into the left field stands. The thunder coming from Mile High was incredible. If one was writing a movie script, it couldn't be improved on. Before the inning was over, Charlie Hayes also hit a home run, and the four-run first inning helped the Rockies to an 11-4 win. The Rockies drew more than 70,000 fans to Mile High nine times in that inaugural season, and finished with the largest single-game attendance in major league history - 4,483,450. Mile High originated as a home for the Denver Bears minor league baseball team, so it was fitting as the home for Denver's first major league franchise for two seasons.

Another great moment was the first college football game in the stadium. Colorado and Colorado State drew 76,036 for that game in 1998. It was a great college atmosphere. The Buffaloes won that first encounter 42-14, but CSU enjoyed the atmosphere for the next two games, beating CU in 1999 and 2000.

There were some other Broncos moments as well:

… October 18, 1992 - Gaston Green runs 97 yards for a touchdown, the longest TD run in 20 years. The Broncos beat Houston 27-21. Green had run for 1,000 yards in 1991.

… October 25, 1998 - Jason Elam ties a 28-year old NFL record by kicking a 63-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half. The Broncos beat Jacksonville 37-24.

… December 6, 1998 - The Broncos beat Kansas City 35-31 for their 18th straight regular/postseason victory - an NFL record.

… December 27, 1998 - Terrell Davis needed 170 yards to become the fourth NFL player to run for more than 2,000 yards. He got it in a 28-21 win over Seattle to finish 14-2, the best in franchise history.

… December 19, 1999 - The Broncos beat Seattle 36-30 for their 300th regular season win.

In another year, this hallowed ground will be a parking lot, so take the time to look around and remember, it might be the last time you see it.

By Larry Zimmer
Former 850 KOA Sports Director