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Legend and Legacy: Adding impact for kickers

Recently in San Francisco, National Football League owners voted to make the first significant change in the extra point in decades.

The NFL went to the two-point conversion in 1994, and the American Football League had it in 1960, but there had been precious little change (excepting the moving of the goal posts to the back of the end zone) in the decades since the 1920's.

Yet now the placekicker is front and center in NFL conversation at this time.

But there was a game, a moment in Denver Broncos history in which the kicker stood taller than at any other time in franchise history, and it was in one of the greatest—and most important—games in franchise history.

I am referring to the game in which future Broncos Ring of Fame kicker Jim Turner caught a touchdown pass, and it was not in garbage time, it was the real deal.

Turner fulfilled the unspoken dream of many placekickers in a game that still stands today as a seminal moment in team history.

It was October 16, 1977.


The Broncos, under new head coach Red Miller, had started the season 4-0, but game five was at Oakland against the defending world champion Raiders.

Not only was this at a time when the Raiders were a dominant NFL franchise, but Denver went to Oakland with a record of 2-24-2 against the Raiders over the previous 14 seasons, 1963-76.

So it was a nice start by Denver, but no one gave the Broncos much chance against the notorious bad boys of pro football. But times had changed, and this was the moment when the Broncos announced themselves to the pro football world as championship contenders, a status that the orange and blue maintains to this day, a very nice 39-year run indeed.

The Broncos fell behind by a 7-0 margin in the first quarter and then scored 30 unanswered points to thoroughly thump the reigning NFL champs by a 30-7 final score.

After a Craig Morton-to-Riley Odoms touchdown pass tied the score in the first period, fullback Lonnie Perrin ran 16 yards to put Denver ahead 14-7 in the second stanza.

The Broncos' Orange Crush defense was in full bloom, as tough to score on as any team in the league, and it produced a team-record seven interceptions off Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler on this day, a team linebacker record of three by Joe Rizzo alone.

Late in the second quarter Pro Bowl linebacker Randy Gradishar picked Stabler off and set the Broncos up in Oakland territory.

It came down to fourth down at the Raider 25 and the Broncos lined up for a field goal that would give them a 17-7 halftime lead.

But as Paul Harvey used to say ... here is the rest of the story.

The Broncos' great special teams coach Marv Braden frequently ended a practice session with holder Norris Weese throwing a pass to Jim Turner, famous for wearing black high top shoes as well as for being one of pro football's best kickers. Weese would pass, Turner would catch, and all had a great chuckle to spice up practice.

But Turner had been a fine quarterback and ball handler in his days at Utah State. In fact, he passed for seven touchdowns and ran for eight in his career with the Aggies—certainly one of the finest records from scrimmage of any placekicker in NFL history, as the role of kicker already had become a position of specialist.

And at this moment, in the waning seconds of the half, Braden went to Miller and pleaded his case that this was the moment to pass to Turner.

Red was initially incredulous at the suggestion, pointing out that the play was done as much for levity as long term planning.

But Braden persisted, saying there was no way the Raiders could expect a pass to the kicker in the black high tops.

Red Miller gave his blessing, Braden called the play, and the Denver special teams took the field for what every single observer assumed to be a 32-yard field goal attempt.

The snap from center Bobby Maples was perfect and Weese sold the play by putting the ball almost on the ground before pulling up and fading a couple of yards back. After faking his kick Turner had drifted into the left flat, with the Raiders paying him no mind as they continued rushing toward what they hoped would be a blocked kick.

The Raiders bit, hook, line and sinker, and Weese lobbed the ball to a wide open Turner. Fans all over Denver, certainly including this writer, were in total shock, then elation, as one of the great kickers in the NFL chugged into the end zone like he was back at Utah State.

The Broncos led the world champions by two touchdowns with 52 seconds left in the half.

In the second half the Orange Crush defense stifled the Raiders, with cornerback Louis Wright returning an interception 18 yards for a score and Turner adding a 32-yard field goal for the final 23-point margin of victory.

Miller had a slightly different take on the postgame prayer, telling the team, "Hail Mary, full of grace ... the Oakland Raiders are in second place!"

And the Denver Broncos were on their way, finishing the regular season 12-2 and then defeating both Pittsburgh and Oakland in Mile High Stadium to win the team's first American Football Conference Championship, ending the 1977 season with a trip to Super Bowl XII in New Orleans.

It was one of the great days in Denver Broncos history, against their greatest nemesis, and the single moment that electrified the team and every fan watching on television in the Mile High City was the touchdown reception by kicker Jim Turner, one of the legendary plays in franchise history.

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