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Legend and Legacy: Kubiak's first big game

Check out photos of new Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak.

Besides being an excellent head coach, Gary Kubiak is a serious dose of comfort food for Denver Broncos fans, as are the other coaches whom Gary has hired also returning to Denver.

We have touched on the theme of family previously, and this edition is about the very first meaningful pro game in which Gary Kubiak played a huge role in the outcome. And that game tied the concept of family—old and new—together, big-time.

The year was 1983, and for the first time in Broncos history there were two rookie quarterbacks on the roster, John Elway, the greatest prospect at the position in at least two decades, and Gary Kubiak, the unheralded and practically unknown rookie from Texas A&M.

In fact, the eighth round, when Kubiak was drafted, no longer even exists in the current National Football League draft structure. Kubiak was the 197th player selected in 1983.

He had played some in preseason as a rookie but was Elway's backup. He eventually would be regarded by many as the best backup quarterback in pro football. That opinion had not yet been forged, but got its beginning on November 20, 1983 at Mile High Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle had a fine team that year, one that ultimately would finish just one win short of the Super Bowl, but they expected a tough game vs. the wunderkind Elway before the traditional Denver sellout.

Then John Elway got the flu.

Trainer Steve Antonopulos arrived at the stadium early with John in the hope of getting him ready to play, but Elway could not shake the flu bug and it was announced after pregame warm-ups that Gary Kubiak would start at quarterback.

I still well remember the flurry of activity in the press box, and the clear excitement on the part of Seattle executives, except one.

The radio crew wanted to make sure they had the correct pronunciation of Gary's last name, and several execs seemed to me positively giddy that they would not face Elway.

But not my best friend in the business, Seahawks PR executive Gary Wright, who expressed to me his wisdom that any player can win a game; any player on an NFL roster can play.

The play-by-play printout of that game still clearly shows where the change had been typed in, Kubiak over Elway. No one could have guessed what kind of playing and coaching career the quite young Texan would have, until he gave us all some clues.

The excitement of facing the rookie turned to, "Who is this guy?" when Kubiak connected with Steve Watson on a 78-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

Following a strip and recovery of 34 yards by linebacker Tom Jackson, running back Gerald Willhite scampered 24 yards for a score.

Linebacking great Randy Gradishar intercepted a Dave Krieg pass in the third quarter and set up a short field for Kubiak, who ended the drive by dashing seven yards for a rushing touchdown with just over four minutes left in the third period.

Kicker Rich Karlis contributed five field goals and defensive end Rulon Jones provided the other two Denver points with a safety and the Broncos prevailed over Seattle by a 38-27 final.

Gary Kubiak finished with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 165 yards, the touchdown pass toWatson, and 13 rushing yards as well, including the TD.

Kubiak was officially on the map as an NFL quarterback, but no one suspected that he would serve as Elway's quality backup for nine years, be the offensive coordinator for back-to-back Super Bowl champions, and then be hired by Elway as the team's head coach.

That November 20, 1983 win over Seattle, in retrospect, is all about generations of Broncos family: Jackson and Gradishar beginning to wind down their great careers in Denver, while Elway and Kubiak were at the very start of theirs.

Gary Kubiak has had great moments and memories as both player and coach in his long career, and he is about to create new memories for Broncos Country. But the first big one came with some major ovations at old Mile High Stadium as the unheralded rookie from Houston made his first big mark in the NFL on November 20, 1983.

On-the-field shots from Saturday's NFL Scouting Combine workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium (Credit: The Associated Press)

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