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Sacco Sez: Red Miller began Broncos' high standard

Most fans know the incredible success the Broncos have had in the past 40 years: the three world championships, the eight Super Bowl appearances, the 10 AFC Championship games, the 15 AFC West titles and the 22 playoff berths.

But before Red Miller came here as head coach, the totals in each of those categories were zero.


But when Miller arrived in 1977 for that magical season, he changed everything for the Broncos, and he changed it forever.

Photos from the coaching career of Ring of Fame head coach Red Miller. (Photos from AP Images unless noted)

He was the first Broncos head coach to reach those lofty goals and created a standard of excellence that now may be taken for granted in the Mile High City. Miller was the first one to post a 12-win season, and he did so with a 14 game schedule in 1977, and he also was the first Denver coach ever to have three consecutive 10-win campaigns. In fact, those three seasons with 10 or more wins were the only ones in team history at the time, again setting a high bar for the future success.

His fiery leadership proved ideal for a veteran team that had the potential to reach a championship level for the first time. He was simply the perfect coach at the perfect time.

He and general manager Fred Gehrke engineered the trade that brought Ring of Fame quarterback Craig Morton to Denver, and Morton responded with a season that earned Comeback Player of the Year honors.

On defense, the "Orange Crush" was nothing less than dominant, holding opponents to fewer than 10 points in half of the Broncos' regular-season games in 1977. That defense featured four Ring of Famers, including linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson, and defensive backs Billy Thompson and Louis Wright. Eight of Miller's starting defensive players made the Pro Bowl at some point in their careers.

That team was a powerhouse, led by the passionate Miller.

He was an intensely meticulous, to the point that he revised his agenda several times daily, adding new tasks as rapidly as he crossed off those he accomplished.

One memory that I will never forget showed his temperament and his fiery spirit, which rubbed off on his teams.

We had just lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Monday Night Football" at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers were on their way to winning the Super Bowl, but of course we did not know that on that cool night on Oct. 22, 1979.

Miller was steaming when I brought him into the pressroom to meet the sports writers and broadcasters. That was one press conference that I can still recite verbatim today.

He paused, then said, "How anyone can play like that and call himself a man is beyond me. This press conference is over."

And it was.

Miller left the room, and the press had the head coach's reaction to the game.

Today, that reaction reminds me of Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway's comments in 2015 that he wants the Broncos to be a team that goes out "kicking and screaming," one that never, ever quits.

That mentality led the Broncos that year to Super Bowl 50, just as it did in the franchise's previous Super Bowl seasons in 1997 and 1998.

But Red Miller was the first head coach to infuse that quality into the Denver Broncos. Forty years ago, he led them to greatness as AFC Champions, and now he finally gets his due in the Ring of Fame.

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