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Sacco Sez: The Broncos, then and now


There is an old adage that what goes around, comes around.

The Denver Broncos have just completed one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, and the search is on for a new head coach. Many fingers point many ways to the reasons for the season.

But one of the things that I have been thinking about lately is that we have actually been where we are now.

In 1976, the Broncos had a 9-5 season, but a variety of factors left a bad taste in the mouths of many, and John Ralston was replaced as head coach. The next year, with Fred Gehrke as general manager and Red Miller as head coach, the Broncos made a trade with the New York Giants, with quarterback Steve Ramsey and a fifth-round pick going to New York and quarterback Craig Morton coming to Denver.

Morton had just about been run out of New York, a very disappointing stop for the former first-round draft pick from the University of California.

It not so much looked like Morton's career needed to be revived, as it looked like there was no chance of reviving it. He had been traded from Dallas to New York, and then booed out of New York.

"My history with the Cowboys is that I did take them to their first Super Bowl," Morton says. "But the next year, Coach [Tom] Landry decided that the job was open, we went back and forth, and he awarded the job to Roger [Staubach]."

Staubach eventually forged a Hall of Fame career with the Cowboys.

"It was evident that one of us had to go," Morton says, "and I just said, 'I'm not going to do this anymore.'"

Both quarterbacks were known as fierce competitors, and both wanted to start. Morton ultimately was traded to the Giants, which at that time were at a low ebb for the historic franchise.

"It was just a bad situation," Morton recalls, "and in the summer of 1977, I got a call from the Giants telling me they were sorry, but I had been traded to the Denver Broncos.

"I said, 'God, thank you very much,' because I knew the Broncos had a great defense. I said, 'Boy, if they had a quarterback, this could be a really good team.' Well, we got a new quarterback — me — and a new head coach, Red Miller."

This is not to suggest a direct parallel between then and now. But the Broncos are considered to have a real good defense, and the first person to suggest that Russell Wilson had a disappointing season is Wilson himself, and many of the pieces are in place for real contention, including at quarterback.

The Broncos had about two dozen players on injured reserve at one time or another— a high figure by any standard in the NFL — and these and other factors suggest that the team can improve greatly in 2023.

To go back to 1977, the Broncos at that time had never been to the playoffs and had never won their division, so there was no reason to think they would have the kind of season that they did. But Morton led the team to its first postseason appearance, first division title and first Super Bowl berth.

He guided the team to a 12-2 record, home playoff wins over Pittsburgh and Oakland, and Morton earned a variety of national awards for his 1977 performance, including UPI's AFC MVP honors.

It was a long way from being booed off the field in New York.

What happened once can happen again.

The Broncos are searching for a new head coach, but many of the player pieces are in place, just as they were in 1977.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is already hard at work getting ready for 2023.

This is not to suggest that it will be a case of deja vu, but hard work and a team focus on a common goal can bring the Broncos back to respectability and playoff contention very rapidly.

And those members of Broncos Country who watched it happen in 1977 are unified in their belief that something similar can happen once again.

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