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The 1977 Broncos: Together, they 'lit the fuse'

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Technically, the men who will be honored at halftime Sunday are "former" Broncos. But in reality, the club's 1977 edition are as much a part of the team as today's players, still the heart and soul of all things orange and blue.

From head coach Red Miller down through the roster, a sizable chunk of that year's team gathered at a suburban Denver hotel Saturday in advance of their halftime appearance at Sunday's divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The reunion was spurred by a desire to bring together the Orange Crush defense, but it was more than just players on that side of the ball. Running back Otis Armstrong was there. So were stalwarts like offensive linemen Claudie Minor and Glenn "Lumpy" Hyde, punter Bucky Dilts and Ring of Fame wide receiver and punt returner Rick Upchurch, who will be the Broncos' honorary captain Sunday.

Sunday, they will be honored -- together, Ring of Famers and backups and everyone in between. That's the only way these men will have it.

"It wasn't about individuals. It was about all of us," said Barney Chavous, a defensive lineman from 1973-85 who later served on the coaching staff of the back-to-back world champion Broncos of 1997-98.

Success cemented a bond forged in a different era of pro football, when salaries were lower, offseason jobs were typical, and practices longer and more arduous.

"We spent a lot of time together, and we spent time together away from the football field," said nose tackle Rubin Carter, still called "Hurricane" by teammates in honor of the boxer by the same name. "The Monday nights at Colorado Mine Company, and going to Zang Brewing Company on Friday, and coming together in unity for Bible studies and all of the things that it takes in order to build a football team: closeness, caring for each other, families caring for each other, along with children and wives and all those things.

"That was what I wanted to come back here for: to be able to get that feeling again."

And when Chavous called his teammates up to speak, one by one, that feeling returned. The words of players like Randy Gradishar, Steve Foley, Billy Thompson, Rick Upchurch and others elicited laughter, revived memories of teammates and coaches who passed away and created goose bumps.

"That came from my heart, and for everybody, really, it came from their heart," Chavous said. "That's the kind of team we were.

"... From the least to the greatest, everybody cared about each other. That's how you win in championships, and that's how you win in life, too."

And from his chair, Miller listened to every player speak of what the 1977 team meant -- and what he meant to them.

The shock of hair that gave the head coach his beloved nickname is long gone, replaced by a distinguished white. He hasn't stalked a pro football sideline in 32 years.

But Miller is, now and forever, their coach. And although nearly four decades have passed since that magical autumn, it felt more like four months as the players shared stories, traded barbs and looked to their coach for leadership and still -- to some degree -- to seek his approval.

"We all certainly want that, because he was the glue that put it all together," Carter said. "He came in and he developed a toughness that we needed, a mental toughness that we needed as a football team, the physical toughness to believe that we could go out and be champions."

Even the youngest of the 1977 Broncos now inch toward their 60s. But Miller is still an authority figure, the core around which these men rally, out of equal parts instinct, love and fierce loyalty.

"Any time we're around him, we take on the personality that we had: 'let's go get 'em,'" Chavous said.

Other editions of this proud franchise followed them to the greatness. But there can be only one first. The 1977 Broncos were the club's first team in the playoffs, the first to win in the postseason and the first to bring home the Lamar Hunt Trophy.

"We lit the fuse," Upchurch said.

And today it burns brighter than ever, with the men who ignited the Broncos still proudly carrying the torch.

At halftime Sunday in the south end zone of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, these men will gather around their coach again.

Miller is forever their boss. The 1977 Broncos are forever a team. Together, they are forever the soul of one of the NFL's proudest organizations.

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