Skip to main content

Denver Broncos | News

Way Back When: Memories of a legendary and bruising playoff game between the Broncos and Oilers


The Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans franchises go all the way back to 1960, when the Titans were the Houston Oilers and both teams were members of the American Football League.

These teams have played classic games, but the single game I think of as one of the hardest-hitting games I have ever seen came in Houston. It came two days before Christmas in 1979 when the Broncos and Oilers played a wild-card playoff game.

The Oilers played strong second-half defense, and they got two field goals from Toni Fritsch as they posted a 13-7 win over the Broncos. But the score itself did not reflect the vicious nature of the game, played on artificial turf in the Houston Astrodome.

The Broncos took a 7-3 lead when Craig Morton tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Dave Preston.

But Houston went ahead to stay in the second quarter on a short run by Earl Campbell. Houston took a 10-7 lead into halftime and, by then, both teams were basically battering each other hard.

Denver linebacker Bob Swenson, a very intimidating player, intercepted a Gifford Nielsen pass in the fourth quarter, but two hard sacks of Morton led to a failed field goal attempt by the Broncos.

It was 13-7 when Denver drove to the Houston 27 at the two-minute mark, but the Oilers defense again rose to the occasion to stifle the threat and secure the win.

There were three future Hall of Famers on the Houston defense that day: nose guard Curley Culp, defensive end Elvin Bethesda and linebacker Robert Brazile.

They also had a future Hall of Famer on offense in Campbell, who was held to just 50 rushing yards by an Orange Crush defense led by Randy Gradishar, who had 13 total tackles, according to press box figures.

Gradishar and his defensive teammates forced Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini and star wide receiver Ken Burrough out of the game due to injuries early in the second half. Those losses put a severe crimp in the Houston attack.

But that Oilers defense held the Broncos to just 216 yards, and Morton was sacked six times for 40 yards in the contest. It held the Broncos' running game down as well and limited Denver to just four third-down conversions on 13 attempts.

While Campbell did rush for 50 yards, he too was battered and bruised in the contest.

The hard-hitting toll on the Oilers was not fully shown until the following week.

With the win over Denver, Houston moved on to division round play at San Diego. However, due to battering taken in the Denver game, neither Campbell, Pastorini nor Burrough could play against the Chargers.

But this was an historic playoff sequence, beginning with the Houston win over Denver in a hard-hitting game that left lots of bruises.

Related Content