This week, the Denver Broncos will host the New York Jets in a meeting of American Football League originals.
They both began play in 1960, with the Broncos in old Bears Stadium and the New York team (they were the Titans in those days) in the Polo Grounds.
The Polo Grounds was the name of the stadium used primarily by the New York baseball Giants before they moved to the West Coast. It was located just across the river from Yankee Stadium, and the Broncos played there for the first four years of the Titans'/Jets' existence.
The Titans changed their name to the Jets and picked the color green in 1963 ahead of moving into Shea Stadium in 1964. Somehow fittingly, their first opponent was Denver, which dropped an ugly 30-6 game to the New Yorkers.
Before the Broncos settled on orange as their primary color, which was back in 1962, they were said to have considered green, except the rumors were that the New York team was going to change its name to "Jets" and choose green as their primary color. The Broncos' head coach/general manager in 1962 was Jack Faulkner, who had a big Ohio connection and carried a fondness for the Browns' orange color. So it worked out well. The "Green Crush" does not have a natural ring to it.
Over the years, the two franchises have each had some of the league's most memorable superfans. The Broncos had the Barrel Man as perhaps their most visible fan, while the Jets fans were led in cheers by "Fireman Ed," who was an actual New York firefighter and a big Jets fan.
The most memorable games in Denver between the two franchises include a 1962 Thanksgiving Day game here that the Titans won, 46-45, before an announced crowd of 15,776 before their turkey dinner.
The Jets were the Broncos opponents when I saw my first pro game, a thrilling 20-16 win here in Denver in 1964. It was a cold day, just 25 degrees at kickoff, and the 11,309 in attendance marked the lowest figure of the year for Denver, including the exhibition games.
A new era of excitement came to Jets games in 1965, when they drafted and signed future Hall of Famer Joe Namath as their quarterback. Namath was a genuine superstar in both football and the broader culture. And, of course, he did the famous commercial in which he wore pantyhose.
New York won the world championship following the 1968 season, but then when they came to Denver for the second game of the 1969 season, they were upset in a huge 21-19 Broncos win.
But as big as that game was, it pales compared to the 1998 AFC Championship Game, when the defending world champion Broncos clinched a berth in a Super Bowl by defeating the Jets 23-10 in John Elway's final game at Mile High Stadium.
It was a windy day, and the Jets held the Broncos scoreless in the first half and had a 10-0 lead in the third quarter. The Jets' third-quarter touchdown run was set up by a blocked punt to set up New York at the 1-yard line, and it proved to be just the wakeup call Denver needed to ignite its offense as well as the unusually quiet Mile High Stadium crowd.
Seemingly before you knew it, Elway connected with wide receiver Ed McCaffrey on a 47-yard pass and then found fullback Howard Griffith for an 11-yard touchdown pass to cut the Jets' lead to 10-7.
Then the Jets fumbled on a kickoff that was severely impacted by the high winds. Linebacker and special teams captain Keith Burns recovered the ball, and the offense turned it into points with a 44-yard Jason Elam field goal to tie the game.
By the end of the third quarter, the Broncos had the lead, as Elam kicked a second field goal and Terrell Davis scored on a 31-yard touchdown run.
Davis set several records during the game, including passing his own NFL record for total rushing yards in an entire season — regular season and postseason combined — which he set in 1997. He also rushed for at least 100 yards in a sixth consecutive postseason game, which tied former Washington running back John Riggins; Davis would set a new record in Super Bowl XXXIII in Atlanta two weeks later. He also passed Larry Csonka and Riggins to move into sixth place in career postseason rushing yards.
The Hall of Famer remains the only 2,000-yard rusher ever to be a regular season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, and he is the only back ever to run for at least 100 yards in seven straight postseason games, which all came in a two-year span.
That 1998 Broncos team featured five future Hall of Famers (as of now): Elway, Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Steve Atwater and owner Pat Bowlen.
Head coach Mike Shanahan, while too humble to discuss it, seems like a Hall of Fame cinch in a future class.
This weekend also happens to be the 25th anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl XXXII team that won it all following the 1997 season, which was the first time Denver won the world championship.
Here's to great teams that helped cement a legacy of championship football in Denver!