There is no question that the most significant Denver Broncos player to also have played with the New York Giants is Ring of Fame quarterback Craig Morton.
When Craig Morton entered the room, everyone noticed. He had a presence that was at once commanding and elegant.
He came to Denver in a 1977 trade and promptly guided the Broncos to a 12-2 record and home playoff wins against both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders on the way to Super Bowl XII.
Morton had been a No. 1 draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys after a great career at Cal, and the quarterback-rich Cowboys traded to him the New York Giants before he subsequently came to Denver.
It did not work out well for Morton with what was then a very bad Giants team, and Morton recalled that when he got the call that he had been traded to Denver, his response was, "'God, thank you very, very much,' because I knew the Broncos had a great defense. I said, 'Boy, if they had a quarterback, they could be a real good team.' Well, we got a new quarterback, me, and a new coach, Red Miller."
Denver sports history would never be the same.
"I thought it was about time I just kind of rededicated my life and got back to what kind of quarterback I knew I could be," Miller added.
It all came together in the Mile High City.
Morton had a nagging hip pointer late in the 1977 season and injured it worse in the division win over Pittsburgh, requiring a week-long hospital stay. He did not leave the hospital until the morning of the title game against Oakland and was unable to tie his own shoes when dressed for that game.
Red Miller kneeled down and tied his quarterback's shoes, then implored the watching offensive linemen that the Broncos had the most desperate need for them to protect Morton.
He got that protection, threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Haven Moses, and led Denver to a historic 20-14 win that propelled the Broncos into the Super Bowl and the Mile High City into a new strata within the NFL.
It became obvious at the very end that Denver would win, and Morton wouldn't forget that moment.
"It was phenomenal," Morton said. "Thegun sounded, and people went berserk."
Denver lost Super Bowl XII to Dallas, but he says what all Bronco fans know, "Although we didn't win the Super Bowl, that game was something that never will be duplicated, ever."
Morton earned AFC Most Valuable Player honors after ranking fourth in the NFL in passer rating (82.0) during that magical "Orange Crush" season, but he was the Broncos' starting quarterback for most of the period from 1977-82 and put his own unforgettable stamp on No. 7 before John Elway arrived in Denver.
That great 1977 season spawned another famous nickname, as Morton and wide receiver Haven Moses became known as the "M&M Connection." They were leaders in the Broncos' first championship season and revered by fans starved for success in pro football.
I would argue that only the three Super Bowl wins themselves are bigger than this game in the history of the Broncos and possibly in the history of the city, laying the foundation for the Mile High City's growth and confidence.
During his career with Denver, Morton led the team to two division titles and three playoff berths, finishing his Broncos career with 11,895 passing yards and 74 touchdown passes.
Those numbers might not seem high compared to those in today's game, but there was a great deal less passing in pro football during the era in which Morton played.
His 41 regular-season wins as the Broncos' starting quarterback mark the second highest total in club history.
In 1981, under the new offense installed by head coach Dan Reeves, he led the NFL with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt, a figure that still stands as the highest single season total in Broncos history, and he threw for a career high 3,195 yards that year as well.
Morton played a total of 18 seasons in the NFL, but is forever honored by Bronco fans as the first quarterback to take Denver to the Super Bowl.
After retirement he occupied himself with with business ventures, but for a Cal guy, there is no love like your first love.
"I finally got back to the university, where I had long wanted to be, helping raise money for the athletic department," Morton said.
His primary fundraising goal was for Cal's new football facility, which opened in 2011.
These days Craig Morton is completely retired. He and his wife, Kim, live a quiet life in northern California, punctuated by "spending a lot of time walking the dog."
Asked if he still enjoys golf, Morton chuckled and said, "None of my body parts work well enough for me to play
golf," but he added that he still has plenty of energy to cavort with his grandson, coincidentally named Miller, who turned 2 years old on Oct. 13.
Like all members of that Orange Crush team, he was saddened by the passing of head coach Red Miller, and added that
"The Ring of Fame means even more to me with Red in it. I loved him dearly."
Which is exactly how Broncos fans still feel about Craig Morton.