|9/24||at san diego chargers||14-37|
|10/1||kansas city chiefs||24-45|
|10/8||at cincinnati bengals||10-21|
|10/22||at oakland raiders||30-23|
|11/5||at new york giants||17-29|
|11/12||at los angeles rams||16-10|
|11/26||at atlanta falcons||20-23|
|12/3||at kansas city chiefs||21-24|
|12/10||san diego chargers||38-13|
|12/17||new england patriots||45-21|
John Ralston’s enthusiasm changes the culture
The Broncos didn’t just change coaches when John Ralston replaced Lou Saban as head coach and general manager. They took a 180-degree pivot in styles.
Instead of tempestuous reactions, the former Stanford coach bubbled optimism. A certified Dale Carnegie instructor, Ralston wanted to change the organizational culture by force of personality. Every day was about “getting better.” It wasn’t a matter of if the Broncos would improve, but when, and he boldly proclaimed that the Broncos would finish the 1972 season 10-4.
“You don’t fake this sort of thing,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1973. “If you put up a false facade of positive thinking, people will see through it. I’m just this way all the time.”
The Broncos would finish the 1972 season 5-9, but Ralston was unfazed.
His sentiment was justified a week later when the Broncos marched into Oakland and defeated the Raiders 30-23. It snapped a 14-game Raiders win streak in the series that dated back to 1965. The game marked the Broncos’ first win there in a decade.
It wasn’t a coincidence that the game was Charley Johnson’s first as the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Ralston acquired him from the Houston Oilers for a third-round selection, and he profoundly changed the team.
“He taught us how to win,” wide receiver Haven Moses would later recall.
In his first start as a Bronco, Johnson completed 20 of 28 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns as the Broncos built a 24-3 lead and held on for the 30-23 win at Oakland. It would be the first of 27 consecutive starts for Johnson, who held down the position for all but two games until the accumulation of injuries began to catch up with him midway through the 1975 season.
“Before the game, they would stand him up on a table and tape him from head to toe. We called him ‘The Mummy,’” wide receiver Haven Moses later recalled. “His body had been ravaged over time. But he was a smart quarterback. He was a very patient quarterback.”
And he was a perfect complement to Ralston. The Broncos ended 1972 still searching for their first winning season, but the wait was about to end.