Expectations rise; results don’t

President Richard Nixon would resign in 1974, in what would be tumultuous year in the United States. It was no less tumultuous for the NFL and the Broncos. Major rules changes altered the field of play, how games were decided, and even how offensive holding was penalized, with the infraction dropping from 15 to 10 yards. The league’s players went on strike during training camp. Amid all that, Broncos could not take the next step in building off of their first winning season, lurching home for a 7-6-1 finish that was the second-best in club history to that point, but was nonetheless disappointing.

The season did see a bit of history, as the Broncos were involved in the NFL’s first-ever regular-season overtime. Having never played in the postseason, the Broncos had never experienced sudden death. In Week 2 they and the Steelers became the first teams to play a regular-season overtime period. Fifteen minutes were played and did nothing to change the result. Both teams squandered opportunities, and the 35-35 final provided exactly the kind of result that regular-season sudden death was designed to prevent.

The Broncos had wasted a 21-7 lead against the eventual world champions that day, and that disappointing result was a harbinger of the rest of the season to come. They pieced together a pair of three-game winning streaks to overcome an 0-2-1 start and eke out a winning record. But another season out of the playoffs — which included a disappointing 3-3-1 home mark — stalled the progress shown in the first two years under John Ralston.

But there were indications of future glory. Future Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar made his debut in 1974. But the brightest spots were on offense, as tight end Riley Odoms and running back Otis Armstrong earned first-team All-Pro honors. Armstrong’s 1,407 rushing yards led the league and set a Broncos single-season record that would last for 22 years, until Terrell Davis came along.

1974 Schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/15 Los Angeles Rams 10-17
9/22 pittsburgh steelers 35-35
9/30 at washington redskins 3-30
10/6 at kansas city chiefs 17-14
10/13 new orleans saints 33-17
10/20 san diego chargers 27-7
10/27 at Cleveland Browns 21-23
11/3 Oakland Raiders 17-28
11/10 at Baltimore colts 17-6
11/18 Kansas City Chiefs 34-42
11/24 at Oakland Raiders 20-17
11/28 at Detroit Lions 31-27
12/8 Houston oilers 37-14
12/15 at San Diego Chargers 0-17

1974 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb charley johnson 13
qb steve ramsey 1
rb otis armstrong 14
rb jon keyworth 5
rb floyd little 9
wr billy masters 1
wr haven moses 9
wr jerry simmons 2
wr bill van heusen 12
te riley odoms 14
c bobby maples 14
t mike current 14
t claudie minor 14
g paul howard 5
g larron jackson 9
g tom lyons 14

1974 defense

Pos Player Starts
de lyle alzado 14
de barney chavous 14
dt pete duranko 9
dt john grant 13
dt bob kampa 1
dt ed smith 3
dt paul smith 2
lb randy gradishar 3
lb tom jackson 12
lb bil laskey 10
lb ray may 12
cb lonnie hepburn 4
cb calvin jones 14
cb john rowser 10
s charles greer 10
s john pitts 4
s billy thompson 14

Record: 7-6-1

Second place, AFC west

Sept. 22, 1974: The Broncos and Steelers play in the first regular-season overtime game, neither team scored in the sudden death period ending in a 35-35 tie.