Jan. 31, 1977: John Ralston resigns as head coach of the Broncos after five seasons that included the club’s first three winning records.
The Magic Season
Other Broncos teams that followed would take the final step that the 1977 Broncos could not. But perhaps no Broncos team is more memorable, more beloved and more celebrated in the hearts of their fans than the 1977 club that stunned the NFL by roaring to a 12-2 regular season, riding tidal waves of emotion and defensive fury all the way to Super Bowl XII.
To the rest of the league, the Broncos seemed to rise out of nowhere. Most of the country didn’t realize what kind of team the Broncos were building because Denver had never been to the postseason before, although they came close with a 9-5 finish in 1976. Of course, the Broncos had actually been building toward this moment for most of the 1970s.
John Ralston left behind a promising core when he resigned under pressure after the 1976 season. The defense had become one of the league’s best, and Otis Armstrong had two 1,000-yard seasons in his back pocket.
But the Broncos needed a coach and a quarterback to bring it all together.
Within five weeks early in 1977, they found both. Robert “Red” Miller and Craig Morton turned out to be the final ingredients of a perfectly blended cocktail of overpowering defense and balanced offense that eventually drove the Broncos past AFC heavyweights Baltimore, Pittsburgh and finally Oakland. The Broncos beat all three of them in 1977, taking out the Colts on Thanksgiving weekend before turning back the Steelers on Christmas Eve in the divisional playoffs and, finally, the Raiders on New Year’s Day 1978.
Those big games gave the nation its first true taste of “Broncomania.” Network television cameras lingered on crowd shots, awestruck by the fervent enthusiasm of Broncos fans. Broncos fans weren’t owners, as Packers fans were in Green Bay, but thanks to multiple save-the-team ticket drives in the 1960s, it felt that way, and their loyalty endured through so many seasons that ended in disappointment. That loyalty was repaid in 1977, and the fans responded by making Mile High Stadium — newly expanded to 75,000-plus seats — the loudest and most intimidating venue in the NFL.
The ride didn’t stop until Dallas’ Doomsday Defense wreaked havoc on the Broncos in Super Bowl XII, dealing them a 27-10 defeat that ended their championship dreams.
The dream of a Lombardi Trophy for those magic Broncos died that day. But the fans’ enthusiasm never did. As the clock drained to 0:00 at the Louisiana Superdome, tens of thousands of orange-clad fans drowned out the Cowboys’ jubilant faithful, chanting, “We love you!”
Decades later, that love is as strong as ever.