John Elway was the league MVP in 1987, leading the Broncos to their second consecutive AFC title before falling 42-10 to Washington in Super Bowl XXII, giving the Broncos their third Super Bowl loss in as many trips to that point in team history.

But Jeremiah Castille was the unlikely hero of perhaps the most unusual season in league annals, a year that saw the Broncos’ only tie since 1975 and a three-game stint of replacement games while the regular players went on strike.

Castille had been unwanted by the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so he arrived in Denver in 1987 as a waiver claim with few expectations and even less fanfare. Instead, he made one of the greatest defensive plays in Broncos history.

As the seconds dripped from the clock in the 1987 AFC Championship Game, Castille alertly stripped the football from Browns running back Earnest Byner when he was en route to a game-tying touchdown. Castille forced the fumble and then recovered it, providing yet another nail of heartbreak in Cleveland’s coffin of football despair.

Unlike the previous year at Municipal Stadium, it was the Browns who had built a cresting tide of momentum late in the game. Denver had led 21-3 at halftime, but from that point forward the Browns were nearly unstoppable, sprinting to four consecutive touchdowns before the Broncos finally forced a punt with the score tied at 31. The Broncos seized the lead back on a 20-yard Elway-to-Sammy Winder pass with 4:01 remaining, but the Browns quickly struck back, mixing Byner’s carries with a pair of Bernie Kosar completions.

With 72 seconds left and the Browns at the Denver 8-yard line, Kosar handed it to Byner once more. The path to the south end zone was wide open.

“I was scared to death,” John Elway said.

“I didn’t hold out a lot of hope when I saw Byner running for the end zone with the ball,” added linebacker Jim Ryan.

“From where he was, I thought he was going to score,” Reeves said. “I was really thinking about who was going to win the coin toss for overtime. Whoever got the ball first was going to win the game.”

Then Castille intervened.

“I saw it loose and one of our guys fell on it,” Ryan said, “and I just said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”

Castille was always reluctant to talk with reporters, and that remained the case after the game, when he declined interview requests.

“He’s not talking to you guys? What are you doing to my players? He was a nice guy when you came here,” Reeves joked.

1987 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/13 Seattle Seahawks 40-17
9/20 at Green Bay Packers (OT) 17-17
9/28 at Cleveland Browns (canceled -- strike)
10/4 Houston Oilers 10-40
10/12 Los Angeles Raiders 30-14
10/18 at Kansas City Chiefs 26-17
10/26 at Minnesota Vikings 27-34
11/1 Detroit Lions 34-0
11/8 at Buffalo Bills 14-21
11/16 Chicago Bears 31-29
11/22 at Los Angeles Raiders 23-17
11/29 at San Diego Chargers 31-17
12/6 New England Patriots 31-20
12/13 at Seattle Seahawks 21-28
12/20 at Kansas City Chiefs 20-17
12/27 San Diego Chargers 24-0
1/10 Houston Oilers (Divisional Playoff) 34-10
1/17 Cleveland Browns (AFC Championship) 38-33
1/31 Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XXII) 10-42

Steve Foley retires

Safety Steve Foley announces his retirement. “I first thought about retirement after the Super Bowl,” Foley said. “I decided not to make any decisions hastily. I decided to let it go and see if the desire to come back was really there. It wasn’t.”

1987 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb john elway 12
qb ken karcher 3
rb scott caldwell 1
rb joe dudek 2
rb gene lang 8
rb gerald willhite 3
rb sammy winder 8
fb ken bell 1
fb bobby micho 3
wr laron brown 1
wr mark jackson 11
wr vance johnson 9
wr rick massie 3
wr ricky nattiel 3
wr shane swanson 2
wr steve watson 1
te mitch andrews 3
te clarence kay 12
te orson mobley 4
c billy bryan 4
c larry lee 4
c jack peavey 1
t kevin belcher 1
t keith kartz 3
t ken lanier 12
t dave studdard 14
g john ayers 5
g keith bishop 12
g winford hood 2
g stefan humphries 7
g david jones 1
g/c mike freeman 9

1987 defense

Pos Player Starts
de walt bowyer 4
de steve bryan 3
de freddie gilbert 3
de rulon jones 12
de ray woodard 1
nt andre townsend 11
nt jeff tupper 3
nt/lb greg kragen 9
lb kirk dodge 1
lb simon fletcher 11
lb ricky hunley 12
lb tim joiner 3
lb tim lucas 3
lb karl mecklenburg 12
lb jim ryan 14
lb bryant winn 3
cb kevin clark 3
cb mike harden 12
cb mark haynes 12
cb earl johnson 3
cb martin rudolph 1
cb steve wilson 5
s steve fitzhugh 1
s roger jackson 2
s daryll jones 1
s leonard jones 1
s tony lilly 9
s randy robbins 4
s dennis smith 6

Elway earns MVP

The Broncos win their third AFC West title in four years after shutting out San Diego 24-0 in a blizzard. Denver finishes the season with a 10-4-1 record, becoming the only team in the NFL to post eight 10-win seasons since 1977. Quarterback John Elway is named NFL Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press.

Record: 10-4-1
First place, AFC West
AFC Champions