The sunset of the original Orange Crush

Even after John Elway’s arrival in 1983, defense had continued to help define the Broncos. But one by one, the components of their dominant defenses retired.

Linebacker Randy Gradishar walked away after the 1983 season. Barney Chavous followed two years later. Nose tackle Rubin Carter injured his knee in 1986 and retired. Linebacker Tom Jackson, safety Steve Foley and cornerback Louis Wright all called it a career in the months after the Broncos’ Super Bowl XXI loss. Even second-wave Orange Crush standouts like Rulon Jones were on the downside of their careers.

By 1988, the Broncos were leaking points.

The 42 points allowed in the Louisiana Superdome on Nov. 20, 1988, were part of a troubling pattern for long-time coordinator Joe Collier’s defense. After allowing 14.4 points per game in the first seven weeks of the season, Denver allowed 27.9 points a game in the last nine, including 42 points twice and 55 points to the Indianapolis Colts on Halloween. The Broncos finished 22nd in the league in yardage allowed, and the 352 points conceded was the club’s most in 20 years, and particularly galling to a club that prided itself on its defense.

The manner in which the Broncos were gashed by the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII still stung, too.

So a day after the Broncos concluded their disappointing 8-8 1988 season, Collier and four defensive assistants were dismissed, including linebacker coach Myrel Moore and defensive line coach Stan Jones, both of whom had been with the team since the John Ralston era.

Collier served 20 years as a Broncos assistant and Jones was on the staff for 18 seasons, including a five-year stint under Lou Saban. They remain the longest-serving assistant coaches in Broncos history, and with the pressure and instability of coaching in the NFL today, their records appear unlikely to be approached. Collier remains one of the most accomplished coordinators in NFL history, and if the Pro Football Hall of Fame ever decided to open its doors to coaches based on their accomplishments as assistants, he would undoubtedly be on the short list for induction.

1988 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/4 seattle seahawks 14-21
9/11 san diego chargers 34-3
9/18 at kansas city chiefs 13-20
9/26 los angeles raiders (OT) 27-30
10/2 at san diego chargers 12-0
10/9 at san francisco 49ers (OT) 16-13
10/16 atlanta falcons 30-14
10/23 at pittsburgh steelers 21-39
10/31 at indianapolis colts 23-55
11/6 kansas city chiefs 17-11
11/13 cleveland browns 30-7
11/20 at new orleans saints 0-42
11/27 los angeles rams 35-24
12/4 at los angeles raiders 20-21
12/11 at seattle seahawks 14-42
12/17 new england patriots 21-10

1988 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb john elway 15
qb gary kubiak 1
rb tony dorsett 12
rb steve sewell 3
rb gerald willhite 1
rb sammy winder 12
wr mark jackson 4
wr vance johnson 13
wr ricky nattiel 11
te clarence kay 14
te orson mobley 10
c billy bryan 16
t jim juriga 15
t ken lanier 16
t dave studdard 4
g keith bishop 10
g stephan humphries 1
g keith kartz 12
g gerald perry 6

Oct. 16, 1988: QB Craig Morton, WR Haven Moses and K Jim Turner are inducted into the Ring of Fame at halftime of a 30-14 win over Atlanta.

1988 defense

Pos Player Starts
de walt bowyer 10
de freddie gilbert 6
de andre townsend 16
nt greg kragen 16
lb michael brooks 4
lb rick dennison 16
lb simon fletcher 16
lb bruce klosterman 4
lb karl mecklenburg 10
lb jim ryan 14
cb jeremiah castille 15
cb mark haynes 15
cb steve wilson 2
s mike harden 16
s randy robbins 6
s dennis smith 10

Record: 8-8

Second place, AFC West