A shutout launches the magical season

The Orange Crush huddles
Randy Gradishar and the Broncos’ defense would put together one of the best seasons in team history.

A then-Broncos record crowd of 75,002 at newly expanded Mile High Stadium saw the defense make a late stand deep in Broncos territory to seal a 7-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Week 1, defense was all that separated the Broncos from a season-opening loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and their explosive offense. With targets galore, the steady Jim Hart under center and arguably the best offensive line in the game, the Cardinals had the first pro iteration of the “Air Coryell” attack that Don Coryell would eventually master in San Diego.

You didn’t shut out this offense. No one had even held it to single digits since 1974.

That the Broncos won wasn’t an upset; the Broncos were 9-5 the year before, the Cardinals one game better. The game was at Mile High Stadium, where a then-franchise record 75,002 fans made the newly expanded stands shudder with noise.

But the score was a stunner:

Denver 7, St. Louis 0.

The immovable object had stopped the irresistible force cold.

A 10-yard third-quarter touchdown run by Otis Armstrong was all the offense the Broncos needed, capping a modest 34-yard drive set up when St. Louis punter Terry Joyce mishandled a snap.
The defense’s fury bled to the special teams. Two of the four field-goal attempts by St. Louis kicker Jim Bakken were deflected, one each by Claudie Minor and Lyle Alzado. The Cardinals had two final chances to tie the game with 1:48 remaining after driving to the Denver 7-yard-line, but a pair of Hart passes fell incomplete.

It was an appropriate launching pad for the memorable season to come.