Finally, the Broncos are winners

And, ironically, it was a tie that helped get them there — a tie that was perhaps the Broncos’ best moment of their first 14 seasons.

In 1971, a tie helped seal Lou Saban’s fate. Two years later, Jim Turner’s 35-yard game-tying field goal on Monday Night Football kick-started the Broncos, keeping them on an undefeated streak that would last for a then-Broncos-record eight games.

It was Denver’s first appearance on MNF, which had become a pop cultural phenomenon in its first three seasons — but without the Broncos.

Even the halftime highlights, narrated by the eloquent Howard Cosell, were scrutinized, and fans of low-wattage teams — including Denver — complained vociferously when their sides were left out of the package.

The Broncos were just 2-3 coming into their Oct. 22 prime-time appearance, but their place on MNF confirmed their growing cachet. The team had talent, and after Charley Johnson led a game-tying drive in the final 38 seconds against the Raiders, it was clear that talent was getting results.

“It was the Raiders, the ‘Evil Empire,’ coming to town. It was Howard coming to town. It was all of that orange,” said Turner when he reflected on the game to The Denver Post in 2000. “And we also just happened to be a pretty good football team.”

Two years after the infamous “half a loaf” game, the Broncos had a far more satisfying deadlock, as delicious as a steak dinner. Instead of killing morale, it raised it. The Broncos went undefeated in their next five games to move to 6-3-2.

A win at San Diego sealed the franchise’s first winning season, and the Broncos finished 7-5-2 and finally with something to show for Ralston’s perpetual optimism.

1973 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/16 cincinnati bengals 28-10
9/23 san francisco 49ers 34-36
9/30 chicago bears 14-33
10/7 at kansas city chiefs 14-16
10/14 at houston oilers 48-20
10/22 oakland raiders 23-23
10/28 at new york jets 40-28
11/4 at st. louis cardinals 17-17
11/11 san diego chargers 30-19
11/18 at pittsburgh steelers 23-13
11/25 kansas city chiefs 14-10
12/2 dallas cowboys 10-22
12/9 at san diego chargers 42-28
12/16 at oakland raiders 17-21

1973 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb charley johnson 14
rb otis armstrong 1
rb joe dawkins 14
rb floyd little 13
wr haven moses 14
wr jerry simmons 13
wr bill van heusen 1
te riley odoms 14
c bobby maples 14
t mike current 14
t marv montgomery 10
g larron jackson 12
g tom lyons 14
g mike schnitker 6

Dec. 9, 1973: Broncos defeat San Diego 42-28 and assures the club of a winning record for the first time.

1973 defense

Pos Player Starts
de lyle alzado 14
de barney chavous 14
dt pete duranko 14
dt paul smith 14
lb tom graham 14
lb tom jackson 4
lb bil laskey 11
lb ray may 10
lb mike simone 3
cb calvin jones 14
cb leroy mitchell 12
cb randy montgomery 2
s charles greer 10
s dale hackbart 2
s billy thompson 14
s maurice tyler 2

Record: 7-5-2

Third place, AFC west