If the Broncos and the Raiders take care of business on Sunday, their universes will collide with identical untarnished records, beyond opening games, for only the second time in the franchises’ 58-season history.
The first time was in 1977 when both were 4-0.
The 30-7 triumph on Oct. 16 in Oakland was the most meaningful, memorable and mesmerizing in a Broncos’ regular-season game, and changed the course of the team’s future.
That mild, sunny Sunday afternoon the Orange Crush intercepted a record seven — yes! — seven of Ken Stabler’s passes and recovered one of the Raiders’ four fumbles. Stabler was sacked five times. Craig Morton completed only seven — yes! — seven passes for 98 yards, but the Broncos came back from a 7-0 first-quarter deficit to overwhelm the Raiders and stun the Black Hole.
After one of linebacker Joe Rizzo’s three picks, Tom Jackson ran past Oakland coach John Madden and screamed: “It’s all over, Fat Man.’’
Months later in the restaurant atop the circular motel adjacent to Mile High Stadium, Madden, who had covertly become a friend, said: “I didn’t even know who the (heck) he (Jackson) was, but I did know we were getting our (behinds) handed to us.’’
In the second quarter, on a purported field-goal attempt by Jim “High Tops’’ Turner, holder and backup quarterback Norris Weese picked up the football (by design) and threw to an alone Turner, the slowest player in the NFL, and the fake produced a 25-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Does that score sound familiar? The Broncos put that exact kind of hurt on the shocked Cowboys in the second quarter last Sunday.
The Raiders would come to Denver just two weeks later with a 5-1 record, and the Broncos still were unbeaten. Oakland won 24-14. The Broncos finished the season 12-2 (with another loss in the last game at Dallas), and the Raiders wound up 11-3. The records could have been reversed, and the AFC Championship would have been contested in Oakland instead of Denver. The Broncos won at Mile High 20-17 and advanced to their first Super Bowl.
“We were robbed,’’ Madden later told me. Rob Lytle fumbled near the goal, and the Raiders got the ball. But officials ruled Lytle down and the play over, and there was no replay to overturn the erroneous decision.
Sliding doors. The Broncos and the Raiders might have gone in different directions. The ’77 season propelled the Broncos into legitimacy and eventual titles for the following 39 seasons, and here the odd couple will be flawless 40 years later if the Raiders and the Broncos take care of business in Washington and Buffalo. They meet again Thanksgiving weekend and perhaps even in the AFC Champi …
I interrupt this column for breaking bulletins:
No matter that I wake up every day intending to stick to sports and games and diversions in the ostensible toy department of media, stuff happens beyond.
Politics and sports have become bizarre bedfellows once more. Stick to sports. Stick to politics. Can’t. They are coalesced.
People in our country have become as divisive and discordant as Broncos and Raiders fanatics. And the dissension has spilled onto the playing fields that have become battlefields.
The president has railed against NFL players and the league and “soft’’ football. He has uninvited the Golden State Warriors to the White House although they likely weren’t going, anyway. And his press communications officer advocated that opinions expressed on social media by one of my ESPN colleagues, who I’ve often debated on TV shows, was “a fireable offense.’’
I’m sure most of you already taken sides on all three separate, but intertwined issues. Great. I respect your opinion and the freedom to have unlimited viewpoints.
However, these acrimonious sports disputes pale in comparison to natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes) slamming and striking the United States and neighboring countries and islands, and adversely affecting millions of lives. Terrorist attacks and nuclear threats must be frightening to everyone on the globe. Health care is imperative for all of us. I know. I’m on Medicare and supplemental programs.
Sports is supposed to be escapism, but it can’t escape realism.
Now, I return you to the games — momentarily. GO, (insert your favorite team)!