The Denver Broncos have not beaten the Oakland Raiders in Mile High Stadium since 1962, but Bronco fans old and new foresee a Sunday encore of that 30.7 shocker in Oakland Oct. 16 and they all want to be there to savor it. Except for the lucky 75,086, however, they will see it on television.
Gerald Phipps, the Broncos' owner who has 20 season tickets needed two more and called Gail Stuckey, his ticket manager, Tuesday, Phipps was turned down, and Stuckey still has a job.
Every ticket for every home game was gone by Aug. 17. This is seventh straight year the Broncos have been assured sellouts before a season's start.
"We've been losing forever." Stuckey said, "and it's been this way since 1970. There was a waiting list of 18,000 and since 1971 they've added 27,000 seats and there's still a waiting list of 7,000 names for 21,000 seats."
Now the Broncos are unbeaten, and things are really out of hand, reminiscent of Redskins mania of a few years back. When the Broncos returned from their victory in Oakland, 10,000 fans jammed a concourse at Stapleton Airport to greet the team. When they the players were coming up from the also blocked the escalator on which the players were coming up from the arrival gate, tragedy was barely averted.
"Right now Denver fans are among the most enthusiastic," said Bronco kick return specialist John Schultz, who led the nation in kickoff returns as a Maryland senior in 1975. "They haven't had a team in the playoffs yet and this year things keep looking better and better. Everybody has enthusiasm, including us. We didn't have much last year."
Although the Broncos were 9-5 and general manager-coach John Ralston had three years left on his contract, Ralston was fired. Phipps' decision was prodded by 25 players who signed a petition, asking in essence, that the club boot Ralston or trade them.
The new head coach is Red Miller, a 17-year pro assistant who helped build that potent offense at New England. Miller spoke at a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club luncheon attended by 300 persons Friday and received a standing ovation, a birthday cake (he will be 50 Monday) and the following introduction from Bob Martin, voice of the Broncos since 1964:
"Over the 11 years of the merged Broncos Quarterback Club, I've presided over hundreds of meetings and it seems like I've introduced dozens of head coaches, but I've never introduced a coach who was 6-0."
Miller, the Broncos' eighth head coach in 18 seasons (three above .500), responded, "In the past this kind of a crowd usually meant a coaching change.We expect to win, we don't just hope to win. And the sun better come up on Monday morning if we don't win."
Miller started out holding open practices on the field that sits in the shadow of Interstate 25 north of Denver. The week before the first Oakland game, however, NBC film crews doing an NFL '77 segment planted their cameras in his huddle and Miller finally said, "Out."
Still, this is hardly a Redskin Park setup. Anyone can stand outside the fence and watch the proceedings. And Miller, accustomed to mere gahfests with a handful of writers after practice, began a more formal press conference Thursday by introducing himself to a group of out-of-town media types, who have come from both coasts to overflow the NFL's smallest press box.
Against Oakland the first time. Denver implemented a crushing fake field goal on which holder Norris Weese threw a touchdown pass to the kicker, Jim Turner. It had been tested in practice, but not recently enough for Al Davis' employees to notice.
"With the open facility here we didn't work on it the week of the game," Turner said. "But we practiced it a couple of times three weeks before the game."
Turner called the touchdown the highlight of a career that included three field goals that helped the Jets beat Baltimore in Super Bowl III. He also related a story about it.
"I was getting ready to kick a field goal later," Turner said, "and Willie Brown yelled, 'you'd better kick it this time, or we're going to stick you in the ground, old man.' I was laughing so hard I almost missed it. Then, when we were leaving the field, I saw Willie and I said, 'Who are you calling an old man? You're as old as I am.'
"We had our arms together, laughing, and big John Matuszak comes over. I figured he thought we were fighting and I was afraid he'd kill me. He just said, 'Jim, that was a heck of a catch' and went away. I didn't stop shaking for quite a while."
Craig Morton, the much maligned Cowboy and Giant quarterback now beloved as a Bronco, is healthy after bruising a cartilage under his kneecap in Cincinnati Sunday. But he's finding that his biggest game since the Dallas championship days can be a bit trying on the nerves.
"Right now my biggest concern is to keep my concentration," Morton said. "My phone's been ringing off the wall. We've been successful and people want to talk to us, but you just can't talk to everybody. I finally had to shut off the phone last night. I'm keyed up and very excited about the game, and I want to prepare for it in my own way."
Morton will be married in two weeks, in Dallas, but his home will remain in Colorado.
"I love the community," Morton said. "I spent a lot of winters out here, mostly in Aspen, and I like to ski. I can't think of a better place to play. I know it'll be a madhouse out there Sunday."
That day has been proclaimed "Orange Crush" in honor of the Bronco's defense, by Gov. Richard Lamm. The 75,086 faithful (minus 500 Oaklander with tickets) will receive orange cards with "Go Broncos" printed on them. Also, fans have been encouraged to wear orange clothing.
Stuckey, without any tickets to sell, manages a souvenir shop at the stadium that features Orange Crush sweaters ($25). Bronco jerseys ($20) and Orange Crush T-shirts ($5.50), which can't be kept in stock long enough to dust the counter.
"We can sell anything with orange on it," said Stuckey, who had just acquired an orange blazer himself. "If Hanes would make orange jockey shorts, we could sell them and people would wear them."
Among Stuckey's many phone calls this week was one from San Diego, where he had a tougher job peddling tickets before coming here in 1975.
"The owner of the Chargers needed five tickets," Stuckey said, "but I couldn't help him. This was the same guy who didn't know my first name after I spent 10 years with him."
Another call was from a woman who claimed her husband was "in the meat business and gave his four tickets to a grocery chain representative. She said she told him he'd either get them back or he'd get a divorce. She asked me if I could get her two and of course I couldn't, so I guess he'd better get them back.
"That was pretty dumb thing to do. My wife (Pat) never missed a game in 10 years in San Diego and she goes to every game here, and if I gave her ticket away I know I wouldn't be able to go home."
The tickets are [WORD ILLEGIBLE] reasonably priced (50,000 at $9.90, 23,000 at $6.60 and 1,500 enclosed boxes at $19.25) than elsewhere in the NFL. But a lot of ticket seekers probably are paying more this week.
Scalpers are subject to $300 fines and 90 days in jail, but the penalty is easily evaded by informing the customer that the excess is a "finders fee." Or by following the practice of a waterbed firm that offered two tickets free with a $900 purchase. Or the gentleman who auctioned off an "antique" vase that contained two tickets.
This will be one of the Broncos' rare appearances on national television and the fans are hardly satisfied with the team's exposure. Each Monday night while Howard Cosell narrate the Sunday highlights, the Sweetwater Lounge permits patrons to throw bricks through the screen of a used black and white TV set. It's to protest the Broncos' absence from the Monday night schedule and, frequently, the highlights. Business, the manager reported, is exceptional on Monday nights.
The Broncos' most loyal fan won't be at the game. His name is Fred Bellmar and he has twice been pronounced dead at Mile High Stadium.
Each time he suffered a heart attack, each time he was considered dead and each time the same medic brought him back to life. Now Bellmar uses a pacemaker and frequently attends Quarterback Club meetings. The Broncos won't allow him back in the stadium, though.