An orange-clad crowd of 75,007 waited for the Great Pumpkin here today. For the 15th straight year, he failed to appear.
That dream of a home-field victory over the hated Oakland Raiders, last fulfilled by the Denver Broncos in 1962, vanished in a horrible first half and the Raiders endured hardly a doubtful moment in a 24-14 success that enabled them to tie the Broncos for first place in the AFC West.
The fans had the stands vibrating with their early enthusiasm, but the Broncos's vaunted Orange Crush first turned to orange hush, then to boos, as Oakland was dominant from beginning to near end.
As they offered no treats to their fans, the Broncos furnished few tricks for the Raiders. Such successful gimickry as a touchdown pass to the field-goal kicker highlighted the Broncos' 30-7 victory in Oakland two weeks ago. Today, the closest thing to a surprise was an end-around by Jack Dolbin that netted a two-pard loss.
The Raiders rolled up a 17-0 lead in the first half, as Denver fumbled the ball away twice, made only six first downs and got no farther than Oakland's 45-yard line.
Ken Stabler, intercepted seven times in the Broncos' 30-7 victory at Oakland two weeks ago, played an almost flawless first half. His 21-yard pass to Cliff Branch opened the scoring at 9:10 of the first period.
The touchdown came on the Raiders second scoring opportunity. They botched the first after Denver's Rick Upchurch fumbled a punt and Oakland's Hubie Ginn recovered at the Broncos' 39. A third-down pass from Stabler to Mike Siani at the Denver 18 was ruled incomplete despite Siani's objections because one foot came down on the sideline.
That left the Raiders with a 49-yard field-goal situation and they opted to have Ray Guy punt. He just missed the flag with a punt into the end zone, but Denver quickly punted it back and the Raiders marched 55 yards in eight plays.
Safety Bernard Jackson blitzed on the scoring play and Stabler unloaded to Branch just as Jackson hit him. Branch caught the ball in Jackson's vacated territory at the five and stepped across.
The highlight of the rest of the quarter was a 74-yard punt, against a five-mile-per-hour wind, by Guy, the longest of his carer.
Errol Mann's 42-yard field goal boosted the Raiders' margin to 10-0 at 6:55 of the second period. It followed some strange play selection by the Broncos.
Lonnie Perrin, the fullback out of Washington's McKinley High, picked up 28 yards in his first four carries, helping Denver to its first three first downs. But Craig Morton went to the air on first down at the Oakland 45 and was sacked twice in a row, forcing a punt.
The Raiders moved from their 17 to the Broncos' 45 and Mann added the field goal. The big play of the drive was a 19-yard end sweep by Clarence Davis, on which Branch threw a key block.
After Guy kicked off into the end zone, a Denver fumble permitted the Raiders to boost their lead to 17-0 with a three-play, 15-yard drive.
Despite Perrin's success, Jim Jensen was inserted at fullback and fumbled on his first carry when linebacker Willie Hall drilled him. Linebacker Monte Johnson caught the bobble in the air and returned it from the Denver 24 to the 15.
Two carries by Mark Van Eeghen moved the ball to the Broncos' eight and Davis followed a crushing Van Eeghen block through left tackle for the touchdown.
Four straight completions by Morton brought the Broncos from their seven, follwoing a clipping panelty, to a fourth and one at the 50 late in the half. Despite their 17-point deficit, the Broncos chose to punt.
The fans waited patiently for their heroes to accomplish something positive, but when Morton threw an incomplete third-down pass early in the period, the boos were heard in Mile High Stadium. When it was announced that there were 79 no-shows among the 75,086 ticket holders, those assembled booed the missing, too, probably from envy.
Morton responded to the dissatisfaction by throwing an interception by throwing an interception the next time he raised his right arm. The Raiders' Skip Thomas thought he had the ball, but lost his grip. It didn't matter, because linebacker Floyd Rice grabbed the ball before it hit the ground at the Denver 42.
The Raiders took 10 plays to rumble those 42 yards, Van Eeghen crashing the final foot for a 24-0 margin at 10:32 of the third period.
Stabler went to the air only once in the drive, hitting tight end Dave Casper with an eight-yarder on first down to keep the Broncos' defense loose. Van Eeghen carried on eight of 10 plays and his block helped Davis pick up 11 yards on another.
Denver completely disintegrated on its next series. With a first down on his 30, Morton was sacked three straight times - by Ted Hendricks. Pat Toomay and Otis Sistrunk. The third sack was nullified by an offside penalty against Oakland and Morton must have wished he could have accepted it, just to avoid further punishment.
As it was, Morton got the next pass off, before being buried by Sistrunk, but it was incomplete and, for further humiliation, right guard Paul Howard was ruled an ineligible receiver downfield.
Morton suddenly found some pass protection and drove the Broncos 80 yards in 10 plays to a consolation touchdown early in the fourth period.
The score came on an 11-yard toss to Jack Dolbin, the third year wide receiver out of Wake Forest. Two other passes to Dolbin, of 23 and 22 yards, were the big plays in the march.