KUSA—In what will be the 40th anniversary of their first playoff and Super Bowl-appearing team, the Denver Broncos will mark the occasion by inducting head coach Red Miller into their Ring of Fame.
Miller was perhaps the one person above all others who was responsible for that magical, Orange Crush season of 1977. His election was unanimous from the six-man Ring of Fame committee of team president Joe Ellis, former general manager John Beake, former radio broadcaster Larry Zimmer, former defensive coordinator Joe Collier, former public relations director Jim Saccomano and current radio play-by-play announcer Dave Logan.
“Hearing that great news from Joe and the rest of the committee brought back so many memories from those special seasons with the Broncos,” Miller said. “Looking back, it was a ragtag operation with where we were at the time. We had to build it up and get it going. All of our players and coaches carried us to a lot of success and brought so much excitement to the fans during those years.
“I’m honored to join the Broncos’ all-time greats in the Ring of Fame, and I look forward to celebrating with the many people who helped make this possible.”
It was Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen who established the Ring of Fame when he bought the team in 1984.
The Broncos’ franchise began as a pro football laughingstock, failing to post a winning record in its first 13 seasons.
John Ralston guided the Broncos to their first winning seasons in 1973, ‘74 and ’76. But after going 9-5 in 1976, a “Dirty Dozen” of Broncos players sent a letter to team owner Gerald Phipps demanding Ralston be fired.
Phipps refused, but Ralston resigned, anyway. Phipps then hired Miller, who had been offensive line coach for the New England Patriots and previously for the Broncos in the 60s, to become Denver’s new head coach.
Miller immediately instilled a belief in his players they could, first, beat the Raiders, and second, win the Super Bowl. The Broncos had gone 2-24-2 against the Oakland Raiders from the start of the 1963 season until Miller’s arrival in 1977.
In the rivalry’s first meeting in 1977, the Broncos pummeled the Raiders, 30-7, in Oakland, a victory memorable for kicker Jim Turner’s fake field goal touchdown reception on a pass thrown by holder Norris Weese, and for linebacker Tom Jackson getting up from a tackle along the Oakland sideline and shouting at Raiders’ coach John Madden, “It’s all over, Fat Man!’’
Miller, who is 89 and still lives in the Denver-area, was an old-school coach who instilled discipline into a talented, but otherwise dysfunctional group. In his first year as head coach, he led the Broncos to an AFC-best, 12-2 record in the regular season and the first playoff-berth in the franchise’s 18-season history.
The Broncos then won AFC home playoff games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were in the midst of their four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, and the Raiders, who were the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Broncos did it thanks to their Orange Crush defense that allowed just 10.6 points a game. They did it thanks to their M&M connection – quarterback Craig Morton and receiver Haven Moses – on offense. And they did it thanks to Miller’s leadership.
The Broncos were no match for the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII, losing, 27-10. Still, Broncomania reached its euphoric height in 1977, never to be eclipsed in terms of fan frenzy, although the team did go on to play in seven more Super Bowls, winning three.
The Broncos went 10-6 and made the playoffs in each of their next two seasons under Miller, but after an 8-8 season in 1980, he was fired by new owner Edgar Kaiser and replaced by Dan Reeves.
Miller’s .645 winning percentage (40-22) as head coach was the best in franchise history until John Fox’s four-year run (.719, 46-18) from 2011-14. Gary Kubiak posted a .656 winning percentage (21-11) the past two years.
Miller’s candidacy for the Ring of Fame was enhanced by the fact he was the first to show a once moribund how to win. He led the Broncos to their first of 22 playoff appearances and eight Super Bowl appearances.