There is a mystical connection between Robert "Red" Miller passing away during Raiders Week.
For it was Miller who transformed the Denver Broncos from perpetual patsies to hated rival of the Oakland Raiders.
Miller, head coach of the Denver Broncos’ famed Orange Crush teams, passed away Wednesday morning from complications of a stroke at Swedish Medical Center in Denver with his wife Nan at his side.
Miller would have turned 90 on Oct. 31. He will become the 32nd member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame when he is inducted Nov. 19 when his former team hosts the Cincinnati Bengals at Broncos stadium.
The ceremony coincides with the 40-year anniversary of the Broncos’ 1977 team that finished 12-2 and beat the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the playoffs to win the AFC title and play in the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
“It's one of my favorite all-time Bronco games,” said lifelong Broncos fan Tim Larison, of Aurora, who was 21 at the time. “Nobody gave Denver much of a chance because Oakland was the defending Super Bowl champions, and then we went out to Oakland and we beat them 44 to 7.”
Larison purchased his first Broncos season tickets at the age of 12, when he spent $14 of the $25 in his bank account to purchase them. He partly attributes his continued love for the Broncos to that 1977 season.
“That whole ‘77 year was just so magical,” he said. “What [Red] did for that team and what a positive motivator he was.”
Larison isn’t the only one. His friend, and fellow lifelong fan, Paula Faulkner agrees.
“He was kind of like the father of our success,” she said. “Whenever Raiders Sunday was coming up it was like a funeral march from Friday to Sunday around Denver [prior to 1977] because we knew we were going to get our a***s kicked. Sorry. But [for Red to beat the Raiders] he changed it within the city, and it no longer became a funeral march to Sunday it was like yes! We're going to beat the Raiders on Sunday!”
No one ever dominated the Broncos like the Raiders did from 1963-76. In 1962, the Broncos beat the Raiders in back-to-back weeks – 44-7 before a crowd of 22,452 at Bears (later changed to Mile High) Stadium on Oct. 5 and 23-6 on Oct. 14 before an estimated gathering of 7,000 at Oakland’s Frank Youell Field – named after an Oakland undertaker.
The Raiders were so ashamed, two days after losing back-to-back games against the otherwise lowly Broncos they fired head coach Marty Feldman.
Somebody named Al Davis became the Raiders’ head coach and general manager in 1963, at which point the Broncos went 9 consecutive seasons without beating Oakland. That’s right, from 1963-1971, the Broncos went 0-17-1 against the Raiders.
The Broncos’ 14-year skid against the Raiders moved to 2-24-2 entering the 1977 season. This wasn’t a rivalry. This was a thorough, behind-the-woodshed butt-whipping.
Credit Miller for giving the Broncos the winning mental edge they never previously existed among the orange and blue. A player mutiny led to the resignation of coach John Ralston following the 1976 season and Miller was hired away from the New England Patriots.
Miller immediately instilled toughness into his new team – vowing that he knew how to beat the Raiders.
“Denver never had the opportunity to go the playoffs much less the Super Bowl,'' said Rick Upchurch, a Ring of Fame returner and receiver. "Back in ‘77 we lost coach Ralston and we brought in Red, and we didn’t know our chances of going to the Super Bowl were that vivid. We couldn’t see it. We knew we had a very good team. But the way we came together that year when Red came in and gave us that attitude that we can win and we will win – it was probably the greatest moment in Broncos history.’’
The Broncos reached the playoffs the first three seasons of Miller’s term. Denver went 8-8 in his fourth season of 1980 and when Gerald Phipps sold the team to Edgar Kaiser Jr., Miller was replaced by Dan Reeves.
After briefly coaching the Denver Gold of the United States Football League, Miller worked in the brokerage business as he and his wife stayed in the Denver area to raise their three children.
Miller, who had made a near full recovery from a stroke suffered three years ago, was watching the Broncos season-opening game Sept. 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers with his wife when he fell ill.
Besides Nan, his wife of 27 years, Miller is survived by his son Steve, stepson Jeff and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Lana.
Services are pending. The Broncos have gone 45-36 against the Raiders since the start of Miller's first season of 1977 heading their AFC West matchup Sunday in Denver