OLD SCHOOL: Baltimore’s best and worst days v. Denver

Street Talk OLD SCHOOL: Baltimore’s best and worst days v. Denver

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Kyle Orton brings the 2-2 Denver Broncos into M&T Bank Stadium to face the 3-1 Ravens Sunday. Orton beat the Titans last week with a short pass for a score to Correll Buckhalter with 1:33 remaining to pull the victory out.

Orton hopes to do better than he did last year in Baltimore. Then, the Broncos were unbeaten and facing the 3-3 Ravens. Both teams were rested coming off their bye weeks and the Ravens blew the Broncos out of M&T that day 30-7.

The Broncos effort was listless to say the least and it kept Denver winless in Baltimore v. the Ravens. In fact the Broncos are just one of 7 teams that have come to Baltimore more than once since rejoining the NFL in 1996, and have never beaten the Ravens here. The other teams with that distinction are the Cowboys, Lions, Jets, Raiders, and Seahawks.

The Broncos have won in Baltimore though, beating the Colts in 1974 and 1983 at Memorial Stadium.

This week’s Old School focus is on 2 games Baltimore teams have played against the Broncos: one by the Ravens; one by the Colts; one played in Baltimore; one in played Denver. Each of these games would eventually lead their respective teams on a journey towards a championship. For the Ravens, their journey was a relatively short one. For the Broncos the path was long, lasting fifteen seasons.

Baltimore’s Worst Day v. Broncos.

December 11, 1983, Week 15, Mile High Stadium, Denver

Both the Colts and Broncos were awful teams in the strike shortened 1982 season. The Broncos were 2-7, the Colts were the worst at 0-8-1 and drafted 1st in the 1983 draft. They of course selected Stanford QB John Elway on April 26th, who because of his father’s dislike for Colts’ coach Frank Kush threatened not to play for Baltimore and play baseball (another story for another article).

Anyone with any football sense knew it was a bluff, except of course for the Colts Beefeater induced Robert Irsay who sent Elway on May 2 to the Broncos for their first choice, guard Chris Hinton, quarterback Mark Herrmman, and a draft choice, a true draft steal. After dissing Baltimore, Elway jumped ahead of Irsay temporarily as Baltimore’s public enemy number one.

Almost as a way of throwing more fuel on Baltimore’s fire for Elway, the schedule makers in 1983 did something they rarely do. They had last place teams from different divisions face each other twice in 1983. The Colts and Broncos squared off in Baltimore on September 11 and in Denver on December 11.

In the first meeting with a loud anti Elway crowd booing his every move, the Broncos with Steve DeBerg relieving an ineffective Elway at QB, rallied Denver to a 17-10 win   at Memorial Stadium. The Colts though did get their shots in, getting five sacks on Elway, and holding him to 9-21 passing.

Both teams surprised the pundits in 1983.  The young Colts had the AFC’s best rushing attack led by Curtis Dickey and Randy McMillan and they sported a 6-4 record after 10 ten games. The Broncos shared that record and both teams were in the mix for playoff berths.

But week 11 proved to be a turning point…

The Colts lost 4 straight while the Broncos went 2-2.

Heading into week 15 the 6-8 Colts were all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race while the 8-6 Broncos needed one win in their last 2 games to clinch a Wild Card.

Elway and DeBerg shared snaps most of the season but towards the end of the campaign Elway was more productive than the veteran. He got the start against the Colts in the pivotal week fifteen game in Denver.

The favored Broncos could do nothing right offensively as the Colts got to Elway for five sacks through three periods, led by linebacker Johnnie Cooks who put Elway down twice and he covered two Broncos’ fumbles.

Colts’ rookie kicker Raul Allegre, hit on field goals of 42, 55, 41, and 26 yards as the Colt ground attack led by Dickey’s 92 yards, dominated  Denver’s front seven for 187 yards.

Second year Colts quarterback, Mike Pagel, known more for his inaccurate throws and above average running ability, beat the Broncos on a forty yard scoring throw to Bernard Henry as the Colts built a 19-0 lead after  three periods.

Then came the 4th period, one of the least memorable in Baltimore Colts history…

After being held in check all day, Elway could not miss a receiver in the 4th period. He drove the Broncos 64 yards for a score with his second possession of the period, hitting journeyman wide receiver Clint Sampson for the touchdown. He would do the same with his next 2 possessions after the Colts failed to move the ball. Colts punter Rohn Stark’s booming kicks would make Elway drive the Broncos over 70 yards twice for the winning scores but  he was unstoppable, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers on the drives. Running backs Jesse Myles and Gerald Wilhite each caught 26 yard scoring passes to put the Broncos on top with less than 2 minutes to play, 21-19.

Pagel did drive the Colts to the Bronco 48, where on the game’s last play Allegre’s 65 yard field goal attempt nicked the bottom of the cross bar and missed for a 21-19 Bronco win. 

Elway’s heroics produced his first 3 TD passing game; his first 300 yard game; and his first of what would be 34 come-from-behind wins in the 4th period or overtime – a mark that would ironically tie him for with John Unitas for third highest in NFL history.

Elway as we know would eventually win a Super Bowl, 15 seasons after his first comeback win against the Baltimore Colts on that December, 1983 afternoon.

The Colts would win in week 16 against the Oilers in Baltimore the next week, the last in BALTIMORE Colts franchise history. The following March they would pack up and move to Indianapolis.

Baltimore’s Best Day v. Denver, December 31, 2000, PSINet Stadium, Baltimore

AFC Wild Card Game

The weather man said it was 28 degrees at kickoff with a 14 degree wind chill, but for those of us there that day, we know it felt colder, but with all the excitement of a home playoff game in Baltimore, it could have been 50 below and it wouldn’t have mattered.

That stadium was the loudest I have ever heard a Baltimore stadium for football, and that includes going back to the 60’s at Memorial Stadium for me. Not before or after has that stadium rocked like that.

The Wild Card Broncos came into Baltimore shorthanded. Starting quarterback Brian Griese was injured and Denver was forced to turn to back up Gus Frerotte who led the Broncos to a playoff clinching win the week before against San Francisco.

The change at QB made no difference.

The Broncos had no chance.

The Ravens top ranked defense completely shut down the Broncos. Mike Anderson who had taken over for Terrell Davis as their featured back could not get anything going. Despite gaining 1,487 yards during 2000, he had just 40 on fifteen carries against the Baltimore defense.

The Ravens, who used a double TE set with former Bronco Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates to attack Denver’s 7th ranked rush defense, moved the ball in the first quarter but could not score. They did though move it enough so Ravens punter Kyle Richardson could keep the Broncos pinned deep in their own end the entire game. Richardson had what I believed to be not only the best post season game I have ever seen a punter have that day, but perhaps the best season a punter has ever had with his directional  kicks constantly being downed inside the twenty yard line.

The Ravens finally punched the ball in after travelling a short field set up Richardson’s fine kicks. Rookie Jamal Lewis went over the top for a one yard score.

The Broncos followed with their only scoring threat of the day. Frerotte completed several passes to Ed McCaffrey (who would catch 8 passes on the day before being knocked out late in the game) and set up Jason Elam’s 31 yard field goal. It would be Denver’s only trip inside the Baltimore 30 all day.

What followed may the strangest play in Ravens history.

In the second period, QB Trent Dilfer threw a short pass to his right that was bobbled by Jamal Lewis, then was tipped by the Broncos Terrell Buckley, the ball then landed in the arms of Shannon Sharpe who sailed 58 yards down the right sideline to make the score 14-3. A crushing block by FB Sam Gash on Broncos’ LB Bill Romanowski added insult to injury.

In the third quarter a 17 yard punt return by Jermaine Lewis put the Ravens on the Broncos 27 yard line.  From there Jamal Lewis broke several tackles on his way to the goal line to finish the scoring, Ravens 21, Broncos 3. The Broncos would total just 177 yards of offense and would be held for the only time in their history without a touchdown in a post season game.

This led the way to road playoff wins in Tennessee and Oakland to set up the Ravens dominating performance in Super XXXV, a 34-7 victory over the Giants to bring Baltimore its first NFL championship since 1970.

The playoff road that year began here in Baltimore against the Broncos.


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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt’s passion for the game began in the 60’s watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi’s Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980’s where he’s captured more titles than John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins
Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son.

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