Otis Armstrong developed his skills in Purdue before being drafted 9th overall in 1973 by the Denver Broncos. Armstrong arrived in Denver, fell in love and decided to stay in in the area for his entire career and his post football life.
Born 15th November, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois he left Farragut High School in 1970 for the chance to play at one of the heavyweights of college football in Bob DeMoss’s Purdue Boilermakers. Over the course of his college career, he became the all-time leading rusher in Big Ten Conference history.
Armstrong’s 3,315 yards in three seasons, put him 6th on the all-time NCAA list at the time. To put this into perspective, 6th on the list today is DeAngelo Williams, who from 2002-2005 he amassed 6,026 yards. To sign off from a very productive college career, Armstrong’s last game as a boilermaker he rushed for 276 yards against Indiana on 32 carries, added 36 kickoff return yards to set a school record of 312 all-purpose yards. The 276 rush yards and 312 all-purpose yard records still stand as school records today.
Click here to see the short highlights package. Armstrong played a lot bigger than his 5-10 and 196 Lbs. frame. In 2012, after years of being in the selection ballot process, Otis Armstrong finally made it into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I am excited and thrilled,” Armstrong said. “Maybe even a little bit relieved because I know that my name has been on the ballot for several years. I know a lot of guys – friends of mine – who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and now I know that I will be one of them. I thank all the good people back in Indiana and the Midwest who have been voting for me and helping to make this happen. This is the greatest honor I have ever received.
“Ever since the letter arrived last week telling me that I had been selected, I have been thinking about my good friend and former roommate Darryl Stingley. I really miss him. He would be very happy for me right now.”
That 1973 class also gave us Tom Jackson in the 4th round. As the 1973 season played out, it was the first time in bronco history that the franchise had a winning record. Armstrong; however’ found it difficult breaking into the first team as he was behind Joe Doolan and now Hall of Famer Floyd Little.
1974 was a different story. Armstrong beat out Little for the starter’s’ job and in leading the Broncos to a 7-6-1 record he became the NFL rushing champion amassing a huge 1407 yards on the ground, 386 yards returning kicks and 407 through the air for a total of 12 touchdowns. Armstrong was later selected to his 1st of 2 pro bowl appearances and 1st team All-Pro. Armstrong missed 10 games of the 1975 season through injury, but still managed to accumulate 155 yards on 31 carries in the 4 games he played. The 1976 season Armstrong was ready to take back his starters role and top 1,000 yards adding 5 touchdowns and his final pro bowl appearance.
In 1977, new head coach, Red Miller, brought a different philosophy. He didn’t want Armstrong to be the bell cow, he wanted split carries. That resulted in less time for Armstrong, but also a 12-2 season. This team made the Broncos’ first Super Bowl appearance. Unfortunately, they faced the 12-2 Dallas Cowboys. The very defense that had practiced against Denver’s new QB, Craig Morton. Ask Peyton Manning what it’s like to face off against a former team.
Armstrong started the season well scoring the only touchdown in a 7-0 victory over St Louis Cardinals as well as adding 55 yards in the season opener. Armstrong went on to gash the porous Buffalo Bills defense for 96 yards and added another score before being bottled up by the Seahawks amassing just 29 yards. With no kick return duties thanks to Rick Upchurch, Armstrong was losing field time and his form suffered with poor performances against the Chiefs and the Raiders totalling 54 yards for both games.
When the 6-0 Broncos welcomed the 5-1 Oakland Raiders to Mile High, Fullback Keyworth took the bulk of the carries. It was to end in defeat with Armstrong only getting 37 rush yards and despite his 4th quarter touchdown, the Broncos went down 24-14, the most points the defence would give up all season, until the Super Bowl.
In the next 2 victories against San Diego and Pittsburgh Armstrong would gain 61 yards as the Broncos again relied on backup running backs and the leagues number 2 defense. November 20th, 1977 and a trip to Kansas City, Armstrong tore up the defense and racked up a season high 120 yards on 21 carries. That game was his last action of the regular season with an ankle injury. 2 weeks later and 2 victories without Armstrong, the Broncos finally beat the Raiders to the AFC West crown and guaranteed the Broncos their first ever appearance in the playoffs
Armstrong recovered in time to take on the Steelers in his first ever playoff game a hard fought 34-21 victory, in the game he did compile 44 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. However, he was very ineffective against the Raiders in the AFC championship game gaining 16 yards on 7 carries. Despite the team’s ineffective performance, the Broncos squeaked out a 20-17 victory and headed to Louisiana to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 12.
Sadly for every player in orange that day, no fairy tale was going to be created on their first trip to big dance as the Cowboy’s schooled the Broncos 27-10. Quarterback Craig Morton completing just 4 passes and having as many interceptions. The cowboys’ defense shut down Armstrong too allowing just 27 yards on 7 carries.
“The Super Bowl is a once-in-a-lifetime experience because you don’t know if you’ll ever get back,” Armstrong said. “It was a fun week. Nothing else compares to the excitement and the bright lights. Red Miller had become our coach, and he rejuvenated our team. We were a young team. We played hard but not good enough that day. I felt the Cowboys roughed us up pretty good.”
Armstrong decided to hang up his cleats November 02 1980 after injuring his back in a game against the Houston Oilers. After the game team doctors found a problem with his spinal cord canal found in the neck. His amazing college career leading to his fantastic 8 year Denver career means he will never be forgotten as a true great of the game.
Below is a list of his achievements to date:-
Selected to the Big10 MVP game in 1972 for leading the league in rushing and total offense also 1st all conference
During his 3 year college career he became all time big10 rush leader and 6th all-time in NCAA history
He owns Purdue most rush yards in a game – 276 and all-purpose yards in a game 312 yards – still school records
He is 4th all-time on Purdue all-purpose yard with 4,601 yards
Participated in 4 all-star games; Hula Bowl, East-west shrine game, All American game and Chicago college all-star game
NFL rush Champion in 1974 with 1407 rush yards
Won his first ever championship the AFC West in 1977
Won his first 2 playoff games leading to him becoming the starting running back in the Broncos first Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl 12
Inducted in the College Hall of Fame in 2012
Inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame 2014
40 years later, we continue to give him a Mile High Salute!