The Denver Broncos Orange Crush team of 1977 will forever be remembered for their Defensive greatness, but another story that stands out from that year is the addition of veteran quarterback, Craig Morton. Incredibly, Morton came to the Broncos in his 14th season and promptly rounded out a very good team. The #5 pick in the 1965 draft, he had led the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl V in his sixth season, but lost 16-13 on a last second field goal. The following season, he split time, sometimes even alternating snaps, with soon to be legend Roger Staubach. Staubach would win the job half way through the season and guided the team to their first championship in a 24-3 win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. Morton got his ring as the backup, but not the satisfaction of winning it himself.
Morton started most of the following season because of injury to Staubach, but in the playoffs, Staubach completed one of the greatest comebacks in history by subbing in and throwing 2 touchdowns in the final 90 seconds of the game to win it. This sealed Morton’s fate in Dallas, but his career stalled for many years after that, eventually spending a forgettable 3 years with the New York Giants. However, like today, QB’s were in short supply so his name kept getting called.
Eventually, he landed with the standout defense of the Broncos and catapulted them to their first Super Bowl appearance in SB XII. Ironically, he faced the same Staubach and Dallas Cowboys he had come from, but unfortunately his second Super Bowl start went worse. He threw 4 interceptions, lost 3 fumbles, and was replaced in the 3rd quarter in the 27-10 loss. It would later be revealed that Morton was secretly hospitalized before the AFC Championship game and was regularly having fluids drained from his hip.
The humbling loss; however, overshadowed what was a tremendous year for the veteran as he would claim the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and was named All-AFC. The Broncos completed a 12-2 regular season and then beat 2 all-time greats in the playoffs: Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers, who had won back to back SB’s, and Ken Stabler of the defending champion Raiders.
His first quarter, 74-yd touchdown pass to Haven Moses in the AFC Championship game got the Broncos on the board, and gave them their first lead which they would never relinquish. Morton saw firsthand what that Super Bowl trip meant when he said in 2008, “Denver became a big-league city during that run up to the Super Bowl, the emotion leading up to that game was amazing.” At the time, Morton was the first player to ever lead two franchises to the Super Bowl, and remains the only to lead 2 different teams to their first SB.
Morton played an additional 5 years for the Broncos and retired in 1982. Morton’s time as the famed #7 would shortly be overshadowed by a new #7 that would go on to be the greatest player in Broncos history when Denver acquired John Elway in 1983. Still, the Denver Broncos honored Morton’s achievements in 1988 and added his name to the Broncos Ring of Fame. He remains the team’s #3 leader in passing yards behind immortals, John Elway and Peyton Manning. This accomplishment lasted an incredible 18 years in the league. Morton was the key piece that put the Broncos over the top in 1977 and while we can always remember the ferocity of the Orange Crush defense, the unsung heroics of Craig Morton that year should be equally remembered and praised.