Everyone knows the implications of a potential AFC Western Division title being on the line this week when the Denver Broncos host Buffalo at INVESCO Field at Mile High, but this won’t be first time the Broncos and Bills have had the potential for big time excitement.
In the first year for the two original American Football League teams (1960), the Broncos hosted Buffalo on November 27 at old Bears Stadium.
The Bills built up a 17-7 halftime lead and it started snowing hard
Attendance at the start of the game was just 7,785 and when the snow started flying most fans decided they had had enough and headed for the exits.
By the start of the third quarter the field had became covered with snow and Buffalo extended its advantage to 38-7 with just 4:39 left in the period.
Then the Broncos rallied for the greatest and perhaps most improbable rally in franchise history.
Denver scored 31 points in the final 19:39 to make the final a 38-38 tie, as Frank Tripucka connected with wide receiver Lionel Taylor for touchdowns of 20, 24 and 35 yards, the latter coming on a literal one handed, on the run catch by Taylor.
The astonishing comeback was completed with Gene Mingo connected on a 19-yard field goal for the tying points with just four seconds and almost no fans remaining.
The Broncos and Bills hooked up for another bizarre but true contest on November 24, 1968.
In that one, the Bills had every quarterback injured and actually moved one of their starting wide receivers, Ed Rutkowski over to quarterback, where he started and played the entire game.
He played a fine game for the Bills, completing 17 of 38 (pretty good for a wide receiver) passes for 161 yards and rushing five times for 48.
But as crazy as that seems, it was not even close to the story of the game.
Denver was hanging on to a 31-29 lead and the Broncos were running out the clock with under a minute to play.
Then the impossible happened, and the greatest player to that point in Denver history, All-AFL running back Floyd Little, fumbled the ball and Buffalo recover and advanced the fumble to the Denver 10.
Wasting no time, the Bills sent in the field goal unit and took a 32-31 lead with 30 seconds to play.
Meanwhile, on the Denver sideline, fiery Broncos head coach Lou Saban had a vitriolic explosion of temper at Little, during which he verbally fired him and banished the great back to the locker room.
Buffalo kicked off and the Broncos returned it to their own 31.
At that point, you had to be there to see it, as I was, and it still seemed unbelievable.
The Broncos headed out to their offensive huddle when Little came bursting out of the locker room and running seventy yards across the middle of the field, from the south end zone locker room location to the north 20 where his team was huddled up.
The players were wondering what was going on as their captain raced into the huddle while Saban was screaming for him to get off the field.
But Little would not leave, and eventually persuaded wide receiver Mike Haffner to run off the field, giving Denver 11 players in the huddle and saddling Haffner with a classic tongue lashing by Saban, who was beyond rage at this point.
Meanwhile, not even mentioned was the fact that due to injuries of its own Denver had Marlin Briscoe at quarterback for the balance of the season, making the Broncos the first modern era team to play a black man at quarterback.
At the time nothing special was made of it, but history would note the moment.
Little implored Briscoe to “Just throw it as far as you can, and I’ll be there,” as the captain was passionate about both his team’s victory and personal redemption.
On first and 10 from the 31 Briscoe threw deep and 59 yards later Little leaped and came down with the catch to give Denver a first down with 10 seconds left.
For good measure, Buffalo had a face mask penalty that moved the ball to the 10, where Bobby Howfield kicked the game winning 12-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
And of course, Little stayed on through 1975, a captain every year and one of the greatest players in franchise history, surviving an on-the-field firing by his coach and saving the game within the last minute of play.
So as we prepare for this Sunday’s game against the Bills that is such a big one, that’s a quick reminder that in the National Football League anything can happen, and you never know how history will be made.
Tags: Buffalo Bills