With the Denver Broncos set to host the Tennessee Titans in Denver’s second home Monday night game of the 2007 season, and the second of three overall appearances –the Broncos also will play a Monday night contest at San Diego on Christmas Eve – it brings back lots of memories about playing on the national stage.
But one of my deepest memories along these lines has to do with the Broncos’ very first appearance on Monday Night Football, then an ABC production that featured Howard Cosell when he was in his prime as a celebrity journalist.
Many would say more celebrity than journalist, and it is real hard to argue with that assessment.
Monday Night Football has been part of the landscape of American society for the better part of four decades, and fans today have to strain to remember how it was once upon a time.
Most fans cannot, in fact, because they were too young then.
Denver had the Broncos, but the nation didn’t care.
The local pro football team had not had a winning season since its 1960 inception through the 1972 season, and it would be generous to say the Broncos were barely a footnote on the national scene.
They were like the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters. Nobody was buying tickets to watch the Broncos; it was all about every other team.
And with Monday Night Football catching hold like no televised series before (or maybe since), all the fans watched like clockwork, and one of the big features was the halftime highlights, narrated by Cosell.
Narrated — and done so off the cuff, by the way, as Cosell was notorious for doing minimal prep work, as he felt like he already knew every significant fact about the things he covered.
The highlights were not selected by Cosell, but by producers, all from huge East Coast media centers, and the Broncos just never made the highlight packages.
I mean never.
It became a huge local bone of contention, as things do in a smaller but rapidly growing city looking to find its own seat at the national table of cities.
Theer was a bar in Glendale — an establishment long since closed – which would have an on-site contest every Monday night, with the winner allowed to throw a brick into a television set when the highlight package did not include Denver — which was every week.
But the 1973 season became the Broncos’ first as winners. Denver finished 7-5-2, and would have made the playoffs with a win at Oakland in the season finale.
Just coming that close was deemed a major accomplishment at the time.
But Denver’s first foray into the national prime time sports spotlight took place earlier in the year, when the Broncos hosted the Raiders in an Oct. 22 Monday Night Football game.
The game was a great one, a stirring 23-23 tie that I consider to be one of the most significant games ever played by the Broncos, and perhaps the most significant athletic event in the state of Colorado to that time, in terms of the viewership of a national audience.
Billy Thompson scampered 80 yards for a touchdown with a fumble, and old-style placekicker Jim Turner kicked three field goals, including the one that tied the game at the very end.
But the most significant factor of all was that Denver had taken a place on the national stage.
It would be very difficult for any of us to now imagine Monday nights without the NFL coming to us on our television screens, so ingrained is the show, the program, and the game as a part of American culture.
The Broncos now have appeared on Monday Night Football at least once in each of the last 16 seasons, including 2007.
Including the current campaign, Denver’s 16-year streak of making at least one appearance on Monday Night Football is the longest active streak in the NFL and one that marks the fifth longest of its kind all-time since the first Monday Night Football game was played in 1970.
It has become old hat to us now, Monday Night Football and all the surrounding hoopla, but everything has to begin somewhere, and that was the moment for the Broncos and the Mile High City.