When Head Coach John Fox met with the press on Sunday, his first session following the signing of running back Willis McGahee, he noted that he was of the opinion that you really need two backs for success in a running game.
More and more fans are coming to the realization that running backs take a terrific pounding, and the long National Football League season finds that teams which have fresh legs can have the greatest success in the backfield.
With that in mind, let’s look at the seasons in Denver history when the Broncos had their best rushing totals with tandem backs — and considering that the initial American Football League seasons were of 14 games, we’ll mostly include backs who reached the 500-yard milestone, either leading the team, or finishing second behind the Broncos’ leading rusher.
The first year of that type came back in 1965, when Cookie Gilchrist led the team with 954 yards as Denver’s fullback and free agent Wendell Hayes added 526. Cookie was a powerhouse back who is regularly listed in the Football Encyclopedia among the best 300 players ever to play the game, although he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Floyd Little era began in 1967 and as one might imagine by Little’s recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Floyd carried the rock for Denver, from 1967 through 1975.
But in 1971 Floyd had 1,133 yards while University of Colorado product Bobby Anderson added 533. Bobby was a great player at CU after a high school career in Boulder as well, so he was as local as one could get, and just about as popular also. Good player, tough runner.
Fullback Joe Dawkins had a fine year with 706 yards in 1973, the Broncos’ first winning season, to offset the team leading 979 by Little.
The 1977 season is noteworthy in that one of the keys to Denver’s first Super Bowl campaign was alternating backs: Otis Armstrong had 489, Lonnie Perrin 456, Rob Lytle 408 and Jon Keyworth 311, as the foursome had most of the carries in that championship season.
Dan Reeves took over as Denver’s head coach in 1981, and that year Rick Parros led the team with 749 yards while Dave Preston was right on his heels with 640.
The next time two Bronco backs each had 500 or more years in a year, one was destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1988 Tony Dorsett gained 703 while the popular Sammy Winder added 543 of his own.
The great championship years featuring Terrell Davis in the Bronco backfield of course had most of the carries going to Terrell.
However, in 2001 TD had 701 rushing yards and Mike Anderson chipped in with 678.
Anderson was the leader with 1,104 in 2005 and Mike Bell added 921, and the following year Tatum Bell had 1,025 and Mike Bell contributed 677.
In 2007 Chris Young had 729 yards and Travis Henry picked up 691 and most recently, Knowshon Moreno had 947 in 2009 while Correll Buckhalter added 642.
It is not as easy as one might think to have two backs get enough carries for 500 yards, but there are a lot of ways to success with a running game in the NFL.
And proof of that is that the running game can also get a real big boost from the quarterback position — if the quarterback is a special guy like John Elway.
In 15 of his 16 seasons with the Broncos, John Elway had the remarkable distinction of being among the four leading rushers on the team. And the Broncos won, a lot, as the trophy case shows.
It will be a lot of hard work, but the running game is coming back in Denver.
Tags: Jim Saccomano