One of the things that happens when you have seen a lot of games is that one thought connects to a memory, and another, and another.
Today we had a weekly staff meeting, and I was sitting a couple of chairs away from Billy Thompson, who now handles all the alumni affairs for the team but who in his previous life was a three-time Pro Bowl performer who set the all-time Broncos record for turnovers with 61 (40 interceptions, 21 fumble recoveries).
In fact, he returned four of those fumbles for scores and was around the ball seemingly as much as any Bronco defender in history.
Anyway, as we play the Steelers this week, my mind drifted a bit to one of the greatest games in team history.
As many people might know, there was a time when overtime did not exist in the National Football League. If it ended in a tie, it was a tie. Game over.
The teams voted in their 1974 spring meeting to make overtime part of the game, and there was casual conversation as to when that first overtime would take place.
It turned out to be in Denver, and I was fortunate to be in the stands for that one — with my wife, no less — amazing in itself, because due to my work with the Broncos I have not watched a game with her from our seats for 32 years!
The Broncos and Steelers fought a classic struggle on September 22, 1974, with the Steelers’ “Jefferson Street Joe” Gilliam completing 31 of 50 for 348 yards and leading Pittsburgh to 33 first downs in the game.
Denver countered with an offensive attack led by Charley Johnson and Steve Ramsey, who combined for four touchdown passes, two each, with the first and last Denver scores of the day touchdown receptions by running back Otis Armstrong, the first a 45-yard reception from Johnson and the last the final score of the game, a 23-yard pass and run from Ramsey.
That score made it 35-35 late in the fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh got its final possession of regulation with 52 seconds left and moved to the Denver eight with just five seconds remaining.
I remember how nervous my wife and I were as we watched what would surely be a chip-shot field goal by Pittsburgh’s Roy Gerela.
But this was a great game, and great things sometimes happen in games like that, often plays made by the home team before raucous crows like that one was.
Gerela made a fine kick, but Billy Thompson got penetration and blocked the kick as time expired to set up the NFL’s first overtime game.
And on this day, overtime, created to guarantee a winner, produced no winner.
Neither team could score and the game ended in that 35-35 tie. A true classic.
And in this Pittsburgh week, that’s one of the thoughts that bounced out of the recesses of my mind, as I sat near Billy in that staff meeting.