The Denver Broncos were riding to their first Super Bowl, XII, in New Orleans, and Glen Hyde kept peering out the window of the bus. He pointed to a camper with Wyoming license plates, parked next to another with Nebraska plates.
“You know,” he said, “we’re not the Denver Broncos anymore. We’re not even the Colorado Broncos. We’re the Wyoming Broncos, the Kansas Broncos, the Nebraska Broncos, the New Mexico Broncos…”
He was right. A one-time laughing stock had been elevated to a regional icon.
The man who transformed them is Robert “Red” Miller.
But in 1977, Red Miller pushed and prodded and coaxed a Denver team that had been on the fringe and took it to giddy heights that are now being repeated. Miller remembered that winter of 1977. “Denver, the state and the entire Rocky Mountain region were all caught up in Broncomania for the first time,” he recalled. “That’s when it was born.”
The old-line coach, for 17 years as an assistant, had seized the Broncos and driven them to a championship that had been a dream since the days of the vertical striped socks.
He had served on staffs at Boston, Buffalo, Denver, St. Louis, Baltimore and New England before Fred Gehrke, the Denver general manager, called him back as head coach in early 1977. John Ralston had been fired, the stadium was newly expanded to 75,000, and a different era was dawning.
“I make no promises,” he said. But he delivered delirium.
His team lost just two regular season games, then ousted first Pittsburgh and then the hated Raiders in the playoffs, while Denver painted itself orange.
They repeated as division champs the next season, and many of Miller’s players remained to form the nucleus of the team that has been one of the most successful in the AFC since.
The son of a coal miner and grandson of a mule-skinner, he grew up in Illinois, the second youngest of 10 children. “We had a round table. The food started with the breadwinners, and then worked its way around to us,” he once recalled.
It was this hunger that helped Miller take Denver to its first Super Bowl, and guided them through a difficult transition, leaving the Broncos in 1981. It is a hunger that continued to drive him to the top of his post-football career as a stockbroker. He won a national sales directors award as one of Dean Witter’s top performing first-year brokers.
Whether it be on the gridiron or on the investment field, Miller is no stranger to competition. He approached his new career with the same fervor and hustle he expected of his football players.
A one-time laughing stock had been elevated to a regional icon.