The sign on their locker-room door identifies them as The Mighty Broncos. Surely that can't be the Denver Broncos, the team with the vertical stripes on their socks? Well, look again. The Denver Broncos have not lost a football game in seven weeks, and last Sunday they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 14-10 to raise their record to 6-3-2 and take a half-game lead over both the Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West.
The Broncos won because they managed to survive a miserable start, just as they have managed to survive losing three of their first four games. By the middle of the second quarter the Chiefs were at the Bronco 20, leading 3-0 and threatening to run away with the contest. But Denver held, Jan Stenerud missed a chip shot field goal and the Broncos came to life.
Twice on second-and-nine in Denver's next series, Quarterback Charley Johnson threw deep to his right to Wide Receiver Haven Moses. The first pass gained 26 yards to the Chief 40. The second, from the Kansas City 18 just after the two-minute warning, was good for six points, Moses making a one-handed grab of a floater in the right front corner of the end zone.
The Broncos got the ball back quickly on an interception. Three plays later, when Jim Marsalis came in to replace injured Chief Cornerback Emmitt Thomas, Johnson went to Moses again. The Broncos were merely thinking of getting within field-goal range but Moses juked Marsalis at the 25 and went the rest of the way for a 40-yard touchdown.
The second half was disastrous for Kansas City. It stumbled and stammered until midway through the fourth quarter. Finally, Mike Livingston, who replaced an injured Lenny Dawson at quarterback four weeks ago and brought the Chiefs to life just when last rites were being administered, found Otis Taylor in the end zone with a seven-yard pass, narrowing the margin to four points.
Kansas City had one more try, but with 40 seconds to play Livingston's pass bounced off Tight End Gary Butler at the Bronco 19 and into the hands of Denver Safety Charles Greer.
"We're going now. First the division, then the championship, then the Super Bowl," said Tackle Larron Jackson in the locker room.
But weren't the Broncos aware of how close they had come to losing? "We knew we'd stop them," said Defensive End Lyle Alzado. " Coach Ralston knew. How could we doubt it?"
Credit the positive thinking to John Ralston, a certified Dale Carnegie instructor. When he came to Denver last year after producing two straight Rose Bowl champions at Stanford, he immediately started telling the Broncos, who had never had a winning season, that they could be winners. He even predicted a 10-4 season. When the team's record reached 1-4 he was asked what his new prediction was. Ralston reacted as if it were a trick question. Why wouldn't it still be 10-4? Skeptics tapped their temples and exchanged meaningful glances. That weekend the Broncos beat Oakland for the first time in 10 years.
Ralston did not expect immediate converts to his way of thinking, but he never doubted that he would get his message across. "You don't fake this sort of thing," he says. "If you put up a false facade of positive thinking, people will see through it. I'm just this way all the time." Eventually his players began to understand that the Dale Carnegie system fit John Ralston more than it had changed him. Two weeks ago, when he told the Broncos that their biggest problem in going to Pittsburgh would be fighting the victory celebration when they arrived back at the Denver airport, there were no longer any doubters.