The recipe for Orange Crush Super Bowl Punch is as follows: take five 10-ounce bottles of Orange Crush, add two quarts of ginger ale, two pints of orange sherbet, one cup of limeade concentrate, a fifth of gin or vodka and two trays of ice cubes. And, of course, it would not hurt to mix in a Craig Morton, a Haven Moses and a head linesman who might not recognize a fumble if he found it under his bed sheets. As Broncomania raged far into the night last Sunday in Denver, one could imagine an entire city pouring such a beverage all over itself, and if you happened to be an Oakland Raider, you went away from the American Conference championship game thinking it might be the Year of the Horse in China and Colorado, but it's the Year of the Zebra in the NFL.
Once again a fellow in one of those striped shirts—a zebra, a game official—made a crucial decision that will live on long after the amazing Denver Broncos have taken their act to New Orleans for Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys. In what was otherwise a stunning and rousing game that Denver probably deserved to win anyhow, the Broncos were helped immensely by a fumble that was ruled to be no such thing by an official who may not have been in a position to make the call in the first place.
Before and after this critical play near Oakland's goal line in the third quarter, Morton and Moses stung the Raiders with a passing combination that filled Mile High Stadium with a roar resembling that of a squadron of Concordes on takeoff. It has been a familiar sound around Denver for several months now, but never had Morton's arm and Moses' hands wreaked such devastation.
In the first quarter Morton, perhaps the most maligned quarterback of our time, hit Moses with a 35-yard strike that became a 74-yard touchdown play when Moses snagged the perfect spiral, did a Nureyev along the sideline in front of the Oakland bench and started racing for the French Quarter. In the fourth quarter Morton found Moses in the Raiders' end zone from 12 yards away and threw him a low pitch that the wide receiver gathered in with a diving catch for what proved to be the clinching score in the 20-17 thriller.
A good many people, however, are going to argue that the real clincher came in the third period when Denver, leading 7-3 and about to score again following a fumble recovery by Brison Manor on the Oakland 17, was saved by a zebra's whistle, when a fumble was not a fumble in the same way that Baltimore's Bert Jones did not fumble—ho! ho! ho!—in the New England game.
It was a maddening and confusing scene near the goal line after Oakland's Jack Tatum cracked Denver's Rob Lytle knocking the ball loose, and Mike McCoy recovered it for the Raiders at the Oakland five. And it was just as maddening up in the press box, where various NFL moguls needed 30 minutes to get their story straight and provide an official explanation.
No, it wasn't a fumble, folks. Head Linesman Ed Marion said he had blown the ball dead before Lytle was blasted by Tatum, that his forward motion had been stopped. To most people, it appeared that no one had laid a finger on Lytle until Tatum hit him, and that Lytle's motion was still forward when the ball popped loose. Oakland Corner Linebacker Floyd Rice felt this so strongly that during the ensuing argument he pushed both Marion and Umpire Ralph Morcroft. The half-the-distance unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against Rice meant very little, for the ball was already on the Oakland two, and on the next play Jon Keyworth took a pitchout from Morton, got a good block from Otis Armstrong and sprinted around right end for the touchdown to make the score 14-3.
For its part, Oakland had not looked sharp—Ken Stabler hadn't been able to find Dave Casper yet, mainly because Casper was getting mugged by the Bronco linebackers on every play—and now, suddenly, the Raiders had a zebra problem on top of everything else.
Upstairs, there was a rather bizarre scene after the non-fumble. Sitting only a few feet apart were NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Oakland Managing General Partner Al Davis, who is not Rozelle's greatest fan. Rozelle sat silently throughout the fumble incident, only occasionally whispering something to one his employees.
But Davis was yelling. "What's going on here?" he hollered. "What the hell's going on here?"