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Denver Is Standing Mile-High Once Again
Paul Zimmerman
October 19, 1981
Craig Morton, the oldest player in the NFL, has led the rejuvenated Broncos into first in the AFC West
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October 19, 1981

Denver Is Standing Mile-high Once Again

Craig Morton, the oldest player in the NFL, has led the rejuvenated Broncos into first in the AFC West

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They go back 16 years together, all the way back to the Cowboys' 1965 training camp at Thousand Oaks, Calif., when Reeves was a free agent/running back/quarterback/defensive back—you-name-it back—out of South Carolina and Morton was a first-round choice, the fifth player picked in the NFL draft, right behind Tucker Frederickson, Ken Willard, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

"The first time I ever laid eyes on him," Reeves says, "he was guiding miniature cars around a track on the floor of his room at camp. I was getting something like $10 a day and my wife was pregnant with our first child [they now have three] and I was sending everything I had back home. Then I walked into Craig's room and saw him playing with those little cars. They had to cost more than I made in a week.

"He threw a ball that was extremely tough to catch. Everything he threw was hard. It didn't make any difference if the receiver was five yards away or 55. His first day of practice he split the webbing between two fingers on one of Bob Hayes's hands. And he hit Buddy Dial in the nose. Dial looked like W.C. Fields."

Sixteen years later Morton says he doesn't feel odd about being the oldest player in the NFL—"just happy that I'm still around." After the Baltimore game, after his second touchdown pass had put him over the 25,000 mark for career yards, reporters asked him to describe himself. "Persistent," he said.

"In 16 years I've seen about all of it," he said last week, "the good and the bad. I'm healthy now. I'm playing in a system I'm used to. Sure, I was excited about Danny bringing in the Dallas system, about him getting the job here. We're good friends. He was in my wedding party. It's good now, but there have been times it wasn't so good.

"I've had four knee operations, one shoulder operation and one on my elbow. One year they had to take a tendon out of my foot and put it in my shoulder so I could throw again."

Morton has lost no time to injury this year, and on Sunday he showed the Lions the kind of tricks you pick up after 16 years of service. He built his remarkable long-ball stats—13 for 18 for 283 yards and three TDs—on two biggies, a 95-yarder to Steve Watson on Denver's first possession and a 40-yarder for another score to Watson later in the first half. He gave the Lions his whole repertoire on those two; he play-faked, pump-faked, looked the safeties off and then delivered on the money. He has thrown 13 touchdowns in six games, one more than he threw all last season. He has thrown only six interceptions, and his history has been more interceptions than TDs, 166-162 before this season.

The Broncos' offense is traveling at a clip of 359.7 yards per game, the best they've ever had over a season and 80 yards a game better than in their Super Bowl year. The emergence of Watson and Fullback Rick Parros has helped, but these aren't entirely new faces. Parros, a fourth-round draft choice from Utah State in 1980, was on injured reserve last year. Watson was a situation sub the past two years, a guy they'd put in in hopeless situations, when he'd run deep routes into double-coverage. This season he has surfaced as a speedy and dedicated wide receiver who has caught 24 passes for a league-leading (with San Diego's Chuck Muncie) seven touchdowns and an amazing 24.1-yard average.

The defense is No. 1 overall in the NFL and No. 1 against the pass. It's up there in sacks—21 compared with 39 all last year and 19 two years ago. But defense has been a tradition with the Broncos. The big difference is on offense, and last Sunday Reeves cut back on the amount of stuff he put in and simplified things a bit.

"See this," Reeves said last Friday, holding up the ready-list for the Detroit game. "There are three inches blank on the front of the page. The Dallas list used to run down to the bottom, and the whole back of the page would be filled. Our back page is double-spaced and it still isn't filled. Right now I'm probably using 75% of the Dallas offense playwise, and 60% formationwise.

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