Great Moments in Denver Broncos History: Remembering Norris Weese
When most Denver Broncos fans think about great Broncos players, they think first of John Elway. That is as it should be. Then they may think of Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar, or Tom Jackson. Older fans may also recall Floyd Little, Haven Moses, and Dr. Charley Johnson. These players had long, successful careers with the Broncos.
This article is not about a great Bronco. Norris Weese played only four seasons with the Broncos (1976-1979). He was an undersized backup quarterback. In his entire NFL career he completed 143 of 251 passes for 1,887 yards. He had twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (14 to 7). He had 69 rushes for 362 yards. And he punted 53 times, 52 of them in 1976 when he also served as the team’s punter.
Norris Weese may not be on the list of great Broncos players, but for those who were Broncos fans on October 16, 1977, Norris Weese is and always will be a cult hero – a freakin’ legend who will live forever in Broncos history for a single play.
On that day the Broncos played their arch-rivals, the hated Oakland Raiders, in Oakland. Both teams were 4-0. The Raiders were coming off a Super Bowl Championship and were heavily favored. Denver had been the laughingstock of the AFC for most of the franchise’s existence. Before the game, veteran Sportscaster Charlie Jones said, “I don’t think anyone can beat the Raiders right now.”
Leading 14-7 in the second quarter, the Broncos lined up for a 32-yard field goal that would extend their lead to ten before halftime. Denver’s kicker was the 37 year-old veteran, Jim Turner. Turner was last of the straight ahead on kickers. Today’s kickers kick soccer style and some even kick barefoot, but Turner always wore black high top football shoes with square toes and kicked straight ahead.
Jim Turner was a reliable kicker, but not a great athlete. He had a paunch around his middle. Denver Post columnist Woody Paige once quipped, “Turner runs the hundred yard dash in about three days.”
In those days the backup quarterback almost always held the ball on field goal attempts. So Turner, Weese, and the rest of the team lined up for the field goal attempt. They would have been happy to go into the locker room at halftime with a ten point lead.
The snap was perfect, and Weese placed the ball down. But then something funny happened. Weese had a better idea. He pulled the ball back as Turner swung his right leg through to finish his kick. Weese rolled right looking for an open receiver or tight end Riley Odoms, but the coverage was solid. And then Weese looked back to his left. And there, all alone, was the overweight 37 year-old field goal kicker in high topped shoes who had drifted out to the left flank. Weese floated the ball to Turner.
And then, for a few seconds, nearly every person in the Mountain Time Zone held their breath, waiting to see if Turner could catch the ball. He did. Then the old man lumbered into the end zone in his black high tops for one of the easiest touchdowns in league history. Turner later said of the play, “I ran into the end zone out of fear. Speed wasn’t involved.”
The Broncos went on to humiliate the Raiders by a score of 30-7, picking off Kenny Stabler seven times, with Broncos Linebacker Tom Jackson taunting Raider Coach John Madden on sideline by yelling, “It’s all over fat man.” (To this day there is a website for Broncos fans called It’s All Over Fat Man at www.itsalloverfatman.com). That may have been the most important regular season play in Broncos history. It changed the rivalry forever. Denver trounced the Raiders and went on to the team’s first Super Bowl that season. Since that day the Broncos have had one of the best winning percentages in the NFL.
It’s not clear whether the Weese to Turner fake field goal was a designed play or whether Weese made the decision on his own. It didn’t look like a designed play. Weese looked like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. I like to think Weese made the decision on his own.
After Turner retired, a reporter asked him about that play. Turner said, “Sometimes it aggravates me. I kicked 304 field goals in my career, and that’s all they want to talk about, that play.”
The Broncos named Weese their starting quarterback in 1979, but a knee injury ended his career. He became a certified public accountant in Denver. Norris Weese died of bone cancer at the age of 44.
Thanks for the memories, Norris.