DeMaryius Thomas’ recent retirement and the question of his Hall- of-Fame worthiness led me to consider another Broncos’ receiver with a resume worth putting into Hall-of-Fame context. Once there was a time when the Broncos thanked heaven for Haven Moses.
Moses was the most dangerous receiver on the Broncos’ first winning team in its history, as well as the only true deep threat on their 1977 “Orange Crush” Super Bowl team. Despite playing in an era where pounding the ball and playing defense were far more common than throwing it, Moses was one of the game’s most dangerous deep threats. That fact is proven most clearly by his career average of 18.1 yards per catch, which is nearly five yards more than Thomas (13.5).
Although Moses made only two Pro Bowls to Thomas’ five, he finished in the top 10 in receiving yards six times and was twice top 10 in receiving touchdowns despite never playing with top tier quarterbacks. His list of throwers is a who’s who of who?
Moses began his career in Buffalo after the Bills made him their No. 1 pick in 1968, landing in a place where neither the weather nor the quarterbacks were conducive to a successful passing game. Despite playing with Dan Darragh, one year with an aged Jack Kemp on a goodbye tour and then Dennis Shaw, Moses still managed to average 18 yards per reception. And that was while playing on the terrible tundra at War Memorial Stadium in often obscenely inclement weather and with quarterbacks who would have benefitted greatly with the invention of GPS.
Moses was traded in midseason 1972 to Denver and once again found himself in a losing program armed with some less than spectacular passing arms. Moses played with Charley Johnson, Steve Ramsey and finally Craig Morton, who was the best of a fairly sorry lot. Perhaps that is one reason the Broncos in those years ran the ball 60 per cent of the time, leaving Moses far fewer opportunities to shine than Thomas would get playing with Peyton Manning and the liberalized throwing rules of today’s game.
Despite those difficulties, Moses not only averaged 18.1 yards per catch in his 10 years in Denver, he scored 44 touchdowns and played a pivotal role in the rise of the Broncos in the mid-1970s. Moses was twice elected to the Pro Bowl and amassed 5,450 yards with the Broncos. That would be a modest sum today but not in the days he played.
For his career, Moses totaled 8,091 yards on just 448 catches and scored 57 times. Those numbers were depressed by today’s standards, both because offenses of his era rushed the ball 60 per cent of the time where today the opposite is true and by never once playing with an All-Pro quality quarterback. Yet despite that his career average of 18.1 yards per catch ranks 26th all-time.
He also made two of the biggest catches in Broncos’ history in the 1977 AFC championship game. Played on New Year’s Day in frozen Denver against the Broncos' hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders, Moses knew he would take a pounding from a secondary known for its love of knockout punches and sometimes borderline (wrong side of the border quite often) plays.
Yet he caught a 74-yard touchdown bomb from Morton up the sideline for Denver’s first score, freeing himself by using what Sports Illustrated’s Dan Jenkins described as a Nureyev-like ballet move. Later he would haul in a second touchdown with a diving catch in the end zone where he scooped up the ball just before Morton’s throw hit the ground.
For the day, Moses had five catches for 168 yards and two scores, averaging a remarkable 33.6 yards per catch. Seen anyone do that lately?
Demaryius Thomas’ 724 catches, 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns may well put him on the Hall-of-Fame radar of some voters and rightfully so. But they should first take a look back to a heavenly time in Denver when “Heavenly” Haven Moses parted defenses the way his namesake once parted the Red Sea.