Today we are going to look at a former Denver Bronco who was part of the legendary “Orange Crush” Defense and whose career spanned the first 2 Super Bowls (SB XII and XXI) the team participated in. A Defensive Back who never had more than three picks in a season, but owns the Broncos team career mark to this day, with 44 picks. His name? Steve Foley.
Steve was drafted by the Broncos in the 8th round (199th overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft. He played his entire 11-year NFL career (1976-1986) with Denver after one year as a member of the Jacksonville Express of the World Football League. As a Bronco, Foley played in 150 games, while starting 136 of them. He played at Right Cornerback for 4 seasons before transitioning to Free Safety. Steve recovered 4 Fumbles, returned 5 punts an average of 8.4 yards and ran the ball 14 yards.
Foley scored two career Touchdowns in a Broncos uniform, both in 1984. A 22-yard Fumble Return on October 15 against the Packers and a 40-yard Interception on December 15 against the Seahawks. Both Touchdowns were key factors toward Bronco victories. Steve was an All-Pro selection in 1978.
Foley began his career as a Quarterback, playing high school football at Jesuit High School in New Orleans and through college at Tulane University, before successfully converting to Defensive Back in the Pros.
After graduating from High School, the only only school showing interest in a 5’ 11″ 165 pound Quarterback was Nicholls State. Steve wanted to attend Tulane, where brothers Mike (WR) and Rob (OL) played, but the Foley family had 13 kids and tuition wasn’t in the budget. Steve was able to get a one-year sponsor/scholarship from a person who believed in him and he did the rest. Foley earned a scholarship at Tulane after that first year, grew 3 inches and added 25 lbs.
He played in 34 games for the Green Wave and led them to a pair of winning seasons, including the 1973 Bluebonnet Bowl. Tulane’s 14-0 victory over the Tigers in 1973, which broke a 25-year drought was probably his most memorable contest as a collegian.
Steve ended up in the World Football League, joining the Jacksonville Sharks instead of the Broncos because of a $10,000 difference in offers. He was mentored by Johnny Robinson, the Sharks secondary coach who had recently retired from the Kansas City Chiefs. Robinson helped Steve with the transition and refined his technique.
“Johnny Robinson was one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, and he had a huge impact on me spiritually as well as athletically,” Foley said, adding with some amazement, “and he only coached me for one year.”
The WFL folded the next year, and Steve went to Denver. The Quarterback mentality that Foley carried, aided him immensely after his position change.
“Sometimes, watching other Quarterbacks while I was on defense was like watching myself in the same situation. I knew what they were going to do.”
Broncos Defensive Coordinator and architect of the Orange Crush Defense Joe Collier was intrigued with Steve. He wasn’t particularly fast (4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash), but Foley was rarely caught out of position as a Cornerback or a Safety.
Collier devised a test, in which the drills and movements of his Defensive Backs were filmed, and an astounding trait in Foley’s game was discovered: he very seldom made a false move, meaning he wasn’t trying to make up lost ground and was able to stay with opposing receivers.
“He was efficient and he was smart,” Collier said. “Steve became the prototype safety.”
According to Collier, one of best games Steve ever played was the 1977 AFC championship game. A freezing day in Mile High Stadium, when Denver beat the Raiders 20-17 for a trip to New Orleans and Super Bowl XII. The Broncos secondary shut down Oakland’s Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff, the most heralded AFC receiving tandem of that era. Foley more than held his own, allowing only three completions to Branch for a total of 59 yards – and no Touchdowns.
“At the time, I didn’t even think about the fact that they were coming at me,” Foley said afterward. “I was having so much fun, it didn’t occur to me until later.”
It wasn’t the first – or only – time he would overcome skeptics. Beating the odds became a trademark in the career of Foley.
His second-to-last NFL game is also quite memorable. On a frigid day – January 11, 1987 – at Cleveland Stadium, “The Drive” catapulted Foley and the Broncos to Pasadena. John Elway directed a 15 play, 98 yard drive that culminated in a Touchdown, tying the game. Denver won in Overtime which put them in Super Bowl XXI.
In 2002, Foley was inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
– Kaptain Kirk