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Here we go. The biggest game of the year for the Denver Broncos. A loss this week would be an unacceptable blow to the confidence of this young football team, while a victory would be such a huge confidence boost that it could very well be November before this team loses a game! LaLa Land aside, the key to the AFC West title could swing heavily our way with a victory this weekend. We'd be two games(2.5 really) up on the Chargers and in solid command of the AFC West. It's just Week 2 and already the fate of the AFC West may be at stake.
Obviously a win this week won't secure the AFC West, but the favorable position it would put us in would be highly desirable moving forward. For a young football team, as ours is, this game is absolutely must win. Our guys have been humiliated by the Chargers for two years now and if this season is to be a success, we must clear this hurdle. A loss would be much too devastating to the psyche of the team and Shanny needs to pull all the stops to get this team over the hump and back into contention.
Now for a little background on this rivalry over the years. The Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers dominated the Denver Broncos early(duh) as the Broncos record against them was 7-18-1 from 1960 to the first half of 1972. I use this benchmark because it further illustrates my belief that 1972 was the year the Broncos began their long climb to the top that finally culminated in 1997 with a Super Bowl Title. Since the first part of 1972, the Broncos are 45-25 against the hated Chargers. Which includes an astonishing 29-7 at Mile High.
Looking back through the years, I found it difficult to pick a single game to highlight for this post but hopefully I picked an interesting one. I dislike having to talk about a game in which a guy named Ryan Leaf almost beat us, but that game in 2000 was incredibly exciting and is deserving as my pick for the greatest Chargers-Broncos match up of all time.
First off, I would like to give you the run down of the top five in my list of great games between these two teams. The first of which took place on October 6, 1963 in the old Bears Stadium in Denver. The Broncos put up a 50-berger, destroying the Chargers 50-34 early in the season. To me, any 50 point performance from a Bronco team in the 60's is worth mentioning. All's fair though, as later in that same season in San Diego, the Chargers put up their own 50-berger in a 58-20 thumping of that same Bronco team. But hey, that was 1960's Bronco football for you!
Another one would have been the 1985 game where Elway and the Broncos mounted a 17 point 4th quarter to tie the game at 24 heading into overtime. John Elway had one of those games where he didn't play all that well and threw a couple of INT's, but then became a greatest quarterback in all of history for the final quarter and OT. A touchdown in overtime sealed the victory 30-24.
Then there is the game in 2005 that almost made the final cut. I am sure we all remember that one. Our team was booed off the field after a 14-3 halftime effort(I would have taken that over last years 41-3 debacle), but then Champ Bailey changed the game with an interception return and the rest was history. The 2005 season became magical and ended in the AFC Championship game. Perhaps we can get the same spark this week against the Chargers!
The other one on my list was the 1995 game where San Diego mounted a late 4th quarter rally with 14 points, but Elway was still playing so we still won 30-27. Then there is that 2000 game. The game where our defense helped make Ryan Leaf look like an all-time great. I still have nightmares about that game, which is why(as a San Diego native) I cheered the day Ryan Leaf left football for good.
I met the guy once when I was 20 years old and then working at an office supply store in Mira Mesa. He drove up in a really nice car(don't remember now what make or model) with some guy(looked and acted like a butt kissing agent) looking for an ink cartridge. I didn't like the guy back then and nor did any San Diegan, so I vaguely pointed in the direction of where he might be able to find ink cartridges locked in little bins. He huffed and puffed and stormed over in that direction and he came back a few minutes later saying they were locked up. I played dumb and said, "They are? Well let me get someone over there to help you sir." Normally I would have just gone over there and got one for the customer, but instead I didn't do anything. He came back a third time and I finally paged someone to go help him out and he bought his cartridge and angrily signed his credit card receipt, ripping the paper in the process. I don't blame him for being angry, but he deserved it. Humility is a hard trait to teach and it seems most San Diego quarterbacks lack the ability to learn the trait. This week, Phyllis Rivers will get his first lesson.
I've digressed, back to the game! It was late November, our team was 6-4 and fighting for a playoff spot. The Chargers on the other hand were 0-10 and fighting for respect. And San Diego came out firing on all cylinders. They jumped out to a 21-10 halftime lead, which was increased to 34-17 by the end of the third. Gus Frerotte(oh the good ole days!) was having a pretty awful day and ended up throwing 4 interceptions, but on the flip side he was throwing the ball all over the place. He ended up with the Broncos all-time record, breaking Frank Tripucka's record by tossing for 462 yards. Rod Smith had 11 catches for 187 and a TD, while Eddie Mac caught 10 balls for 148 yards and two scores.
Ryan Leaf, on the other hand, protected the ball rather well while throwing for three touchdowns and just one interception. However, the wheels on the Charger machine began to fall apart in the fourth quarter. The head butting Frerotte led the Broncos to three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes edging out the hapless Chargers 38-37. Gus Ferotte would finish the day with five touchdown passes in one of the most exciting games of the year.
The Chargers would go on to beat the Chiefs the following week in what would be their only victory for the 2000 season. Of course, they then promptly got rid of Leaf, drafted LDT and the rest is, as they say, history. In 2000, the Broncos would lose the AFC West title to the Oakland Raiders even though the Broncos swept the season series against the them. However, we'd get the last laugh over Oakland -- 41-17!