Mile High Report is taking a Bronco-centric look at teams around the NFL. It’s important that, as football fans, we understand the history and the blood (good or bad) that exists between our Denver Broncos and the rest of the league. For the AFC East, click here.
The interesting thing about the NFC North is that between all four teams, there are twenty-three pre-AFL/NFL merger Championships. Among the MHR Staffers, we recently discussed how much credit is due for winning championships in the protoerozoic NFL era. While the format for awarding these championships have changed dramatically over the years (the introduction of a playoff and actual championship game), this accomplishment should not be taken too lightly. Sure, many of the teams that these franchises played against only existed for a few years at the most, but you simply can't penalize them for existing in a time when the NFL hadn't quite found its way yet. Though, seriously... How much weight is fair to give a Championship from 1924? That's a question for another day. Without further ado, here's the Denver Broncos Fan Guide to the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in 1961 as an expansion team. Originally, they were to be the American Football League’s (AFL) eighth franchise, but the ownership group backed out once the NFL offered them an opportunity to join the NFL. The AFL was left scrambling to fill the void and our arch rivalry with a franchise in Oakland was borne soon thereafter.
Minneapolis’ previous NFL franchise, the Minneapolis Marines, started off as an amateur team of teenagers that would later join the entity that would become the NFL in 1921. They would fold following the 1924 season. From 1929-1930, the Marines were resurrected as the Minneapolis Red Jackets before merging with the Frankfort Yellow Jackets in 1930 (apparently colored jackets were held in higher regard then than they are today).
Elsewhere in Minnesota, the Duluth Kelleys (named for the hardware store that sponsored them) began play in 1923 and played for two seasons before losing their sponsorship in 1925. Renamed the Duluth Eskimos, they would continue play as a traveling team - playing their last game in Duluth in 1926, but continuing to play until the team was sold back to the NFL following an abysmal 1927 season. As a condition of the sale, its owner, Ole Haugsrud, was granted an opportunity to buy a 10% ownership stake of a future Minnesota NFL franchise. Passing on the Red Jackets, he would later obtain this stake in the Minnesota Vikings. To further complicate things, there is a convoluted argument that the franchise that was sold back to the league later became one of the franchises (in part) that evolved into the Washington Redskins. That can be found here.
The Vikings are a winning franchise, posting a 413-336-9 all-time record.
Record Against the Broncos:
The Vikings and Broncos haven’t played each other much. The Vikings hold the edge over the Broncos 7-5, but with so few games played it’s hard to really declare any type of dominance or lack thereof within this matchup.
The Vikings used to play outdoors and now they play in a dome. After seeing the Vikings play outside in the cold where the Minnesota Golden Gophers played after their roof collapsed, I can almost give them a pass for the comfort they’re accustomed to (the key word there is "almost"). Looking at their hallowed mascot, Ragnar, it’s clear that Minnesota Vikings fans are a hearty people who wear furs and grow long beards to insulate them against the cold. It’s for this reason I grade them as seemingly warm.
Memorable Broncos vs. Vikings moment:
November 18, 1984
There really isn’t much to look at when it comes to memorable moments with the Vikings. When the Broncos played them it has, more often than not, been in close games - except on November 18, 1984. On this day, the Broncos would outscore the Vikings, 42-21. John Elway absolutely bombed them, throwing five touchdowns to Sammy Winder, Steve Watson (twice!), Butch Johnson and Ray Alexander. Gerald Willhite would have the only rushing touchdown of the day. This game was over in the third quarter.
Detroit Lions/Portsmouth Spartans:
The Portsmouth Spartans were founded in 1929 and formally joined the NFL in 1930. At the time, Portsmouth was the smallest NFL city with a population of 42,560 and, despite success, could not economically survive in Portsmouth. In 1934, the Spartans were moved to Detroit and were renamed the Lions. In the pre-merger era, Detroit won four NFL Championships (1935, 1952, 1953 & 1957). Since then things have been less than stellar for them (to say the least). Though, it would appear that things could be on the mend up there in Michigan with notable draft acquisitions in recent years.
The Lions struggles are evident in their overall record: 496-593-32. To put that into better perspective, if you use a sixteen game season as a basis (which is generous considering the average number of games that they played per season throughout their history is considerably less), the Detroit Lions have played the equivalent of 39 winless seasons (including ties).
Record Against the Broncos:
In the ten total matchups over the years, the Broncos are 6-4 against Detroit.
Though their team plays in a dome, I have to give respect to Lions fans. As we experienced during the 2010 season, losing isn’t fun. Week after week, watching your team embarrass itself while wearing your $80 Joey Harrington jersey could be enough to make you swear off football forever. I grade Lions fans as... due... for greater things.
Memorable Broncos vs. Lions Moment:
August 5, 1967 - Alex Karras Hikes Home
To quote Wayne Ehler’s personal experience at the game (from John Bena’s Floyd Little article celebrating Floyd Little’s induction to the Hall of Fame).
In the summer of 1967 the Broncos couldn't even get into Bears' Stadium to play the Detroit Lions because there was a minor league team scheduled for a baseball game that week. The Broncos played in the old concrete stadium at the University of Denver. It hadn't been used for football for years. I wondered at the time where the players had space to dress. In any case, the Broncos won the game and became the first AFL team to beat an NFL team. Despite the fact that it was "just" a preseason game everyone there had realized how important it was. It was amazing that there were only about 4-5 thousand of us there to watch. I sat behind the Lions' bench and heard the player cat calls against the Broncos. Alex Karras kept yelling about how bad the Broncos were and finally got tossed from the game for fighting. Floyd Little ran around and over Karras and the other Lions for the whole game.
Memorable Broncos vs. Lions Moment II:
November 4, 2007 - The Decline of the Denver D
This was the game where the wheels on the Denver Broncos defensive bus started to come off. Granted just a few weeks earlier we were waxed by the Chargers in horrible fashion, but for some reason this was this uber-loss that sticks with me. Never in my recent memory had I seen such abysmal and half-hearted play from the Broncos. Remember folks, this was the second to last win that Detroit would have before their tragic 0-16 season. When you lose to a team on the cusp of a historic failure like that was,it speaks to what’s in store for the future. Looking at Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels’ meager attempts to improve the defense since this game, it’s no surprise that our 2010 defense performed the way it did. The Broncos lost, 44-7 with Patrick Ramsey throwing the only touchdown to Brandon Stokely, a two yard pass.
Green Bay Packers:
Though the Packers came into existence in 1919 as the semi-pro Indian/Acme Packers (named for a company that produced canned meat - Mmmmmm!), they didn’t join the entity that would later become the NFL until 1921. However, at the conclusion of the 1921 season their franchise would be rescinded because George Halas (of the Chicago Bears - Decatur Staleys at the time) revealed that Green Bay had inappropriately used players that were still in college. After an appeal and a $50 fee, the Packer franchise was reinstated. They would go on to win eleven pre-merger NFL Championships (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961 1962, 1965, 1966 & 1967). They have won four Super Bowls (I, II, XXXI & XLV). They have lost only one Super Bowl - to the Denver Broncos (XXXII).
For as terrible as the Lions have been, the Packers have been the opposite. They’ve posted an impressive 664-524-36 record.
Record Against the Broncos:
The Packers and Broncos are tied all time, 5-5-1. They play again this season. One wonders which way this will tip when they play this season (Go Broncos!).
The Packers play outside in the cold. Their fans are not afraid to wear silly cheese wedge shaped hats. They are much more forgiving of the Broncos since they finally redeemed themselves after the Super Bowl loss in the 1997 season. However, since the Pack just won a Super Bowl they are entitled to a little boastful celebration. It’s for these reasons I grade them as good fans. (Shoot, any team that whose fans reach out to Broncos Country for support in stomping Jay Cutler and the Bears are alright with me.)
Memorable Broncos vs. Jets Moment:
January 25, 1998 - "This One’s For John"
I don’t really need to say anything for this one:
October 15, 1984 - The Bronco Blizzard
Denver and Green Bay squared off in the 200th Monday Night Football match-up at Mile High Stadium. Though it snowed over a foot that night and the temperature had dipped to just twenty-nine degrees, 62,546 fans made their way to the game. They wouldn’t be disappointed. Opening the game, the Packers fumbled their two opening possessions which were both returned for touchdowns by Steve Foley and Louis Wright respectively. Combined with a (barefoot) Rich Karlis field goal, the Broncos went on to triumph over the Pack, 17-14.
Chicago Bears/Decatur Staleys:
The Decatur Staleys (named for a food starch company) were founded in 1919 and was one of the charter members of the entity that became the NFL in 1920. In 1921, the Staleys relocated to Chicago and became officially known as the Bears in 1922. They won eight pre-merger championships (1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946 & 1963). They have won one Super Bowl (XX).
Despite having won more games than the Packers over the years, they have not had the success (hardware) that the Packers have. The Bears have posted an impressive 704-512-42 record.
Record Against the Broncos:
The Bears and Broncos have squared off thirteen times with the Bears breaking the tie last time we faced each other. The Bears lead in this match-up, 7-6
November 25, 2007 - The Devin Hester Game
This is yet another loss from that 2007 season that still haunts me. Just a couple weeks after losing terribly to Detroit, we had quite possibly the most disastrous third quarter in team history. You see, it was in this quarter that Devin Hester returned a punt for 75 yards and a kickoff for 88 yards. Why do you kick to a guy that’s notorious for setting up shop in the end zone? It really doesn’t matter why it happened (looking in your direction Todd Sauerbrun/Mike Shanahan). It did happen and the Broncos lost in overtime to the Bears, 37-34.
Over the years, there's been quite a bit of interesting things that have transpired between the Broncos and the Bears off the field. For a fanpost that has a slightly more acerbic take on that history, click here.
Next week, we take a look at the AFC North!