Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a Yankees fan, or the fan of any team that has created a dynasty in their particular sport. I wonder what it would be like to approach every season with a championship or bust mentality. Sometimes I think it would be kind of cool, knowing that your team is going to do whatever it takes, and spend whatever needs to be spent to create a team that, at least on paper, would seem to be the dominate team in your sport. That's got to be pretty exciting right?
But then I think about what happens when those teams, those dream teams like the Yankees, the Heat, and the Eagles all end up losing to cinderella teams that come out of nowhere with their low-expectation fanbases and are forced to spend an entire offseason in embarrassment making up excuses for what exactly went wrong. I don't think I would enjoy that so much. Before the Patriots knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs, the general consensus among Patriots fans was either win this game, or be forever humiliated. For Patriots fans like Bill Simmons, beating the Denver Broncos didn't give up some kind of euphoric sense of victory and accomplishment, but instead a strong sense of relief. The unthinkable didn't happen.
I've been a Denver Bronco fan for a long time. I've seen a lot of amazing things in the NFL, and as a fan of Colorado sports I have seen a lot of amazing things in this state. This year will always be particularly special though. Like 2007 was special, 2011 will always be the year I read two whole books and the Denver Broncos won the AFC West Title.
Four years ago I was living with two of my best friends in a nice third story apartment in what I think is now Littleton, CO. Or maybe it was Centennial. Does anyone in the Denver Metro Area really have a clue which city are in at any given moment? The three of us lived it up like the bachelors we were. Mickey's and cigars on Tuesday nights, V8 and Tylenol on Wednesday mornings, and video games till we passed out on Fridays.
This was a special year for us. We only lived in that apartment for that one year and one of us even had to split after 10 months so he could get hitched. There was a very small window between graduating college, when we realized we had the whole world in front of us but all we really wanted to was play Halo on Thursdays, and the middle of 2008 when the economy began to nosedive forcing the three of us to scatter across the United States thanks to women and job changes.
But in that short amount of time we witnessed together one of the greatest seasons for any team in sports, and it all came to a peak on October 1, 2007 when Matt Holliday may or may not have touched the plate on what is forever known in Colorado sports history as The Slide. Everything built up to that one moment. A split second that changed everything. It sent the Rockies to the playoffs and the three of us into complete cardiac arrest. That feeling was special to me, it was special to us. This is a prime example of when sports truly transcends the simplistic view of just being a competition. This is an example of when sports can leave such an indelible mark that it is a memory you simply cherish forever. I can only imagine how special those will be when I have kids.
The Denver Broncos of 2011-2012 gave us a run that rivals, if not surpasses that of the Rockies in 2007. When Demaryius Thomas caught that ball and started streaking for endzone, there was that moment again. It didn't matter whatever happened afterwards. That one play made it all worth it and cemented everything we had been through the past 17 weeks.
It is special, as a sports fan, to get one run like that in your lifetime. It's not the fact that the teams were the most talented, had the most money, or were loaded with expectations. In fact, since the exact opposite was true it made these runs that much more special. We did it when everyone around us was telling us this was impossible. It couldn't be done. Sports miracles are for movies and books... and the occasional TV show. To get TWO runs like that within a decade? I couldn't feel luckier.
Setting The Stage
When the book closed on our Broncos season last year, when we sat at a miserable 4-12 with the #2 overall pick in the draft, there was simply no debating the fact that our football team was in trouble. Big trouble. We were facing the loss of our Hall of Fame Cornerback to the free-agency market, the reality that our team might be completely devoid of talent, and we were bringing in the only other head coach with a worse record than the one we just fired to fix the problem. Add to the fact that the lockout effectively kept our new coaching staff from making any progress during the normal offseason and we were pretty much hosed. This team was going nowhere.
Our first loss on Monday Night Football felt like a bad omen to me. We had that game won, and yet we still found a way to lose to the Raiders at home. Tough way to start the year on primetime. It's amazing to me how quickly that sense of hope fades when you lose the first game of the year. When you are given a fresh start... and stumble straight out of the gate.
After starting 1-4 and solidly placing ourselves in the Andrew Luck conversation I began to really wonder if this team would see a winning season within the next five years. The amount of overhaul this team seemed to need was massive and it looked to be painful and frustrating for fans. If it were possible, it seemed like we were about to one-up our futility of last season. That was rock bottom for me.
This is where I wonder if fans of dynasty teams can relate. It seems to me that those fans get so comfortable winning and the expectation to be great is so natural, it doesn't even seem to cross their minds that they may have to deal with knowing they are destined to be the bottom feeders of their respective division. That's a tough feeling to deal with as a sports fan. It's difficult to imagine investing hours and hours of your winter months keeping track of a team that is supposed to, and does, continually fail.
On the other hand, though, I wonder if fans of dynasty teams will ever relate to what just happened to our Broncos. Maybe they never want to. Maybe they look down on us with a little bit of condescension that we would feel so great about a season in which we went only .500 and won just one playoff game. To be completely honest, how could you blame them? Unless you experienced it, unless you were there for it, how could you really understand it?
When Tim Tebow stepped onto the field during the second half of the Chargers game, this season changed. It didn't change over time. It didn't change slowly. It changed instantly. I've been reading a lot of articles trying to explain how the Broncos fortunes after Tebow took over as QB had far less to do with his presence as it did an entire host of other coincidences. The defense got healthy. McGahee took over as captain. John Fox began understanding his team. We exited the Libra month and entered Scorpio.
Coincidence. How many times has that word been used to describe our team this year?
The reality is, I'm not entirely sure what happened to the Broncos after Tebow took over the reins. It was probably a combination of all those things to some extent. I do know that what we witnessed for the next 7 weeks was something akin to magic. A miracle. It baffled the analysts, it baffled the coaches, and I think in some ways it baffled the players. It nearly gave an entire fanbase a heart condition and I'm still suffering from the resulting heartburn. The streak the Broncos went on, after picking up right where they left off in 2010-2011 was so improbable, so impossible that the media and the public simply didn't know what to make of it.
And they couldn't get enough of it. The Broncos were front and center, and we owned the ratings.
The Year of the Quarterback Indeed
This year has been quite the year for quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers looked as dominate as a QB has ever looked until his backup stole the show. Drew Brees and Tom Brady each broke Dan Marino's long standing passing record and made it look so easy one wonders why, like the invention of the splash stick in your Starbucks cup, it took so damn long to happen. We saw the emergence of the Lions offense where the Stafford/Megatron combo was so potent it's just a matter of time before that becomes the Starscream/Megatron hookup... on second thought let's hope that never happens. Or, in Nintendo terms, A+A+Y+Back = Fatality. We saw Tight Ends like the Gronk (but of course not our Gronk) and Jimmy Graham put legitimate fear in the hearts of #1 WR's everywhere.
While the elite few QB's were dominating the league we saw a class of rookie, 2nd year, and backup QB's get a significant amount of playing time. In fact, 18 out of the 32 teams played one these types of QB's for a significant part of their year. The scope of skill on display was humorous if not at times downright hilarious. But it was out of this "2nd tier" grouping of quarterbacks that the real story of the 2011-2012 season came from. In fact, it could be argued that the most lacking in talent of all these QB's is the one that stole the entire show. And he did it by simply going out, playing his game, and giving up a simple God bless here and there.
His story captured a city, and fascinated a nation. When Rodgers was streaking for perfection, Tebow was the story. When Drew Brees broke the Marino passing record, Tebow was the story. For many it was just too much. Too much Tebow. Too much hype. For most of the rest of us, it wasn't nearly enough.
Who knows if we'll ever be a dynasty. Who knows how long it will take for us to get back to the Superbowl. What I do know is that when we started this season in the gutter and I was out of reasons to believe that something could change it, the most unconventional QB in the country, with the most conventional coach in the league changed everything. He did it with the least talent during the toughest part of their schedule. How do we explain that? I'm sure if we had the ability to sit down and talk with all of these players and coaches they would attribute it to hard work, believing in each other, and never quitting. I'm sure that's a part of it.
For fans that watch this game every week though, we all know that we saw something unique. My Raider loving wife admits that it was something special. Something we may very well not see again for a long time. I don't know if it was magic but it sure felt like magic at times. I don't know if it was a miracle but it sure felt like some of those wins came from land of unicorns, Santa Clause, and cheap gasoline. I've spent this entire post trying to come up with some way to make a grand point as to why this season was so much different than every other 8-8 team that has gone on to win one wild-card game at home only to be blown out the next, but I can't place my finger on just one event.
There was one thing, though, that I do think in some ways encompasses just how "miraculous" or "ludicrous" or simply off the wall crazy this season was. It happened right after the Broncos stunned the world by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at home and sent this state into complete pandemonium. It happened when someone simply noticed that Tebow threw for 316 yards. An innocuous, less than impressive number that has been reached who knows how many times in history by other QB's. Tim Tebow himself never mentioned the coincidence at all. Never acknowledged. Never deviated from his normal postgame comments of thanking Jesus and God blessing everyone. Yet that next morning over 9 million people googled the verse John 3:16.
Think about it. ESPN did that. Twitter and Facebook did that. A host of people with zero vested interest in any of the things that Tebow believes in did all of the footwork for him and put a Bible verse in front of millions of people around the globe. That just blows me away. What did Tim do? He played his game, threw for a coincidental 316 yards and then spent some time afterwards with a kid with real world issues. The rest of us scoured the internet trying to find all the pieces of a non-existent puzzle like we were in the middle of a Dan Brown novel... and we loved it.
Call it whatever you will. This season was full of something. I'm willing to stick with miracles. I hope that whatever happens over the next few months, and next couple of years, we will always be able to look back at this season and realize just how much fun this out of control circus really was. It made us all look like idiots and all look like geniuses at some point.
The Denver Broncos Miracle Men of 2011. Thanks for the memories.