We have looked at the opening games of Denver's first three decades -- the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s -- and have seen that of their thirty season-opening games, the Broncos played nineteen games at home, eleven on the road and compiled an 18-11-1 record in those games.
Now we come to what many refer to as Denver's "Golden Years" -- the 1990s. Five winning seasons, seven seasons at (or above) .500. Four division titles (including three consecutive titles -- 1991, 1996, 1998), five playoff appearances and one AFC Championship game loss to go along with what became QB John Elway's crowning achievement: back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Here's a trivia point for those Broncos trivia buffs among you: the 1990s were -- to that point in time -- the only decade in which the Broncos scored first in every one of their season openers. Denver, incidentally, went 7-3 in those ten games.
Take a jump with me and let's look at the season openers of the 1990s
You might recall that the Broncos had won the AFC West and the AFC Championship in 1989 before getting drubbed in the Super Bowl by San Francisco. So, expectations were high going into the 1990s. The game opened well enough with K David Treadwell spotting the Broncos a 6-0 lead by halftime on field goals of 42 yards (1st quarter) and 44 yards (2nd quarter). Unfortunately, two costly turnovers in the third quarter gave the Raiders a 14-6 lead -- a 5-yard interception return and a 42-yard fumble return. Treadwell added a 24-yard field goal in the fourth, but it was too little too late. Denver stumbled to a 5-11-0 record and missed the playoffs.
September 1, 1991: Cincinnati at Denver, Denver won 45-14
The Broncos dominated this season opener. They started the onslaught with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Elway to WR Mike Young. After Cincinnati tied it in the first quarter, Denver went on a 21-0 run in the second: Elway scored on a run from 3 yards out. RB Greg Lewis added the second score on a 1 yard run. Then Elway hit TE Reggie Johnson with a 1-yard completion to give Denver a 28-7 halftime lead. Cincinnati cut into the lead in the third quarter and made it 28-14, but Denver then ran away with the game. DB Tyrone Braxton returned an interception 52 yards to make it 35-14 at the end of three quarters. Another Elway run in the fourth quarter (5 yards this time) made it 42-14. Treadwell finished off the scoring with a 19-yard field goal. The Broncos went on to finish the season at 12-4-0 and won the AFC West title. They defeated the Houston Oilers 26-24 in a divisional round playoff game but lost the AFC Championship game to Buffalo 10-7.
September 6, 1992: Los Angeles Raiders at Denver, Denver won 17-13
Denver opened the season for the second time in three seasons by facing off against the Los Angeles Raiders. The Broncos scored first when LB Michael Brooks returned a Raiders' fumble 54 yards for a touchdown. Los Angeles scored ten points in the second quarter and added three more in the third for a 13-7 lead. In the fourth, a 39-yard field goal by Treadwell cut the deficit to 13-10. Denver got the ball with 2:51 remaining on the clock. They drove from their own 15-yard line to the Los Angeles 1-yard line. A first down run netted no yards. With 1:00 remaining, RB Reggie Rivers scored from 1 yard out to give Denver a 17-13 lead. The Broncos held on to secure the victory. As excited as that season starter was, Denver did not show similar grit throughout the season and ended up with an 8-8-0 record.
September 5, 1993: Denver at New York Jets, Denver won 26-20
Denver went on the road for the second time in the decade and won their third consecutive season opener. Two Jason Elam field goals (28 and 30 yards) in the first quarter gave Denver a 6-0 lead. The Jets battled back to tie the game at 6-6, but Elway connected with WR Cedric Tillman to give Denver a 13-6 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Elway connected with RB Glyn Milburn on a 25-yard touchdown pass. This was followed by two more Elam field goals (30 and 41 yards) to give Denver a 26-6 lead at the end of three quarters of play. The Jets did score twice in the fourth but it was a case of too little, too late. The Broncos finished the season with a 9-7-0 record and qualified for the playoffs as a wild card team. Unfortunately, they lost their Wild Card round matchup with the Raiders 42-24.
September 4, 1994: San Diego at Denver, San Diego won 37-34
Once again, a season opener against the Chargers turned into a shootout. It looked like Denver might run away with the game when they leapt out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Elway to WR Mike Pritchard, a 22-yard touchdown run by RB Leonard Russell and a 25-yard Elam field goal. San Diego got on the board but their 2-point conversion failed leaving the score at 17-6 after one quarter. Denver extended its lead to 24-6 when Elway hit Milburn with an 8-yard touchdown pass. This time, San Diego fought back, bringing the score to 24-13, then 24-19 (another 2-point conversion failed) and finally taking a 27-24 lead at the half. Elam tied the game in the third quarter with a 42-yard field goal, but San Diego added one of their own to hold a 30-27 lead after three quarters. The teams exchanged scores in the fourth -- Denver taking a 34-30 lead on a 5-yard pass from Elway to TE Shannon Sharpe and San Diego answering with one of their own and regain the lead at 37-34. The Broncos got the ball back with 4:01 remaining. They drove from their own 25-yard line to the San Diego 3-yard line. After a rush netted no yards on first and goal, Denver called a timeout. On the next play (with 43 seconds left on the clock), Elway dropped back to pass but was sacked and stripped of the ball. San Diego was able to run out the clock to win the game. Denver stumbled to a 7-9-0 record that year.
September 3, 1995: Buffalo at Denver, Denver won 22-7
Denver started the scoring with a 22-yard field goal by Elam in the first quarter. The Bills answered with a touchdown and a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Elam added three field goals in the second (52, 20 and 38 yards) to give the Broncos a 12-7 lead. Elam added his fifth field goal of the day in the fourth quarter to make the score 15-7. A 3-yard touchdown run by RB Terrell Davis closed out the scoring and gave Denver their final margin of victory at 22-7. Despite this strong start, the Broncos only managed an 8-8-0 record that year.
September 1, 1996: New York Jets at Denver, Denver won 31-6
Domination is the only word that can describe Denver's second season opening game against the New York Jets. The Broncos opened the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Sharpe in the first quarter. They then added three more touchdowns in the second -- a 39-yard pass from Elway to WR Ed McCaffrey, a 1-yard run by Davis and a 26-yard run by WR Anthony Miller. A 28-yard Elam field goal made the score 31-0 at the half. The Jets did manage a consolation touchdown in the fourth quarter but a failed 2-point conversion left the final score at 31-6. Denver dominated their season in the same way that they dominated their first game and finished the season at 13-3-0 and the AFC West champions. Unfortunately, the Broncos were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-27 in a divisional round playoff game.
August 31, 1997: Kansas City at Denver, Denver won 19-3
The Broncos came into the 1997 season with chips on their shoulders, but they started slow. The score in their opening game stood at 9-0 at the half on the strength of three Elam field goals (35, 36 and 25 yards). Kansas City made it 9-3 at the end of three quarters. A 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth by Davis made it 16-3 and Elam added a 53-yard field goal for the final score. Denver went on to 12-4-0 record, which proved to be only good enough for 2nd place in the AFC West -- ironically behind the 13-3-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Their first playoff game was a rematch with Jacksonville, this time in the Wild Card Round. This time, Denver dominated the Jaguars for a 42-17 win. The Broncos next faced off against the Chiefs in a divisional round playoff game and won 14-10. They went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 in the AFC Championship game. With that win, the Broncos became only the fifth wild card team in NFL history -- since the wild card playoff format was adopted in 1970 -- to advance to the Super Bowl. Their 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII made Denver just the second wild card team to win a Super Bowl.
September 7, 1998: New England at Denver, Denver won 27-21
Denver began its Super Bowl defense in a strong way. They hosted the New England Patriots to open their season and started that game by jumping out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. They scored twice in the first quarter -- a 53-yard Elam field and then a 12-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Sharpe. In the second quarter the Broncos added another touchdown on a 9-yard run by Davis. The Patriots responded with a touchdown before the end of the half. A second New England touchdown, this time in the third quarter, narrowed the score to 17-14 but a third quarter, 42-yard Elam field goal and a fourth quarter, 1-yard touchdown run by Davis extended the lead to 27-14. New England managed one more touchdown but was not able to catch the Broncos. Denver ended the season with a 14-2-0 record and won the AFC West. They routed Miami 38-3 in the divisional round, and easily handled the New York Jets 23-10 to win the AFC Championship. A 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons gave Denver its second consecutive Super Bowl Championship and made the Broncos the first back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the Dallas Cowboys (1992 season, Super Bowl XXVII and 1993 season, Super Bowl XXVIII).
September 13, 1999: Miami at Denver, Miami won 38-21
Legendary Broncos quarterback John Elway retired after his second Super Bowl win. The post-Elway era in Denver did not get off to an auspicious start. The Broncos did score first in their first season without Elway on a 61-yard pass from QB Brian Griese to McCaffrey. Miami tied the score in the second quarter then scored ten more points for a 17-7 halftime lead. The Dolphins extended that lead to 24-7 in the third, but Denver cut the deficit to ten points on an 11-yard pass from Griese to McCaffrey. The fourth quarter belonged to the Dolphins as they added two more touchdowns for the 38-21 victory. The rest of the season did not go any better as the Broncos ended with a 6-10-0 record -- which has been pointed to as the worst defense of a Super Bowl title by an NFL team.
For what it's worth, that charge is not technically correct: Denver's 6-10-0 record gives them a 0.375 winning percentage for the season following its Super Bowl XXXIII victory. San Francisco, on the other, followed up their Super Bowl XVI win with a 0.333 winning percentage in the 1982 season. However, the 1982 season had been shortened by a players' strike to just nine games -- the 49ers finished at 3-6-0. So, technically, San Francisco has the worst defense of a Super Bowl title, but most record keepers tend to look at a full 14- (prior to 1978) or 16-game season when making that statement.
There are some interesting things to note about Denver's season openers in the 1970s:
Opening Day Records
|Opening Day Record||7-3-0||25-14-1|
Records versus Opponents
|New York Jets||2-0-0||2-1-0|
|St. Louis Rams||0-0-0||1-0-0|
|Los Angeles Rams||0-0-0||0-2-0|
|Largest Win||1991||v Cincinnati||31 pts||45-14||1991||v Cincinnati||31 pts||45-14|
|Narrowest Win||1992||v LA Raiders||4 pts||17-13||1981||v Oakland||2 pts||9-7|
|1986||v LA Raiders||2 pts||38-36|
|Largest Loss||1999||v Miami||17 pts||38-21||1962||v Kansas City||52 pts||59-7|
|Narrowest Loss||1994||v San Diego||3 pts||37-34||1962||v San Diego||3 pts||34-31|
|1994||v San Diego||3 pts||37-34|
Next time: Opening games of the 2000s