DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Matt Prater #5 of the Denver Broncos kicks the ball for a 28 yard field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
On September 9, 2012, the Denver Broncos will begin the defense of their 2011 AFC West Title. It is coming off a season which saw the Broncos win their first playoff game since the 2005 season. This will be the first game of the Broncos' fifty-third season. Interestingly enough, it will be just the fifth time that Denver has played a regular season game on September 9th and only the fourth time that the Broncos have opened a season on the 9th of September.
While the historical performance of a team is not much a predictor of current or future performance, it can be fun to take a look back and see how our beloved Broncos fared on any given date.
Let's take a look back at other Broncos games on September 9th.
9-9-1960: Denver@Boston, Denver won 13-10
Denver's very first game as a professional football franchise took place on Friday, September 9, 1960. The Broncos traveled to Boston to take on the Boston Patriots. This was a game of firsts: It was the very first game played by teams in the newly formed American Football League (AFL). It was the first season opener for the Broncos. The very first touchdown in the AFL came on a 59-yard pass from Denver quarterback Frank Tripucka to running back Al Carmichael. Gene Mingo returned a punt 76 yards for the first punt return for a touchdown in the AFL.
A number of noteworthy things happened for the Broncos during this game. The Broncos won the turnover battle, taking away the ball on a fumble and again on two interceptions while the Patriots managed only two takeaways (a fumble and an interception). Denver lost the penalty battle, being penalized five times for 55 yards while the Patriots drew only three flags for 15 yards.
The game was also a see-saw battle. The Patriots scored first on a 35-yard field goal by Gino Cappelletti for a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Tripucka's touchdown pass to Carmichael in the second quarter gave Denver a 7-3 lead at the half. The Broncos extended their lead to 13-3 in the third quarter on Mingo's punt return (a 2-point conversion attempt failed). Boston intercepted a Tripucka pass later in the third quarter then marched for a touchdown to make the score 13-10. The two teams had exchanged punts in the fourth quarter, then Denver defensive back Goose Gonsoulin ended Boston's second possession of the quarter with an interception at the Denver 2-yard line. The Broncos were able to run out the clock, using seventeen plays to march to the Patriot's 13-yard line.
9-9-1984: Denver@Chicago, Denver lost 0-27
The Broncos waited twenty-four years before again playing on September 9th. In 1984, they traveled to Chicago to take on the Bears on the 9th of September. This was the second game of the season. They were coming off a playoff year in 1983 -- they had finished in a tie for 2nd place in the AFC West with the Seattle Seahawks. Both teams had made the playoffs and Denver lost to Seattle 7-31 in the Wild Card round. The Broncos opened the 1984 season with a 20-17 victory over Cincinnati in Denver.
The Broncos fell behind early, trailing first 0-3, then 0-10 in the first quarter. Denver was behind 0-27 at the half. Quarterback Gary Kubiak had started the game, but a poor performance in the first quarter (he led drives that ended in: punt, punt, missed field goal, interception) led to his being replaced by John Elway early in the second quarter. Elway did not fare any better than Kubiak and Elway was replaced by Scott Stankavage in the third quarter. Denver ended the game with 53 rushing yards while having given up over 300 rushing yards by Chicago (179 of those yards came on the legs of Walter Payton).
9-9-1990: Denver@Los Angeles Raiders, Denver lost 9-14
Denver's third game on September 9th came in 1990 and was the second time that the Broncos opened a season on that date. They came into the 1990 season as the defending AFC Champions. The Broncos had finished the 1989 season with an 11-5-0 record and in first place in the AFC West. They had defeated Pittsburgh 24-23 in the Divisional round of the playoffs, then won the AFC Championship by downing Cleveland 37-21. Denver was drubbed 10-55 by San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
Denver opened their AFC Championship defense with a 9-14 loss to the Raiders on September 9, 1990. The Broncos scored first to take a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and extended that lead to 6-0 at the half. Things fell apart in the third quarter: it started when a 5-yard pick 6 on 3-21-DEN5 gave Los Angeles a 7-6 lead. Later in the third quarter, the Raiders forced a fumble after a successfully completed pass on 3-6-DEN35. They returned the fumble 42 yards to extend their lead to 14-6. Denver did have a chance to secure a victory late in the game. After a field goal with 5:05 left to play cut the Raiders lead to 14-9, the Broncos forced a punt and got the ball back 1-10-DEN23 with 1:43 to play. A 6-yard Elway to Vance Johnson completion was followed by two sacks (first a loss of 7 yards then a loss of 8 yards). On 4-19-DEN14 with 0:45 to play, an Elway to Johnson pass was completed for no gain. The Raiders knelt to run out the clock.
9-9-2007: Denver@Buffalo, Denver won 15-14
The Broncos opened their 2007 season on September 9th. The Broncos were coming off of a 9-7-0 season (and having missed the playoffs) that had seen quarterback Jake Plummer (who had led the Broncos to the AFC Championship game in 2005) replaced by second-year quarterback Jay Cutler with five games left in the season. The Broncos were 7-4-0 when Head Coach Mike Shanahan made the switch. Denver finished the 2006 season with a 9-7-0 record.
This game was the third time that the Broncos had opened a season on September 9th. It represented the first season in which Cutler would be the undisputed starter. The Broncos fell behind 0-7 in the first quarter when Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. A 21-yard Jason Elam field goal made the deficit 3-7 at the end of the first quarter. A 48-yard field by Elam in the second quarter closed the gap to 6-7 at the half. Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch had a 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to extend the Bills' lead to 6-14. Later in the third quarter, a 5-yard pass from Cutler to wide receiver Brandon Marshall cut Buffalo's lead to 14-12 (the Broncos failed to convert a 2-point try). The fourth quarter saw the teams exchange punts, then Denver missed a field goal. The Broncos forced a punt on Buffalo's next possession and got the ball back 1-10-DEN34 with 2:13 left. Denver drove to a 1-10-BUF24 with 0:01 left on the clock. Elam made a field goal as time expired to give Denver the win.
An interesting footnote to this game: Denver quarterback Jay Cutler finished the night with over three times the number of passing yards (304 to 97) of his Buffalo counterpart, J. P. Losman.
The 2012 season opener will mark the first time that Denver has opened a season on September 9 at home. Some have said it will be a rematch of the 2011 Wild Card game played in Sports Authority Field on January 8, 2012. It is a rematch only in the sense that it features the same two teams on the same field. Denver has experienced some significant changes on both sides of the ball that make comparisons to the Wild Card game somewhat moot.
The game will also mark the first time since 1983 that the Broncos have opened a season by playing the Steelers. That game was played on September 4, 1983. Despite being out-passed 217-49 and giving up seven sacks that dropped the Broncos net passing yards to 1 for the game, the Broncos won 14-10 on the strength of out-rushing the Steelers 138-123 and forcing seven Pittsburgh turnovers (4 fumbles and 3 interceptions).
The Broncos have had four games on September 9th. Denver has a 2-2-0 record in those games. Three of them were season openers. The Broncos went 2-1-0 in those opening games. All four of the games were on the road. This year, we have a fifth September 9th game, it is Denver's fourth opening game, but it is the first time the Broncos will being playing at home on this date. It will be interesting to see how this meeting with the Steelers plays out.