Indeed, the last meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers is not one that Broncos fans will soon forget. As Sunday Night Football's rematch of last years playoff awesomeness looms before us, Broncos fans' expectations for the season are a mile high.
However, there has been but one time when the Broncos have opened the season against Pittsburgh. Follow me after the jump for a look back at this historic game and what it means looking forward to this Sunday Night.
As I said, the Denver Broncos have only opened up the season versus the Pittsburgh Steelers only one other time. On September 4th, 1983 the Broncos, with rookie quarterback John Elway, ventured into Three Rivers Stadium to take on the boys in black and yellow. The story of this game isn't so much in the stats or score, though Denver did win, 14-10. (Young Elway struggled, completing only two passes - one for fourteen yards and the other to Pittsburgh DB Donnie Shell.) What is important is that this game was that, like Peyton Manning on this coming Sunday, this was John Elway's first real professional football game playing for the Denver Broncos.
Outside of the lone Super Bowl appearance in 1977, the Broncos had only briefly tasted success. Sure, the Broncos would go on to the playoffs in 1978 and 1979, but would lose in their opening rounds - one time being a divisional round loss to the Steelers (1978). Denver Broncos fans were happy that they were winning and had, at the very least, a competitive team. To say there was an expectation of success would be overstating it. In 1983 when Elway came in, eyebrows raised in anticipation of what he might do. Could he have been the one to make the Denver Broncos a perennially elite team in the NFL? All Elway had to do was outperform those that had preceded him - a task that, while formidable, was easily attainable.
Now twenty-nine years later, when Peyton Manning steps onto the field, he steps into a world vastly different than the one Elway experienced. Since that fateful September day in 1983, the Broncos have become that elite team in the NFL with two Super Bowl victories and six AFC Championships to its credit. With only three losing seasons since that 1983 campaign, fans declare failure when Denver finished a season at an even 8-8, a far cry from the seasons when Denver struggled mightily, especially in the early years. Making fans expectations even higher is Manning himself. Being a four time MVP and one time Super Bowl winner only adds fuel to the fire. The Broncos are winners. Peyton Manning is a winner. To expect anything different when you put the two together is fallacy.
Because the Steelers are Denver's most common post season opponent, it's no wonder that Broncos fans are pumped for this game. Last year's victory felt so amazingly good. It almost absolved the pain and anguish from the AFC Championship loss Denver experienced at the hands of the Steelers in 2005 (I still get a stomach ache every time I see that footage of Big Ben waving that yellow towel around against the backdrop of our stadium with the AFC Championship trophy on his shoulder). Coming into this Sunday's game, the Broncos are again on a national stage versus the Steelers. If the Broncos play up to expectations, there's a real possibility that this game will have a considerable impact when playoff seeding and scheduling are determined later in the year.
Going into this Sunday's game, the ravenous desire to win a Super Bowl permeates every orange and blue pore of the Denver Broncos. This is the world that Peyton Manning is stepping into, and one that Broncos fans could only fantasize of in 1983. Opening day in 1983 was was met with interest for what might be. Today, armed with a cadre of talented receivers, a running game and complemented by a powerful defense that features dangerous men named Bailey, Wolfe, Miller and Dumervil, it's no secret that the Denver Broncos and their fans are declaring open season on the Pittsburgh Steelers.