Editor's Note: I welcomed Kaptain Kirk to write a piece to get MHR fired up for Denver's Super Bowl appareance. Enjoy! - Monty
I've been a Denver Broncos fan for about as long as Pat Bowlen has owned the franchise. My family moved to the Centennial state from Los Angeles, California during the Summer of 1979 after visiting the Rockies a few years prior. Like most football-loving Americans, I watched the underdog Broncos take on "America's team," the Dallas Cowboys in 1977. I had heard of the "Orange Crush" of course, but it wasn't until I moved to Colorado Springs that I truly experienced it and found out how it affected not only the State, but the entire range of the Rocky Mountains. Fans painted their houses, cars and children Orange. Mile High Mania and that ‘77 Bronco team put Denver on the map as an actual big city.
The Broncos made the playoffs during the next two seasons, losing the Divisional playoffs in ‘78 to the eventualSuper Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and in ‘79, the Houston Oilers squeaked by the Broncos by a Field Goal in the Wildcard round. It took 4 more years until the Broncos returned to the postseason and hope was reborn. A young Quarterback who looked more like a California surfer boy than football player arrived in the Mile High city in 1983 and the rabid fans of Broncos Country knew that the future of their team was on the rise. That surfer boy's name? John Elway.
I had heard of this Elway kid. He was famous even before he went to Stanford University and lost a trip to the Rose Bowl because the Marching Band rushed onto the field during the last moments of a game. Prior to that, John went to Granada Hills High School. I remember him beating up my High School team in the late 1970's and him throwing 4 TD passes. I kept track of John after that and little did I know that my future and his would end up in beautiful Colorado. When the news came that Elway was coming to Denver as a Bronco, I was ecstatic because I knew the capabilities he possessed.
Denver made it to the postseason in 1983 and ‘84, losing in the Divisional round and the Wildcard game respectively as the Broncos tried to overcome the limitations of a stubborn Old School coach named Dan Reeves.
Don't get me wrong, Dan Reeves was a good coach and a part of Broncos successes and failures during their history in the 1980's, but the talent level of the club in those years, whether it was on him or the Front Office, left a lot to be desired.
For example, Howie Long, yeah the Hall of Famer, was there for the taking in the 1981 Draft. Taking Orlando McDaniel, who played 3 games, instead of Mark Duper, who played in 3 Pro Bowls was another miss in 1982. Can you imagine how awesome those Broncos would have been had they selected Herschel Walker instead of Keli McGregor in 1985? Walker was taken by the Cowboys four picks after the Broncos chose a guy who played all of four games.
Instead, the Broncos hit and missed on more Journeyman type players than stars. What hasn't changed though, is their ability to find jewels in the later rounds (Karl Mecklenburg anyone?).
Despite the obstinance of Reeves to ignore the talents of his franchise QB and stick to an ultra-conservative running game with a 2.9 average per carry, the team made it to the Super Bowl in 1986 and 87. The first one, Super Bowl XXI, the Broncos had a chance to win. However, they were outcoached by Bill Parcells and lost 39-20.
The next year, the Broncos returned to the big game and got slaughtered by the Washington Redskins 42-10. I was heartbroken. Two years in a row, my team made it to the Big Show only to come up short. The Broncos were very outmatched by a veteran Redskin team, but even I ignored that fact simply because we had the "Duke of Denver"on our side. We also had "the 3 Amigo's" and a pair of enforcers in the Defensive Backfield named Smith and Atwater.
It took another two seasons before the Broncos were back in the Super Bowl. It was Elway's 3rd attempt at the Brass Ring. Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana Superdome against Bill Walsh's 49er team in the midst of their dynasty. This one was supposed to show the world how much better Elway was to Joe Montana. Nevertheless, it didn't work out that way as San Francisco pulverized our team 55-10. For me, this was the hardest loss I suffered throughout my fandom to this point. I was hoping to avenge this loss in this year's Super Bowl, but that isn't going to happen. Perhaps I should simply be satisfied that my team is relevant once again, but I digress.
Another so-so season followed before John willed the Broncos once more to the playoffs with a 12-4 record in 1991 only to lose the Conference game to Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills. The only satisfaction I had was that the Bills would end up being 4-time Super Bowl losers too.
Two more seasons pass, Dan Reeves is supplanted as head coach by Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and the team plodded to a Wildcard Loss to the lowly Raiders. The Niners won their 5th Lombardi trophy that season, with the Broncos future head coach Mike Shanahan as their Offensive Coordinator. Denver went 16-16 in Wade Phillips two-year tenure as head coach. Finally, Pat Bowlen was able to get "The Mastermind," Mike Shanahan away from San Francisco to turn the ship around.
The Broncos went 8-8 during Mike's first season (1995) at the helm. After some maneuvering, he had the team on track for their best 3-year run in Broncos history.
1996 was the year of redemption. The Broncos were the best team in the NFL and the Super Bowl favorites that year. However, the cards didn't fall that way, as an upstart 9-7 Jacksonville Jaguars team defeated a 12.5 point favorite Bronco team at Mile High 30-27. This one hurt bad. It was worse than the Redskins loss. It was even tougher to take than the Super Bowl loss to the 49ers in 1989. I'm sure I drowned my sorrows with the help of Ron Bacardi and gallons of Dr. Pepper. That was the longest offseason for me to endure. The next 6 months seemed more like 6 years.
But then it happened. The Broncos went 26-6 over the next 2 seasons and won back-to-back Super Bowls. That first win against the Packers was the finest day as a Bronco fan for me. I had put together a Super Bowl party at the house of a relative. Every single person in the room had the Packers, who were 11-point favorites. I was the lone Broncos fan on the premises and I had them surrounded. As I have done all season long in 2013, I had a big grin on my face, even as the Packers, led by Brett Favre took an early 7-0 lead. By halftime, the Broncos led 17-14 and my grin continued through my third trip to the buffet. Somewhere around the 3rd Quarter, my Uncle, who had been eye-balling my reaction for the entire game, began grinning himself. He knew what I knew--that the Broncos were going to finally win it all. After that, he couldn't resist a giggle and when asked, he replied, "You guys are all messed up and Kirk is going to take your money!"
Yes indeed. That Super Bowl win was definitely the high point of my fandom. Pat Bowlen, John Elway, the State of Colorado and the rest of Broncos Country including yours truly, were vindicated and justified.
The next year was almost as good, since Elway stuck it to Dan Reeves and the "Dirty Bird" Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. John capped his Hall of Fame career with 2 Super Bowl Rings in a row and could safely retire with a complete resume.
To me, John Elway proved that he is one of the greatest Quarterbacks in NFL history, if only because he took teams with lesser talent to the Super Bowl repeatedly. The Broncos were always the underdogs it seemed. Well, except against the Falcons. It was apparent that their was bad blood between Elway and Reeves for past transgressions and not even Vegas would bet against the Duke. Probably because he had more control over the outcome of the contest as a player, than Reeves did as a coach. Jake had a 39-15 record as the Broncos starting QB, but his carefree attitude clashed with the controlling "Iron Mike."
Shanahan sealed his fate when he pushed the young Cutler into the starting lineup, with the excuse that Jay was too expensive to sit on the bench. After a 3-year record of 24-24, Pat Bowlen decided it was time to make a change, because mediocrity just isn't his style. I think at that point, everyone on the planet besides Mike seemed to know that he wasn't going to rekindle the success he had with John. To this day, he still hasn't figured that one out. Again, Mike Shanahan was a part of the reason that two Lombardi trophies reside in the Mile High City and will forever be a part of Bronco history, it was just time for him to go. Mike the coach couldn't relinquish control of Mike the GM and Shanny was infinitely better at coaching.
The Broncos story after John's retirement lapsed into the morass of Mike Shanahan's micromanaging until Mr. Bowlen absolutely HAD to make a change. The team lost the Wildcard games in 2000, 2003, 2004 and the Conference championship in 2005. At that point, Shanahan, trying to prove he could win a Super Bowl without Elway, drafted Quarterback Jay Cutler to groom behind Jake Plummer.
About that time, rumors began to swirl out of Dove Valley that Mr. Bowlen was suffering from an illness, possibly the onset of Alzheimers. The next coach would be chosen by the President of Business Operations, Joe Ellis. Well Joe may be a fine hand at the Business dealings, but he wasn't a "Football Guy." The Broncos interviewed several candidates and a young Offensive Coordinator named Josh McDaniels nailed it with a 5 hour Powerpoint presentation. Ellis turned over complete control to McDaniels which was suffice it to say, a mistake of epic proportions. Most of us know what occurred next. The dismantling of a team stocked with plenty of talent, albeit nowhere near the "One player away" that Mike Shanahan repeatedly proclaimed each year--and the $%^&#@! heinous Tebow experiment.
Once more I stood alone. I tried my best to give young Josh some leeway and see if he could pull things off. But I wouldn't budge on the Tebow as a QB meme. Since most of you have heard it all before, I will just say that yes, he was exciting to watch for about 2 minutes at a time, but after 25 years, he still can't pass the football.
That was probably the lowest point in all my Bronco fandom. I could write another 2500 words on the entire McDaniels fiasco and my reasoning for allowing him leeway in the first place. However, I will let that nightmare fade into the mist. Ever the optimist, it was time to push forward and Mr. Bowlen once again reappeared on the scene and took control. The franchise had already bottomed out, so in my mind, there was only one direction to go.
Pat did the only thing he could do, to escape the Tebow Circus and the madness therein. He brought back the Comeback Kid himself, John Elway. Together, Bowlen and Ellis publicly apologized for letting the Broncos franchise and the city of Denver down. John Elway then promised he would so everything he could, to bring a Championship back to Denver.
That was two years ago (2011). Elway hired John Fox as the head coach and the Broncos managed to salvage an 8-8 record among the wreckage that McDaniels left behind. They even won a playoff game, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Overtime. However, they were no match for the New England Patriots who eventually fell to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. There were mixed reactions over that entire season as the Tebow phenomenon caused enough friction to divide the fanbase. The senseless inanity of one side calling John Elway jealous of Tebow was absurd. And when that didn't fly past the logical, the Tebow crowd stated that everything was John Fox's or Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy's fault.
The path of least resistance in solving this dilemma for Elway was to send Tebow packing. John even allowed him a choice of two destinations. Meanwhile, Elway was throwing in all his chips on a Thirty-Something Quarterback coming off 4 Neck surgeries. But this wasn't just any Quarterback. This was Peyton Freaking Manning!
Remember that grin I was telling you about during Super Bowl XXXII? Well it was back. Due to my history as a Bronco fan and knowing about as much as the next fan of John Elway, I held fast in my faith that John knew what he was doing and that if he was going after "PeyDirt" then the Neck wasn't going to be an issue and the Broncos rebound to relevance would happen almost immediately. Last year, they came close to accomplishing that. There are still some fans that put all the blame on Rahim Moore for blowing that Overtime playoff loss against theBaltimore Ravens, but in truth, there were too many other decisions and plays that kept Denver from the Super Bowl in 2012. Was I disappointed? Well yeah, I'm a diehard Bronco fan!
However, I took away from that loss the understanding that 2013 would be the best chance of bringing a third Lombardi trophy to Denver. There was a sour taste of unfinished business last year; even though the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, it wasn't good enough.
This year, the Broncos turned in a 13-3 regular season and truth be told, I felt at the outset, that they would have a tougher time of it. However, the recent past (read McDaniels era) had me cling to my emotions and not get my hopes to high. Still, with every win this season that grin I spoke of earlier grew wider and wider. 15 games wide with one to go.
In two weeks my face is going to crack. And yes, it was worth the wait.
-- Kaptain Kirk