The Denver Broncos are without a doubt one of the NFL’s greatest-ever franchises, with a history of success envied by most fan bases. The Broncos’ all-time winning percentage of .538 puts them at no. 10 on the all-time list among active franchises in the category. And of the other teams in the top 10, perhaps only New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys can claim records of such consistent competitiveness.
(Incidentally, on that all-time win-loss chart, the Broncs are exactly 7 games up all-time on the rival Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders.)
The decision of the upstart American Football League to establish a professional football team in Denver in 1960 showed foresight and confidence. The team would be the first in the American Southwest, the first in the entire Mountain Time Zone – and Denver, then ranked 22nd in terms of U.S. cities ranked by population, was still a good three decades-plus away from finally landed its much-coveted MLB team.
Not that the Broncos’ eventual success was always evident: In their 10 years of AFL play, the Broncos never topped a 7-7 record and averaged just under 4 wins per season. The first seven seasons of play post-AFL/NFL merger weren’t so hot, either, with the Broncos peaking in 1976 with a 9-5 record. And suddenly, in ’77, everything changed. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Red Miller took over the coaching duties, and the much-maligned Craig Morton was brought over in a trade. Despite all the hype and attention the offense was getting, it was the Orange Crush defense of Randy Gradishar, Lyle Alzado, Louis Wright and Bernard Jackson that stomped the league and got the Broncos into their first Super Bowl.
Despite the miracle season of ’77, however, the most important moment in Denver Broncos history occurred in the offseason following the ’82 season: The landing of no. 1 overall 1983 NFL Draft pick, a dude named John Elway. All Elway would do was start at QB for the Broncos for the next 16 years, playing in 234 of a total 255 regular season games in that span on the way to becoming Denver and Colorado’s all-time greatest pro athlete. From 1983 to ‘’96, Elway and the Broncos enjoyed eight playoff runs and three Super Bowl appearances – and admittedly became something of the poster boy for the NFC beatdown so typical in those years’ Super Bowls.
And then, Terrell Davis. After positively stealing the Georgia Bulldog in the sixth round, head coach Mike Shanahan inserted the man into the starting lineup and suddenly the Broncos had something they’d never had before: A bona fide rushing attack. In each the first four years of Davis’s career, Denver was top 3 in running yardage and TDs; and in Davis’s third and fourth campaigns, Denver got its long-awaited title(s). Elway was able to retire from the game recognized as a top-five all-timer rather than the butt of jokes.
The 00s weren’t particularly kind to the Broncos, as the team’s only run of note after Super Bowl XXXIII came in 2005, when Jake “The Snake” Plummer led the Broncs past the would-be threepeater Patriots first in the regular season and then in the divisional, only to finally succumb to, fittingly enough, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
After a few not exactly massively lucrative business ventures, Elway returned to the Broncos in 2011 – as general manager/executive VP. After a season of silliness featuring an 8-8 record and a fluky, erratic playoff path with the immortal Tim Tebow at the helm, Elway got down to business. He immediately wooed Manning, then a free-agent after an unceremonious release from the Colts, to quarterback his team. The Manning-led (though the term became decreasingly descriptive through the run) Broncos made the playoffs in all four of Peyton’s seasons with the team, twice appearing in Super Bowls. And Manning’s Broncos ’Bowls were somewhat similar to those of his boss: His first resulted in a 33-8 blowout by the Seattle Seahawks, but his last was a solid victory allowing him to triumphantly retire.
Though the Broncos suffered a grievously bad 2017, hardly resembling the side that had won the big game just two years previous, the last four decades have taught us that Denver football (and Elway, for that matter) never stay irrelevant for long.
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