The Denver Broncos are a professional American football team based in Denver, Colorado. They are currently a member of the American Football Conference (AFC) Western Division in the National Football League (NFL). The Broncos began play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League and joined the NFL as part of the AFL-NFL Merger.
Denver has reached the Super Bowl six times, winning it in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. It is odd to remember a time, then, when Denver was the lowliest of teams, managing its first winning season in 1973 after thirteen years of futility. As such, they were the only original AFL team never to have played in the title game during the upstart league's 10-year history. Denver, in fact, came close to losing its franchise in 1965, but a local ownership group took control that year and began to build the team.
Rookie coach Red Miller, along with the Orange Crush Defense (a nickname originating in the early '70's, also the name of a popular soda pop) and aging quarterback Craig Morton, promptly took the Broncos to their first playoff appearance in 1977 (and ultimately first Super Bowl, where they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys, 27–10).
Quarterback John Elway arrived in 1983. Originally drafted by the Baltimore Colts as the first pick of the draft, Elway proclaimed that he would shun football in favor of baseball (he was drafted by the New York Yankees to play center field and was also a pitching prospect), unless he was traded to a selected list of other teams, which included Denver. Prior to Elway, Denver had over 24 different starting quarterbacks in its 23 seasons to that point. Elway would remain the quarterback through five Super Bowls, as he and the Broncos won two of them. He would also end his career as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII, his last NFL game. The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants, 39–20; Super Bowl XXII to the Washington Redskins, 42–10; and Super Bowl XXIV to the San Francisco 49ers, 55–10, the most lopsided scoring differential in Super Bowl history.
In 1995, the Broncos debuted rookie running back Terrell Davis, who, in 1997, would lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory, in Super Bowl XXXII, over the Green Bay Packers, 31-24. Although Elway completed only 12 of his 22 passing attempts, throwing one interception and no touchdowns, Davis rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns to earn MVP honors - this while overcoming a severe migraine headache that caused him blurred vision.
In the years since Elway's retirement, it has become obvious that the Denver fans and media expect Elway-like perfection from the quarterback position. Both Brian Griese and Jake Plummer have faced severe scrutiny in attempting to succeed Elway as the team’s quarterback. Elway’s jersey remains the most frequently worn at Invesco Field at Mile High, with the crowd generally voicing their loudest ovations when his name is mentioned or shown. Many members of the media have run stories and articles on the pressures that come with playing quarterback in Denver, as most fans believe no player will ever live up the standard set by Elway.
Elway’s overwhelming popularity in Colorado is generally attributed to a number of factors, including the extensive length of time spent on the team at the league’s premier position, his leading of 4th quarter comebacks (Elway ranks 1st in NFL history), his community work throughout the state and retiring directly after two Super Bowl wins (the last of which being his final game of his career in which he was Super Bowl MVP).
After losing their first game, 34–10, to the Miami Dolphins on September 11, the Broncos won five straight games, defeating the San Diego Chargers, 20–17, the Kansas City Chiefs, 30–10, the Jacksonville Jaguars, 20-7, the Washington Redskins, 21-19, and the two-time defending champion New England Patriots, 28–20, on October 16. Denver lost the next game to the New York Giants on October 23 by a final score of 24–23. The following week, the Broncos beat the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, 49–21, on October 30. In that game, the Broncos became the first team in NFL history to have two players, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell, rush for over 100 yards and another player, Jake Plummer, pass for over 300 yards in a single game. Denver then beat the Oakland Raiders on November 13, 31–17. The next game, the Broncos defeated the New York Jets in Denver on November 20, 27–0. It was the first time the Broncos had shut out a team at home since the Carolina Panthers on November 9, 1997. Denver then went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day, November 24, winning in overtime, 24–21, on a Jason Elam 24-yard game-winning field goal. One of the key plays prior to the field goal was a 55-yard run by Ron Dayne, who filled in for the injured Tatum Bell. Denver lost to the Chiefs in the next game, 31–27, on December 4, but won against the Baltimore Ravens the following week, 12–10. On December 17, the Broncos defeated the Buffalo Bills, 28–17. On Christmas Eve 2005, the Broncos clinched the AFC West division title, as they finished with a record 8–0 at Invesco Field by defeating the Oakland Raiders, 22–3. On December 31, 2005, the Broncos got season-win number 13 in a season-sweeping on the road against their division rivals, the Chargers, with a final score of 23–7.
The Broncos entered the playoffs for the third consecutive year with the momentum of a four-game winning streak. Denver finished the regular season with a record of 13–3, tying them with the Seattle Seahawks for second best overall record in the league, behind the 14–2 Indianapolis Colts. Denver was seeded number two in the AFC behind the Colts. On January 14, 2006, the Broncos defeated the two-time defending champion New England Patriots, 27–13, in the divisional round - ending the Patriots chance of becoming the first NFL team ever to win three consecutive Super Bowl championships. The last team with a chance of winning three consecutive Super Bowls before the Patriots were the Broncos themselves. The Broncos' playoff run came to an end after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship, 34–17, on January 22, 2006. Denver turned the ball over four times and were outscored in the first half, 24–3. The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL.
In 2006, the Denver Broncos had high hopes among the league in being able to compete for the Super Bowl title. The Broncos defense started off the first five games of the season allowing only one touchdown, an NFL record, but struggled down the season stretch. Jake Plummer, the starting quarterback at the season's inception, led the team to a 7–2 record only to lose 2 straight and be replaced by rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, drafted in the first round out of Vanderbilt University.
Cutler's first game as a starter was a home game against the Seattle Seahawks on December 3, 2006. He threw for 143 yards, along with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in a loss. Cutler would go on to lead Denver to two victories and three losses as a starter on the season. The most impressive win was in an away game over the Arizona Cardinals on December 17, 2006. During the game, Cutler launched a 68-yard touchdown to Javon Walker on the third play from scrimmage.
The Broncos' season ended with an unexpected loss to the San Francisco 49ers, which eliminated the team from playoff contention. Cutler was knocked out of part of the game from a blow he took from a 49er defender, giving him a concussion. Hours after the season ending loss, on January 1, 2007, Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed around 2 a.m. on West 11th Avenue and Speer Boulevard in downtown Denver. He was in a Hummer H2 limousine. Former Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker was also in the limousine, but he was not injured. A mere 50 days after the fatal shooting, running back Damien Nash collapsed and died suddenly on February 24, 2007, following a charity basketball game in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Broncos traded running back Tatum Bell and offensive tackle George Foster to the Detroit Lions for former Pro Bowl cornerback Dre' Bly to compensate for the unfortunate loss of Williams. In addition to the trade for Bly, the Broncos had made a trade to the Miami Dolphins for Dan Wilkinson, only to have that trade voided because Wilkinson did not show up to Denver for his scheduled physical.
Denver added running back Travis Henry, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, and tight end Daniel Graham through free agency. The team released linebacker Al Wilson during the month of April for health and salary cap reasons. Simeon Rice was also added to their roster with a one-year deal. The Broncos also resigned punter Todd Sauerbrun to help their special teams
In game two, the Oakland Raiders seemed to claim victory on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal in overtime, but a last second time-out called by coach Mike Shanahan negated that kick, and the subsequent kick hit the field-goal post. Jay Cutler then marched the Broncos down the field, and Jason Elam kicked the game winning field goal for the second week in a row.
In the seventh game of the season, the Broncos played and lost a Monday Night Football home game against the Green Bay Packers. There were 77,160 tickets distributed for the game, which is a franchise record. 76,645 fans attended the game.
Suffering through several injuries to players such as Rod Smith, Tom Nalen, Ben Hamilton, Javon Walker, Jarvis Moss and Ebenezer Ekuban, the Broncos finished the season with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs.
The team's current head coach is Mike Shanahan, a position he's held since 1995. Since the Shanahan era began, the Broncos have been known for having high-yardage running backs, and explosive offenses. Tuesday Morning Quarterback writer Gregg Easterbrook once mused that Denver’s helmets should have a label that says "Insert running back, gain 1,000 yards." To wit: Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell have all posted 1000-yard rushing seasons in Denver with Davis shattering the 2,000 yard barrier in 1998. In 2005, Mike Anderson rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in five seasons. Anderson's backfield mate, Tatum Bell, fell 79 yards short of 1,000 with 921 while missing a game to injury. Had Bell been able to gain 1,000 yards he and Anderson would have been the first two running backs in over 20 years to break 1,000 yards in a single season on the same team.
In the post-Elway years, Shanahan has taken the Broncos to the playoffs several times. The 2000 season ended with a Wild Card loss at the Baltimore Ravens. The 2003 and 2004 seasons ended with lopsided losses at the Indianapolis Colts, also in the Wild Card round. In the 2005 season, the Broncos defeated the New England Patriots in the divisional round and advanced to the AFC Championship game, losing at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Under Shanahan, the Broncos established a tradition in 1996 where the offensive linemen do not talk with the media as a form of bonding. This was evident during the player introductions for the starting lineup on nationally-televised prime time games as the linemen would not introduce themselves. How they were introduced has varied over the years as sometimes, another offensive player introduces them and during other times, the announcers introduce the offensive linemen. Due to a rule change within the NFL in 2007, this tradition came to an end. For the 2007 season each player is required to make himself available for media interviews. On a Sunday Night Football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the linemen introduced themselves.
When the Broncos debuted in 1960, their original uniforms were vilified by the public. It consisted of brown helmets, brown pants (some had a satin sheen, some didn't), white and mustard yellow jerseys, and vertically striped socks. The club eventually got rid of these jerseys two years later, and celebrated the occasion by holding a public bonfire to burn the striped socks.
The team then unveiled a new logo featuring a bucking horse, and changed their team colors to orange, blue, and white. The 1962 uniform designed by Laura North-Allen, consisted of white pants, orange helmets, and either orange or white jerseys.
In 1968, the Broncos debuted a design that became known as the "Orange Crush". Their logo was redesigned so that the horse was coming out of a "D". Also, the helmets were changed to blue, thin stripes were put onto the sleeves, and other minor modifications were added. From 1969 to 1971, and again from 1978 to 1979), the team wore orange pants with their white jerseys.
The club then radically changed their logo and uniforms in 1997, a design that they continue to use to this day. The current logo is a profile of a horse's head. They wear "Broncos Navy Blue" jerseys instead of orange ones. This new uniform design also features a streak that runs down the sides of both the jerseys and the pants; it's orange on the blue jerseys and blue on the white jerseys. When they debuted, these uniforms were, again, vilified by the press and fans, until the Broncos won their first ever Super Bowl in the new design. The team also introduced blue pants with orange stripes to be worn with blue jerseys. These pants are primarily worn for prime-time home games. An oddity of their pants are that the home white pants have an orange stripe, but the road white pants have a navy blue stripe.
The Broncos have also introduced an alternate orange jersey with a navy blue stripe going up the side. The jerseys were first used in 2002 against the Indianapolis Colts and last used in the 2008 game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Denver Post reported on August 15, 2008, that the Broncos will wear their alternate orange jerseys for two contests during the 2008 season: September 21 against the New Orleans Saints and December 7 against division rival Kansas City Chiefs. The article also noted that head coach Mike Shanahan is not a big fan of the orange jerseys.
The stadium's legendary home-field advantage is regarded as one of the best in the NFL, especially during the post-season. The Broncos have had the best home record in pro football over the past 32 years (1974–2006, 191–65–1). Mile High Stadium was one of the NFL's loudest stadiums, with steel flooring instead of concrete, which may have given the Broncos an advantage over opponents.
Since 2001, they have played at Invesco Field at Mile High, built next to the former site of the since demolished old Mile High Stadium. Sportswriter Woody Paige, along with many of Denver's fans, however, often refuse to call the new stadium by its full name, preferring to use Mile High Stadium because of its storied history and sentimental import. Additionally the Denver Post had an official policy of referring to the stadium as simply "Mile High Stadium" in protest, but dropped this policy in 2004.
The Colorado altitude has also been attributed as part of the team's home success. The stadium displays multiple references to the stadium's location of 5,280 ft (1 mile) above sea level, including a prominent mural just outside the visiting team’s locker room. Many believe the physical and mental aspects of competing athletically with less air to breathe affects the performance of visiting teams.