In World War II the Battle of Midway marked the point where the US began to assume control of the South Pacific. During the season of ritualized war that is professional football the Broncos may have fought their Battle of Midway and like that more famous battle this one may be the turning point of the war that is a football season.
This Broncos off-season will probably never be matched for sheer drama. Bronco fans were witness to the end of an era.
The Shanahan legacy was more than just two Super Bowls. Shanahan, along with Elway, were the validation of faith of those fans who stuck with the Broncos through all the years under Reeves when the Broncos got close to glory but never quite achieved it.
More important than anything else Shanahan did was that he brought the Broncos respect. The Broncos could no longer be thought of as the team of also-rans.
World War I was the point at which the United States emerged as a world power. In the football world the beginning of the Shanahan era was the Broncos World War I, the point where the Broncos became serious Super Bowl contenders.
The sad truth is that every era must end but not always quietly. The Shanahan era ended spasming and kicking as two budding stars, absent their mentor, could not accept the inevitable.
Pundits, profits and predictors of all stripe played on every fear that a fan could have. Somehow the new Bronco team would have every flaw that the team had under Shanahan plus whatever new flaws they might ascribe.
The respect the Broncos had earned was gone, an old empire had re awakened to challenge the Broncos now that Shanahan had faded. If Mike Shanahan was a football version of General Pershing the new Bronco head coach, Josh McDaniels, is a brash General Patton out to win this new battle.
Under this new lens of national coverage everything the Broncos organization did was painted as a poor choice or worse yet some evil machination by the young whelp of a coach. Just as General Patton scandalized the army by slapping a soldier he considered a malingerer in the face, McDaniels slapped coddled players Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in their figurative faces.
The press reviled Patton, he was briefly relieved of command. In much the same way the vast majority of projections were that the new coach must fail well before a preseason game was played.
The lingering drama from the Shanahan legacy reared its ugly head in the form of Brandon Marshall’s petulant attitude. Soon writers who had never paid attention to the Denver Broncos were experts at predicting gloom for the new Bronco coach.
The first preseason game seemed to fill some of those expectations, with a turnover filled debut by the new quarterback. Contrary to the focus of the press on Kyle Orton’s turnovers there were several glimmers of hope for Bronco fans.
Early on in World War II the Germans were considered to have the best tanks and air force, the Japanese were unbeatable at sea. The US had to build and improve its military hardware fast.
For the first time in years the Broncos had a defensive line with the size to match up against some of the larger offensive lines in the league. Ronnie Fields, an under the radar free agent acquisition emerged as a solid anchor on the defensive line.
While the fanfare went on about offensive blunders the Bronco defense had accumulated four sacks and established a solid style of play. That four sack effort was followed by a three sack effort in game two of the preseason, a string unheard of by the Bronco defense over the last three years.
The other side of the ball showed Bronco fans some surprises as well.
While Orton’s interceptions were fodder for the press the fact that Orton’s first drive featured a brilliant passing display went un-noticed. Only on the second game, when Orton managed to sustain his fine display of short passing did the press and fans take notice.
Pundits who had written off the Bronco receiving corps as weak because of the Brandon Marshall debacle were suddenly aware of Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, Jabar Gaffney et al.
The most under reported aspect of the Bronco offensive performances was the complete dominance in the passing game of the Bronco’s offensive line. Through just over two halves of football Orton had not seen any significant pressure.
Steadily over the first two preseason games the Broncos are showing strong improvements on both sides of the ball. The truly remarkable aspect of these improvements are that they have come in only two games from a team who starting lineup features a majority of players who weren’t with the team last year.
Finally there is one last trope that exists. Much like the squabble over control between General Montgomery and General Eisenhower, overarching the entire off-season is the oft-referred to turmoil under which the team supposedly toils.
Some pundits have gone as far as to claim that all of the off-season drama has produced a sort of team paralysis through which players suffering from the post traumatic stress of the various scandals stumble zombie-like through practices.
People have been led to believe that there is some division between the new coaching staff and his players. This divide is allegedly caused by the player’s concern for the fate of the gravely wounded Brandon Marshall.
In a very recent article by the Denver Post Broncos defensive tackle Kenny Peterson said:
"People might say it's the kind of thing that has an impact, but when we're together as players, it's us, just us, we don't feel that kind of drama, really, I know people may think that's crap, but we don't. That stuff that goes on upstairs, that's upstairs, and when (Marshall's) upstairs he deals with that and when he's down here with us, he's in there and everybody hopes it all works out. And really, guys have bigger things to worry about in training camp, in the preseason, than somebody else's situation. It's none of our concern. As long as he does what he does on the field, the rest of it is none of our concern."
In the same article running back Correll Buckhalter phrased it this way:
"Here's the thing. When I was in Philadelphia, there was always talk about the drama with the team and (Terrell Owens) but T.O. was never a problem, day to day, in the locker room. I don't think people on the outside understand that a lot of the time. The guy didn't have a problem with anybody on the team inside the locker room when we were inside that locker room. Outside the locker room, I can't speak to that, but inside the locker room, I don't think he had a problem with anybody."
If there is one great thing Bronco fans learned from this off-season it should be that a lot of the hand-wringing and reported turmoil is purely a perception the national press has sold as real. In the locker room and on the field the Broncos are quietly going about building a solid team that will compete this year.
Midway was not the end of WWII but it was the beginning of the end. Midway through the preseason the Broncos have not won anything yet but they are beginning to win back some respect.