After watching or attending almost every game the Denver Broncos have played since 1970, a few things have struck me these past one and a half seasons.
One of those is: Are these the same Broncos I have followed and rooted for and cursed at and screamed for and stomped my feet for at the Old Mile High?
I am not so sure.
My earlier memories of the Broncos included players like Floyd Little, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, the M and M Connection; Craig Morton to Haven Moses.
They went on to add in Sammy Winder, Otis Armstrong, Lyle Alzado, the Three Amigos, and Dennis Smith and the Orange Crush.
Fast forward to the winning Super Bowl years to include Terrell Davis, Eddie McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, Stink Schlereth, Gary Zimmerman, Rod Smith and of course, John Elway.
And coaches such as John Ralston, Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan.
These are all memories that include the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly (as in the late but beloved Barrel Man pictured here).
One thing I always felt was that these Denver Broncos, no matter how good or bad, were always Denver's and the state of Colorado's team. Actually it included many fans from Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, Utah and even South Dakota. These were people who lived, breathed and bled Orange and Blue.
But some things changed in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. We had new uniforms that went from Orange and Blue to Blue with some Orange. We left behind the rickety Mile High stadium with the movable bleachers on the East stands, the steel plates giving us the "Rocky Mountain Thunder" that visiting teams hated to hear when we all got to stomping loud and proud. The clogged up and crowded restroom facilities and inadequate parking.
We moved into the "new and improved(?) Invesco at Mile High stadium. With its super luxury boxes, its cheese and wine crowd, its oh, so perfect facilities and increased cash flow.
We went from a coach in Mike Shanahan who built a Super Bowl winner (actually back-to-back winners) and a team that we all could be proud of.
But we also saw what happened when some key players left and Personnel Director Shanahan couldn't supply Coach Shanny with the talent needed to stay in the upper echelon of the NFL.
Somewhere along about then we lost what was the mainstay of this team; scrappy defenses who played above their collective talent and a subtle move away from the plug-and-play perpetual 1,000 yard rushers.
Then Personnel Director Shanahan got Coach Shanny fired. And a new sheriff came to town. He of the Vaunted Bill Belichick and New England pedigree: Josh McDaniels. A young Turk all of 32 years old and never have held a head coaching position in his life.
He inherited an offense that could generate yards and first downs up and down the field ...until it hit the dreaded redzone. Then it fizzled. He had a yard-producing trio in QB Jay Cutler, WR Brandon Marshall and pass-catching TE Tony Scheffler. But also a defense that couldn't stop anyone.
So, a new Head coach was brought in to bring this hallowed Bronco team back to glory, to improve the offensive scoring numbers, but most importantly, to bring back the memory of the Orange Crush.
What were the first moves made? Trading away his "franchise" QB, his Pro Bowl WR, his only true pass-catching TE.
Using his very first draft pick on a RB who has spent much of his first two season hurt.
His first two picks of his next year's draft on two offensive players; a WR (Demarius Thomas) who is a great talent but has some injury history and trading up to draft a raw QB (Tim Tebow) that didn't have the skills to contribute for his first two or three years in this complex offensive scheme. For those of you that may question this comment, my bet would be that Mr.Tebow, being a team player, would agree with this assessment.
McDaniels dismantled the zone blocking scheme that churned out those 1,000 yard rushers like a conveyor belt and instituted a power blocking scheme that has led us to being the 32nd running team in the NFL.
We now have a defense that started out looking good both this year and last year but has faltered into giving up huge chunks of rushing yardage and not looked upon as being tough. It lacks the talent to compete at the level needed to be an elite defense and much of that is due to the lack of focus on drafting major defensive talent in favor of offensive players that aren't contributing.
Where is this long history lesson and walk down memory lane leading?
To the fact that this isn't the Denver Broncos that I have followed with all my heart and soul for these past 40 years. This is a team made up of a few star players and a bunch of Yes men.
This is a team that was dismantled to be rebuilt into the image of the new Baby Mastermind, Josh McDaniels. A coach that tore down a very good offensive team that could gain yards but couldn't score to replace it with another very good offensive team that can gain yards but can't score.
What he didn't do was fix what was truly broken, a defense that couldn't stop the run. His new and improved version also can't stop the run.
He also took away maybe the biggest legacy this team had; the ability to run the ball down the throat of almost any team in the NFL. A team that was feared for its relentless rushing attack and its gritty and gutsy defense. At this point we have neither.
And we also have a bunch of fair-weather fans who are buying more jerseys of a player who has run a total of three plays in the NFL and who has many followers that wouldn't recognize any of the names of the players I named in the beginning of this article.
So, to get back to my original premise in the title of this article: Is this still Denver's Broncos?
At this juncture, I am not so sure. The uniforms are the same but the spirit inside them and inside the stadium looks to be much different than the Orange and Blue I used to know.
Just one Bronco fan)atic)'s opinion.