Coming of age and playing a mile high.
It’s no secret. The story began in December, 2008. The Denver Broncos were leading the AFC West by three games with three games to play. All they had to do was win one of those three games, and they were in the playoffs. Instead, they lost all three games to finish 8-8 and second in the Division, missing the playoffs yet again. Team owner, Pat Bowlen had seen enough. He fired long time coach, and fan favorite Mike Shanahan, the coach who had won back-to-back Super Bowls, (the only Super Bowl victories for the Broncos in six appearances), but things were just starting to get wild.
The search for a new coach landed New England Patriot assistant coach, Josh McDaniels in the top spot, and, even before the majority of fans could stop booing the choice, quarterback controversy erupted in the Mile High City. McDaniels had opened talks to acquire former New England quarterback, Matt Cassel, who was entering free agency, and Jay Culter, the Broncos QB at the time, caught wind of it. He was outraged. He assumed that McDaniels was trying to get rid of him. Oh, yeah, it was a big misunderstanding, and, oh, yeah, no one wanted it to turn out the way it did, but, after it was over, Cutler was traded to Chicago, and Kyle Orton was on his way to Denver. The fans liked that exchange about the same as they liked the idea of Josh McDaniels as head coach.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were still loyal Bronco fans who liked the choice of McDaniels, and felt that any player who wanted off the team should be let go, (I am still one of those), but a loud faction of the fan base reacted as if they knew more about football than the coach, and as if they knew more about quarterbacking than the Broncos’ new QB. Both men were on the hot seat but good.
The Broncos silenced critics for a while by starting the season 6-0, but, after winning only two of the next ten, both men were back in the hot seat. It didn’t matter that the team was battling critical injuries, and trying to fill gaps with second, third, and fourth string players. All that mattered was they lost, and there were plenty of fans ready to voice their disapproval. Enough of that. That’s all in the past. So, what’s happened since?
When Orton was hurt in the Fall of 2009, the team quickly found out that back-up QB, Chris Simms, had lost his touch. When I say, “lost his touch,” anyone who watched his performance knows I am being very courteous with my assessment. Nonetheless, the Broncos were looking for more quarterback talent in the Spring of 2010, and bartered a deal with the Cleveland Browns that brought former first round pick, Brady Quinn, to Denver. Some fans were elated, and others held their breath to see how Kyle Orton would respond. To the amazement of all, Orton didn’t “Culter Out” on the team, and, instead, commented that he “welcomed the competition.” Few people really believed that, but all were at least a little excited about fresh quarterback talent in camp. We were all anxious to see how that would work out.
Then, in a surprise move, lightning struck again. The Broncos traded up on draft day in the first round to draft Tim Tebow, the award winning, and highly talented quarterback from Florida. “Tebowmania” hit Denver not unlike the “Orange Crush” that hit them back in 1977. Fandemonium erupted, but Orton still seemed unconcerned. Even while Tebow excitement carried well into training camp, and had people trying to decide if Tebow or Quinn would be the Broncos new starter, Orton quietly established himself solidly as number one, and with surprisingly little effort. He still wasn’t getting much fan respect, but he just didn’t seem to notice, and just kept going about his business. Fans waited for the season to begin.
Oh, the Broncos served up tastes of both Quinn and Tebow in the preseason, and that seemed to quiet the fan uproar for a new general, but, when it was all said and done, Orton was still the starter. The doomsday fans warned us all to be prepared for the weekly “beat downs” that were about to take place, but, strangely enough, that didn’t really materialize. Now, the Broncos aren’t 6-0 like last year, and, in fact, are only 2-3 at this point, but funny things have started to happen. The guy fans ridiculed as not good enough, and not being able to throw deep is tearing up NFL defensive backfields.
Without much of a running game to help out, and playing opposite an injury-riddled, mediocre defense, Orton is still getting it done, and at a record-setting pace. Forget that few people are noticing, including Bronco fans, and that most think it is just a fluke. That doesn’t matter. The man is doing it! Yeah, the fans should be cheering him on, and supporting him, but they are too busy cursing all the other guys who aren’t living up to expectations while waiting for a chance at Orton if he should falter. And, Orton’s response? Quiet confidence and a stadium full of class.
On TV the other day, Orton was being interviewed, and was asked about his recent success. He responded, “I just do what the coach tells me. Every week, I listen to his game plan, and do what he wants me to.” When Cutler used to have a big game, he’d be sure to tell us how great he played, but we get none of that from Orton. You have to wonder how well off the Broncos would be now if they could just get more attitude like that from more of their players. You have to wonder how well off the NFL would be now if they, too, could just get more attitude like that from more of their players.
Now, the secret’s out. Kyle Orton is a darn good player, and the Broncos can only wish they had a healthy team to put on the field with him. Image what the guy would be doing this season with a healthy, experienced group of teammates. We can only wonder about that even though we no longer have to wonder about who will be the QB. I’ll admit I never watched Orton much before he came to Denver, but I’m watching now, and I am liking what I am seeing. No matter what happens the rest of the year, I am now a Kyle Orton fan, and not just for his play, but also for his continued quiet confidence, and his class throughout all the controversy. I hope he has nothing but the best of success the rest of the year, and excuse me if I’m not quiet about it; I don’t have his class. Go, Kyle! Go, Broncos!