I’m aware that the Green Bay Packers have great tradition, team culture and a storied history, because I’m a fan of the NFL and football in general. I’m aware that the Denver Broncos also have great tradition and a storied histor, because I grew up trying to experience it all.
Where I’m from (Pueblo, Colorado) the Broncos are not just a team, but almost a mode of existence. Or at least that’s how it seemed to be in the past. Talk about Broncos football would dominate conversation on the streets, in the churches after the priest or pastor dismissed everyone, in the schools and just about everywhere else. I once had a fifth grade teacher that would make us all orange crush smoothies in a blender each and every Friday during the football months.
The passion for orange and blue was everywhere.
As kids, we all competed to have the most Broncos attire and we were all appalled by any Cowboys, Vikings and Raiders emblems that somehow made their way to the school’s playground. We always assumed that we were the real football fans.
The kids in non-Broncos gear were being involuntarily dressed by their parents...or so we thought.
John Elway, the Three Amigos, the Orange Crush—those were the glory days and we soaked it all up.
But some of that pride and excitement has been lost since the time that John Elway put up his cleats and called it a career (as a quarterback at least). And that which was lost seems to have vanished, mostly during the Josh McDaniels era, which was, thankfully, brief and now behind us.
All of the McDaniels baggage—the Jay Cutler trade, the Brandon Marshall saga, Peyton Hillis not being given a fair shake, the misuse of valuable draft picks, the Spygate II incident, and so on—is significant but not the complete story.
Really, the Broncos and their fan-base have dealt with more than just poor roster decisions and general controversy. The team has also experienced a tremendous amount of tragedy with its players.
It started in January of 2007, when Darrent Williams was shot to death in a limousine after leaving a Denver nightclub. Williams was a fan-favorite. He was a small cornerback who played like a man twice his actual size or, at least, that’s how big his heart and passion for the game seemed to be. And before the organization and its fans could take a collective breath, tragedy struck again, when Broncos running back Damien Nash died following his collapse at a charity basketball game.
The dark clouds over Dove Valley let up, but then returned last September, when Kenny McKinley, a young wide receiver who had been kept off the field by injuries, died from an apparent suicide.
It was a major emotional set-back for the team, the community and fans, especially once everyone began to learn more about this wonderful young man and what kind of potential he had in this world.
The Broncos organization has done its best to show that the team is committed to memorializing those names, to honoring them and their families and to never forgetting that they will always be Broncos, no matter what stats and accomplishments may be attached to their respective names.
That’s the first step to moving on from tragedy and we can all hope that the worst is behind us, but it’s hard not to think that the Broncos are still in a rut and now at a crossroads.
Tragedy is one thing—it’s almost impossible to predict and avoid—but restoring pride and excitement to a great organization like the Denver Broncos is quite another thing.
That’s why bringing back John Elway was the right move. It’s also why the upcoming draft and, hopefully soon-to-be free agency period, are so important for the Broncos and their fans. Elway, Vance Johnson, Steve Atwater and other Bronco greats of yesteryear are all retired, so who will be the next group of stars that can fill in and recreate the excitement that was previously taken for granted?
That is obviously the next step.
And while were at it, the urgency to restore pride and excitement to this team may also be tied into the Tim Tebow question. Didn’t Tebow seem to restore something in the handful of games that he started last year, just when things had seemed to hit rock bottom? I think so.
At least, it sure felt like it.
Regardless, we fans are familiar with the doom and gloom. We have had more than our fill. We're ready to get back to that something that we loved and valued so much, which was epitomized by Elway making the clutch plays and Atwater making the bone-crushing hits.
The something that was taken needs to be brought back. And I think Pat Bowlen deserves credit for recognizing that and giving us a push back in the right direction.
If Bowlen is successful, then maybe a teacher somewhere, in some school in Colorado, can get back to doing what she loves to do the most: Celebrate Broncos week with a little orange crush for the kids.