What Just Happened? Tragedy, Misfortune, Failure and the Denver Broncos

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What Just Happened? Tragedy, Misfortune, Failure and the Denver Broncos
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. For Broncos fans, that’s an easy proverb to ignore. So here’s a better one: Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.

After all, Hurricane McDaniels was quite the natural disaster. He did leave a huge mess behind him. So let’s all hold hands, light a candle and repeat that one more time. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. 

However, this slide towards football obscurity cannot be pinned on Josh McDaniels entirely. No doubt, he was a factor. But it started with a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and ended…well, we don’t know if it has ended, but only a Raiders fan would argue that the Broncos are not headed in the right direction.

We hope that the worst is behind us. But when exactly did this all start, and why did it have to happen here? Poor personnel moves, tragedy and loss, controversy, off-field troubles, the Brandon Marshall saga, Spygate 2.0—there has just been too much misfortune for one franchise to have to endure. 

Here is a time-line of events to help us reflect on the past, and look forward to a more promising future. 

If you have a weak stomach then I recommend reading this instead. If not, please read on! 

2004 SeasonDenver Broncos finish with a 10-6 record, but lose to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the playoffs. 

April, 2005 – Denver Broncos draft Maurice Clarett in the third round despite predictions that he would fall into the sixth or seventh round. Draft experts cite his poor combine performance, as well as significant character concerns, but Shanahan envisions him as the next great Broncos running back. 

August, 2005 – Broncos release Clarett before he has played a single down in the NFL. No teams express interest in picking up Clarett. Mike Shanahan’s reputation takes a hit. 

January, 2007 – Darrent Williams is shot and killed during a drive-by shooting in downtown Denver, Colo. The shooting stems from an altercation at a nightclub in which Williams was not involved. An ESPN report later surfaces and states that Brandon Marshall was “one of the instigators” of the fight that led to the shooting. 

February, 2007 – The untimely death of a fan-favorite is followed up by another tragedy when Damien Nash collapses during a charity basketball game. Nash never recovers from this. Mike Shanahan later remarks that, "We never had a guy play for one year, as Damien did, and influence so many people." 

December, 2008 – Shanahan was fired following another disappointing season. The Broncos had been a favorite to win the division, but failed to make the playoffs. The controversy over how Jake Plummer was benched in favor of Jay Cutler in 2006, a very spotty draft record and an inability to fix the defense were all contributing factors. 

January, 2009 – Josh McDaniels is hired to replace Mike Shanahan. Controversy immediately follows as a rumored trade involving Jay Cutler leads to Cutler losing trust in the Broncos organization and demanding a trade.

April, 2009 – Cutler is traded to the Bears for Kyle Orton for two first-round draft picks, and also a third-round pick. The Broncos also gave up a fifth-round draft pick. 

2009 - 2010 – Broncos start with six-straight wins, but then lose four straight and sputter in the end. The defense starts off very promising, Kyle Orton is very efficient, but the wheels completely fall off in the second half of the season.

Brandon Marshall becomes a major distraction for the team, and is benched in a must-win season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos lose that game and miss the playoffs. Brandon Marshall is traded to the Miami Dolphins in the offseason. 

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan also parts ways with the Broncos in the offseason, and there is speculation that he did not have a good working relationship with Josh McDaniels. This move stirs up controversy since many thought that Nolan had helped the team make significant strides on defense.

It also confirms what many suspect: Josh McDaniels is over his head, lacks patience, and may be putting his ego above the team. 

Don “Wink” Martindale is hired as the new defensive coordinator. 

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

2010 Season – Criticism is mounting over questionable personnel decisions that keep adding up. The Broncos are missing reliable, hard-working middle linebacker Andra Davis, who was inexplicably released during the offseason, and new defensive tackle Jamal Williams lacks the explosion he had with the Chargers.

Top draft picks Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers don’t appear to be first-round talent. Seventh-round pick Syd’Quan Thompson seems to be the most promising defensive player drafted by the Broncos under Josh McDaniels, as he is one of the few bright spots of the year.

Broncos fans are also miffed at the trade involving Brady Quinn and trade Peyton Hillis. Hillis is having a breakout season for the Cleveland Browns, but Brady Quinn is third on the Broncos depth chart at quarterback.

The Broncos have also failed to find a reliable running back to help Knowshon Moreno, and the running game is a major problem early in the 2010 season.

September, 2010 – Wide receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead in his home from an apparent suicide. The Broncos organization and their fans mourn yet another player’s untimely death.

October, 2010 – Denver Broncos lose to the Oakland Raiders in one of the more embarrassing losses in team history. Final score is Oakland 59, Broncos 14. The Broncos are in the midst of one of their worst seasons of the last few decades.

The defense continues to be a huge disappointment, Martindale’s defense schemes are perplexing (but not in a good way), and it’s clear that the team took another step back. 

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Broncos struggle to apply any pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. They are also failing to generate turnovers. There is a very clear lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball, outside of Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, who missed the entire 2010 season due to injury. 

November, 2010 – NFL fines the Broncos and Josh McDaniels for illegally taping a San Francisco 49ers walkthrough practice. McDaniels later comes out in a press conference and apologizes for the incident, expressing remorse for how it was handled, but public outcry in Denver is overwhelming, and there is speculation that the Broncos management team is researching ways to fire McDaniels without having to pay him his remaining salary. 

December, 2010 – Josh McDaniels is fired. Eric Studesville is promoted to interim head coach. Broncos Nation is mostly relieved to hear that the McDaniels era has ended. 

January, 2011 to present – John Elway is hired as vice president of football operations, general manager Brian Xanders is retained (with the assumption that he will finally be able to perform as an actual GM with Josh McDaniels out of the picture), and Joe Ellis is promoted to team president.

The Broncos hire John Fox as head coach, and Dennis Allen is named the new defensive coordinator. 

These moves are generally applauded in the media since Fox is considered a great fit, and has a very good resume if you take out the latter years in Carolina, in which Fox was limited due to an owner and management team that had not spent money on free agents, not drafted well, and had not retained their best players (including Julius Peppers who went to Chicago).

Meanwhile, Dennis Allen was also a front-runner for the Philadelphia Eagles’ opening at defensive coordinator, and is considered a rising star in the NFL coaching ranks, so fans are given more reason for optimism. 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The new Broncos trio, Elway, Xanders and Fox, make their first big move by re-signing Champ Bailey. They continue to give fans hope by having a very respectable, and even exciting, draft performance.

Some believe that the Broncos could have landed seven new starters from this crop of draft picks, and the team avoids controversy by not trading back into the first round to select Auburn’s Nick Fairley. 

The team continues to work under a lockout. Questions persist over who will be the starting quarterback in 2011, but the new Broncos staff has limited options and capabilities due to lockout rules.

Some expect the Broncos to deal Kyle Orton once a new CBA is reached. Fans also wonder if the team will be able to address other pressing needs in time for the 2011 season, but for the first time in what seems like a very long time, there is reason for hope. 

(Source: ESPN.com. Articles listed below:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2778713
http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5892528
http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5598078
http://espn.go.com/blog/afceast/post/_/id/27806/was-marshall-murderers-intended-target)

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