December 1, 2009

Celebrating 50 Years of Bronco History: Into the Millennium

On May 2, 1999 my world seemed to have come to an end or at least a huge era of Broncos football did. John Elway officially announced his retirement but while it seemed all bitter-sweet, at least he went out on top and stayed retired.

From that point on the Mile High team would go through a major drought in reaching the playoffs, more than they realized or expected.

Now was the time for Denver to find a new quarterback. Seems like a very impossible task considering who just led them to 2 Super Bowl victories. An irreplaceable legend but the position needed to be filled. Eventually, all good things come to pass. This was time the Broncos had to face the fact that Elway retired and they have to move on, as difficult as that would be.

Brian Griese came into the picture for the ’99 season and from there it was a downhill slump. Terrell Davis acquired a season ending injury in the 4th game of the season. And even though back up RB Olandis Gary filled in Davis’ shoes nicely rushing for 1,159 yards, TD is just as irreplaceable at his position as Elway is at QB.

If that wasn’t troubling enough, the Broncos ended that season with a 6-10 record, which was a major difference from their two Super Bowl seasons. This was only the beginning.

Another new era was about to begin in Denver – a new stadium. Personally, I had no problem with it, other than the name change. The old Mile High stadium is missed dearly but the new Invesco field gave a new light to the city. The name should’ve remained the same but the Broncos had bigger issues to worry about.

Terrell Davis continued to suffer with injuries and back up Olandis Gary wasn’t much better when he acquired a season ending injury as well. After all the drama, the Broncos had a light at the end of their very dark post-Elway tunnel. In April of 2000, they picked up Mike Anderson in the last round of the draft and things started to look better.

Anderson took the place of Davis and Gary and made a strong first impression while doing it. He managed to rush for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns his rookie season while also being awarded the Offensive Rookie of the Year honor. The final game at Mile High was another bitter-sweet ending as the Broncos finished their 2000 season at 11-5 and giving a Mile High salute to their beloved old home with a 38-9 victory over San Francisco.

The drama continued as Denver reached the playoffs as a Wild Card only to face the Baltimore Ravens without Griese, as he suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the season. The Broncos pretty much had no chance at winning that game coming away with a painful 21-3 loss.

September 10, 2001 was the opening day of Invesco field and the Broncos made it a grand opening by handing the New York Giants a 31-20 loss on Monday Night football. Doesn’t get any better than that now does it?

Nevertheless, they faced a major downfall on behalf of that victory. Wide Receiver Ed McCaffrey suffered a season ending leg injury in that game and so the drama still continued for Denver. The ’01 season would be one to forget and easily. Davis, Gary and Anderson all had their time on the field but so little was accomplished with a combined 5 touchdowns between them.

Anyone remember a guy by the name of Clinton Portis? Oh how time flies by.

Seems like ages ago this young man was huge threat to defenses and replaced (sort of) Davis because of reoccurring knee injuries. As a rookie, he took the Offensive Rookie of the Year honor by rushing for 1,506 yards and 17 touchdowns. They would still miss the playoffs that year and would make another QB switch.

The Broncos ended that season at 9-7 by beating the Cardinals in the last game and how did they thank the birds for the win? They released Griese and signed Arizona free agent Jake Plummer. Gotta love the NFL business.

Seemed like they found a strong leader and player in good ‘ol Jakey. They started off the 2003 season by winning their first 4 games before they entered week 5 when they would face the Chiefs who believe it or not (and I still don’t believe it) were also 4-0. Feel like I just told the funniest joke.

During one of the infamous meetings the Broncos had with the Chiefs, Denver QB Jake Plummer was injured and had to sit out for a month. Back up Steve Burlein wasn’t too much of a disappointment in a road win over the Steelers but the following week he was injured as well in a 28-20 loss to the Vikings.

Things only got worse for the Broncos.

Third string QB Danny Kannel had to take over but the Broncos ended up with a 5-4 record heading into the bye week losing 3 straight games. The week off proved to be just what the doctor ordered as the Broncos pounded the hated rival San Diego Chargers 37-8. Jake Plummer was the difference maker in that game as he returned after an injury.

The fun didn’t last long though as the Broncos went through a one step forward, two steps back phase when they lost to the Chicago Bears the following week.

The Broncos would go on to challenge two more division rivals, the Raiders and Chiefs and won both games. While the division title was out of reach for Denver, they were able to at least secure a Wild Card berth by getting the win over KC and then later clinched a playoff berth after taking out Cleveland and Indy. However, the fun was short lived, again.

They suffered through a 31-3 loss to Green Bay and sat many players because of injuries since they had an official playoff spot. They ended the season at 10-6 but had to return to Indianapolis for the playoffs only to be humiliated 41-10. In that game alone, the defense allowed 31 points in the first half and 479 total yards. Not a pretty sight at all.

2004 turned out to be a big year for the Broncos at the very beginning, in several ways.

On August 8, 2004, something spectacular happened to the entire Bronco organization. Something that, unfortunately, had never occurred to any other player in this franchise. While it was sad John Elway retired, if he hadn’t done so, this amazing event would never have happened. On this August day, Elway became the first Bronco to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

He thought he had reached the top of the mountain after winning 2 Super Bowls like he did and while both games were huge highlights of this franchise; this was truly the icing on the cake.

Once the ’04 season began, many people at the time thought the Broncos were crazy for making the Portis-Bailey trade, including yours truly, but after 5 years of having one of the best corners in the league playing for Denver I love the end result.

RB Clinton Portis was traded to the Washington Redskins and the Broncos gladly accepted veteran cornerback Champ Bailey in return. Reuben Droughns took over the RB duties in Denver and didn’t disappoint when he rushed for a team high 1,240 yards as the Broncos went on to win five of their first 6 games. The Broncos would go through a two-game losing skid then bounced back and won the next three.

Sounds like they were on to something right? Yeah, I wish

Here’s how the story has usually gone. Broncos start off great, take the lead in the AFC West and hold onto that for a substantial amount of time and then BAM, they go belly up. That’s exactly what happened in 2004. Denver was sitting comfortably atop the West with a 7-3 record only to have their playoff shot shattered by losing two games but these weren’t just any 2 games.

Both division games against the always hated Raiders and Chargers. Denver managed to let Oakland come into Mile High territory (with snow and all) and then go back to the ghetto with a win. Go figure that one out.

Then as the story would have it, the following week the Broncos would go further west to take on San Diego only to come home empty handed (meaning no win and no longer on top in the West).

And then just when you think there’s still room to hold out hope for a comeback, they settle for playing mediocre football to end the season. Granted, they ended this season at 10-6 but no resurgence was instilled to try and take some decent wins. Surprisingly, Denver did manage to make it into the Wild Card round but it was like D-Day all over again.

Denver met up with the Colts, yet again, for another “battle”. This post-season game was way worse than the one they suffered through the previous year against the exact same team. Indy chewed the Broncos up and spat ‘em out in a hard-to-digest 49-24 loss, after being behind in the first half 35-3. Clearly that was a memory I did not want to relive years later because I don’t remember it at all. Ha.

For the Broncos, 2005 turned out to be a little different and in a good way, however the fans in Denver were becoming uneasy and restless with Shanahan as he hadn’t been able to lead the Broncos to a win in the playoffs since Super Bowl XXXIII.

The start to the season was shaky with a 34-10 loss to Miami then would go on to battle with San Diego. This is the season when the trade for Champ Bailey became rewarding for Denver. In the week 2 Bronco-Charger fight, the game started off the same way the Broncos’ season was starting, shaky, as they trailed 14-3 at the half. However, later on in the 3rd quarter the infamous Champ would add another INT to his list and make it a 25-yard “pick 6.”

Denver would go on to win it 20-17 by the grace of Jason Elam’s foot (a 36-yard field goal) in the final seconds of the game.

That win set the Broncos on fire when they went on a five-game winning streak ending with a huge victory over the reigning champs, the Patriots. Denver would suffer a heart-breaking loss to the Giants the following week but then came charging back with fury and buried the Eagles, 49-21.

The win over Philly started another 4-game winning trend for the Broncos, which in the end led them to claim the AFC West title. Another loss was suffered at KC but Denver ended the season strong winning their last four games, ending the season at 13-3 and went into the playoffs hungry for some more.

Playoff time arrived and the Broncos finally made it after so many years of rebuilding a team post-Elway. Denver met up with the reigning Super Bowl champs again and oh boy, was that a good game. I’ll never forget it because of one man… Champ “pick 6” Bailey.

The Patriots came into Denver looking to maintain their East Coast reputation (completely overrated if you ask me) as Tom Brady had yet to lose in a post-season game. That would change and Brady would meet up with Mr. “Pick 6” himself in this divisional playoff game.

As the Pats were up against a stingy Denver defense, it seemed like the Mile High air wasn’t fairing too well with the East Coast boys… ha, whimps.

After a scoreless first quarter, Ian Gold would recover a Kevin Faulk fumble for Denver. The Broncos would then promptly oblige to a pass interference call in the endzone and then later took the lead 7-0 as Mike Anderson made a 1-yard touchdown. That lead would be extended to 10-0 at the end of the half when the Patriots fumbled on the kickoff. Even East Coast teams have their downfalls (yeah, I know, hard to believe right?)

During the 4th quarter, Champ Bailey came alive. This is the play of the game I’ll never forget. As I’m sitting there watching this game, anticipating victory, Tom Brady led his offense down the field into Bronco territory and right at the goal line. Next thing I know he’s throwing a pass for a hopeful touchdown and CHA-CHING! Champ reels it in instead and flies down the sideline for 99 yards (yeah, he was rudely interrupted in his almost “pick 6” when an alert Patriot came charging after him and stopped him at the 1 yard line). Bugger.

No worries though. The Broncos would get a TD for that 99-yard sprint brought to you by Bailey and then they would take the win 27-10 ending New England’s two year reign of never losing a post-season game. I love it!!

The Broncos had finally established themselves in the post-season only to get thrown out of playoff town when the Steelers would come into the “Mile High” City and take a very upsetting win. Jake Plummer alone had 4 turnovers in the 34-17 loss. This game leaves a bitter taste knowing that the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Makes ya mad doesn’t it?

As if the 2005 season didn’t end with enough drama, welcome the 2006 season with more drama and pain a team can handle.

Denver began with another shaky start losing the first game then having to battle the Chiefs into over time in a game where all the scoring for both sides were field goals. New England and Denver met up once again and Denver still wasn’t done rattling the Pats which made for a fun 17-7 win for the boys in Orange & Blue.

After getting onto another 3-game winning streak, the Colts and Broncos came face to face again. This was a battle that lived up to all the hype as both teams gave great effort to get this win but in the end the Colts came away with another victory held high over Denver’s head with a game winning Adam Vinatieri 37-yard field goal with just 2 seconds left. This game was closer than the previous match-ups between the two AFC teams but still it was another clash that couldn’t be made victorious for Denver.

The Broncos quickly moved past that loss and went on to win their next two, both on the road. They hit a bump in the road when they had two division games (Chargers then Chiefs) in which Jake Plummer had started to decline in his game. In the San Diego game, he would complete less than 50 percent of his pass attempts while LaDanian Tomlinson would go on to score 4 touchdowns in Bronco territory.

A few days later, they would meet up with the Chiefs on Thanksgiving day in Kansas City only to watch Plummer struggle immensely again and taking the loss, 19-10.

Before the 2006 season had begun the Broncos drafted a certain QB who would capture the hearts of every Bronco fan… at first. I know he’s a booger but he was with us for 3 seasons and eventually his name would come up. He was apart of our history so try to stomach it as I had to write this darn thing.

After a less than spectacular performance in several games by starting QB Jake Plummer, head coach Mike Shanahan made a gamble that probably 98 percent of Bronco fans loved when it first happened. Plummer was benched only to have a rookie take his place. That rookie was Jay Cutler.

Despite his two INTs (along with 2 touchdowns) in Cutler’s debut against the Seattle Seahawks, people still considered him to be the “Quarterback of the Future” for the Broncos. They went on to lose this game(third in a row) 23-20 on a Josh Brown 50-yard FG with 4 seconds left. Oh the irony… again.

The rookie didn’t seem to do much good the following week either for Denver as they fell to the Chargers in a massacre, 48-20. While the AFC West title was out of the question for Denver, they had a beam of light as they had a chance for a Wild Card spot. They managed to win their next two games and all that was left to do was take the win over the 49ers but that ship sailed when their 13-0 lead collapsed.

San Francisco charged ahead scoring 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter. Cutler helped the 49ers with scoring some points when he threw one of his infamous INTs and it was taken back 28 yards for a touchdown. What else is new?

However, the game was not over yet. Cutler led the Broncos to some comeback points by tying the game at 23 and forcing overtime. The hope for a win in Denver’s favor dwindled fast when San Fran took control, got into field goal range and took the win off a 36-yard field goal to hand the Broncos the end of their season, 9-7.

I’ll never forget the ending to that season and it had nothing to do with winning or losing games. A tragedy happened in the Bronco family just hours after their final game (which was also a loss). Cornerback Darrent Williams was shot to death on New Year’s Day 2007 and died in the arms of former teammate and Bronco Javon Walker. Just 50 days later, another Bronco 3rd string RB Damien Nash, suddenly died of a heart attack during a charity basketball game. May they both rest in peace.

The following two seasons (’07 and ’08) turned out to be 8-8 dead end seasons and with strong leaders and key players like Rod Smith and John Lynch retiring, the task of being greater than an 8-8 season got harder for Denver.

Cutler continued to throw great deep down-field passes but the majority of those became INTs instead of a spectacular catch for a touchdown by anyone in Orange & Blue, namely Cutler’s favorite target – Brandon “The Beast” Marshall.

2007 was the beginning of a major rollercoaster for Denver. Win a few, lose a few, then win some more, then lose some more again. They never could find consistency on either side of the ball, let alone as a team. The only consistent thing they had going was relying on Jason Elam to save the game with a field goal or to at least tie the game and go into OT.

But by the end of 2007, Elam became a free agent and he went on to sign a deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Another piece of the Broncos’ Super Bowl memories just left the team.

The '08 season was the tip of the iceberg for the Broncos. Every possible situation seemed to have came crashing down on the Mile High team like some uncontrollable tsunami. Injury after injury, one painful loss after another, zero fire and passion from the team as a whole, no defense whatsoever, Cutler’s pull-your-hair-out-and-scream INTs… sorry to bring up such bad memories.

The beginning of the ’08 season actually started off pretty exciting and looked hopeful for some success after a 2-year drought in the playoffs.

Just four years after the best QB on the planet who just happened to be a Bronco for his entire career was inducted into the Hall of Fame, another Bronco got the honor of joining him in Canton. Offensive tackle, Gary Zimmerman, became apart of “the club” after several seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He then joined the Broncos for 4 seasons and was apart of the 1997 Denver team who went to the Super Bowl and became ’98 World Champs.

Denver came off sharp with a 41-14 rout of the much hated Raiders, then in week 2 in the Mile High City, the Broncos stunned the other much hated rival, the Chargers, with a controversial 39-38 win. The ending to that game was hysterical as head referee and supposed Bronco fan, Ed Houchuli, blew his whistle a little too soon as Cutler fumbled the ball, giving the Broncos another shot at a TD and the win, which they did.

Denver got off to a strong 4-1 start and once again took the reigns in the AFC West only to screw it all up at the end but that's where the fun stopped and the season got really frustrating for the team and most definitely the fans.

To top it off, the Broncos went through several stunning losses at the end and just a few days after Denver’s season was over at 8-8, long-time Head Coach Mike Shanahan was fired.

Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen replaced the 14-year coach with one of the youngest and most inexperienced people in the NFL. Not to be underestimated, 32-year old (now 33) Josh McDaniels (formerly of the New England Patriots) took over and has been quite impressive.

Josh was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots for nearly 8 years, coaching the likes of Tom Brady to a perfect 16-0 season and then one-year wonder boy Matt Cassel for one season. Not far into McDaniels new job as first time Head Coach, the party began when starting QB Jay Cutler and the Denver team had a little rift, Cutler was crying to be traded, got his wish, was shipped off to Chicago in trade for back up QB Kyle Orton and three draft picks.

Let the games begin!!

Through much of the off-season, the fans of Denver went ballistic no matter which side they took. Either criticizing McD for the trade of Cutler, criticizing Orton for not being good enough, criticizing both, praising one or both moves… the list goes on. You name it; it was probably said throughout the off-season in Denver.

After a shaky 1-3 pre-season, people got even more worked up over the idea of Orton becoming the starting QB for the Broncos. Giving him a chance to prove himself wasn’t an option for many, even after a 6-0 start into the 2009 regular season.

Currently the Broncos sit at 7-4 after suffering 4 straight losses following the bye week and blowing their 3 game lead over San Diego to become second place. Only difference is the Broncos gave up that lead in the middle of the season, giving them the opportunity to still stay in close competition with the Chargerettes to see who will take the West this time around.

The Broncos ended a frustrating 4-game losing streak with an exciting and impressive attack over the New York Giants on Thanksgiving night. With 5 games left in the season (2 home, 3 away) the Broncos have a prime opportunity sitting in front of them to finish strong and really give San Diego a run for their money. They will possibly have a golden opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Time for the men in Orange & Blue to stop staring at these chances they have and start taking charge of their own fate. Only they can make it happen.

Time for them to rewrite the history of this franchise and become a team all others will fear.

Time to shut down all the critics and show them what Bronco football is all about.

With a whole new system in tact in Denver, new coaches, new QB, fiery talent on both sides of the ball (we do, however, need a new punter and ASAP!), this team is in for some good years ahead and I look forward to every second of it – the good, bad and ugly.

Since this is the last part of the 50th anniversary article, I know I have gone on long enough without naming quite a few players this franchise has had don a Bronco uniform – from the brown & mustard yellow with hysterical striped socks to the stunning bright Orange.

Thank you to all the past and present players for making this franchise what it is today. Enjoy the videos, sorry once again this was so freakin’ long and GO BRONCOS!!

Broncos to remember:

Bud McFadin (60-63), Frank Tripucka (60-63), Gene Mingo (60-64), Billy Joe (63-64; ’63 Rookie of the year), Goose Gonsoulin (60-66), Lionel Taylor (60-66), Jerry Strum (61-66), Willie Brown (63-66), Bob Scarpitto (62-67), Cookie Gilchrist (65, 67), Marlin Briscoe (68), Steven Tensi (67-70), Rich Jackson (67-72), Steven Kaminski (66-73), Floyd Little (67-75), Charley Johnson (72-75), Paul Smith (68-78), Lyle Alzado (71-78), Jim Turner (71-79), Otis Armstrong (73-80), Bill Thompson (69-81), Haven Moses (72-81), Craig Morton (77-82)...

Riley Odoms (72-83), Randy Gradishar (74-83; ’78 Defensive player), Rick Upchurch (75-83), Tom Jackson (73-86), Rubin Carter (75-86), Louis Wright (75-86), Rulon Jones (80-88), Rich Karlis (82-88), Sammy Winder (82-90), Bobby Humphrey (89-91), Clarence Kay (84-92), Mark Jackson (86-92), Ricky Nattiel (87-92), Vance Johnson (85-93, 95), Mark Cooper (83-87), Dennis Smith (81-94), Karl Mecklenburg (83-94), Mike Croel (91-94; ’91 Defensive rookie), Simon Fletcher (85-95), Gary Zimmerman (93-97), John Elway (83-98; ’87 NFL MVP; Super Bowl XXXIII MVP)...

Steve Atwater (89-98), Tyrone Braxton (87-93; 95-99), Terrell Davis (95-01; ’96 & ’98 Offensive player; ’98 NFL MVP; Super Bowl XXXII MVP), Bill Romanowski (96-01), Brian Griese (98-02), Shannon Sharpe (90-99; 02-03), Ed McCaffrey (95-03), John Mobley (96-03), Clinton Portis (02-03; ’02 Offensive rookie), Reggie Hayward (98-04), Reuben Droughns (01-04), Trevor Pryce (97-05), Mike Anderson (00-05; ’00 Offensive rookie), Ashley Lelie (02-05), Al Wilson (99-06), Jake Plummer (03-06), Tatum Bell (04-06), Jason Elam (93-07), Rod Smith (95-07), Ian Gold (00-03, 05-07), Nick Ferguson (03-07), John Lynch (04-07), Javon Walker (06-07), Matt Lepsis (97-08), Ebenezer Ekuban (05-08), Jay Cutler (06-08), Tom Nalen (94-08).

Bronco highlights then Jason Elam’s record 63-yard FG

The Journey of Rod Smith’s Amazing Career

Bronco highlights (2005-07)

The Best of the Broncos – Tackles of 2005

2008 Bronco Highlights

Elam’s miracle FG with 3 seconds left against Buffalo

“The Wolverine” as an Eagle, now a Bronco

Eddie Royal is a stud

Stokley saves the day against Bengals in ‘09

McD goes crazy after OT win over former New England team in ’09 to go 5-0


  1. LOL, wow, don't say I didn't warn you all that this would be long. lol, so sorry.

    Anyhoo, Aussie... I put 3 stars (***) in 3 different places where the paragraphs need to be entered down just once. Other than that, everything is just fine. Thank you!

    Hope you guys enjoy it, even though its long. Some of the videos aren't of the best quality but they're good enough you can see what's going on. The one I found "The Journey of Rod Smith's Amazing Career" at the end is a MUST watch. The guy just floors me at how professional he was in his time with Denver. The more Marshall can pick apart his mind-set, the better off our #15 will be. Anyway, that's the best video I found out of all the ones I posted.

  2. Ok all fixed, now to read it.

  3. Wow good read, enjoyed that alot.

  4. ha, glad you liked it. Only took me FOREVER to write it. Was fun going through all that history though. Brought back some memories of it all when I was kid watching Elway play.

    Did you watch any of the videos? Some good stuff in there too.

  5. No not yet, when I get some free time I will, I have been a bit business with work and GF and all, haha. But yeah the article is good, I enjoyed reading it a lot thanks for all the work.

  6. Well guys I will have my regular post up tonight with a new poll as well.

  7. Great article Princess. brought back some memories.

    Aussie, funny site

  8. Glad you liked it.

    Well, I'm off to Colorado for about a week. Won't be around till the 14th probably. Two big road games coming up. This team coming into KC always makes me nervous cause I want them to win big but that is one tough place to play at. They are capable of winning both games but will take some serious dedication into preparing for them. If they become the Bronco team I know and love, both games will be fights for their lives but well worth it. Later dudes!