Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Denver Broncos.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
You're caught up.
I know it's simplistic to just say that, but it's the truth. The Broncos have won three Super Bowls. He's been directly responsible for all three. He went back-to-back to close out his playing career. And I know a lot of you Elway haters will be all, "But only because Terrell Davis," to which I say, it was about freaking time somebody else showed up. Elway took the Broncos to three Super Bowls in four years during the 1980s with some dreadful teams. Seriously, he was a miracle worker. It would be as if Dave Grohl was competing in a battle of the bands, but instead of the Foo Fighters, he was carrying a middle school band from Corona. I mean, it would still be pretty good because Dave Grohl. But compared to the best of the best? You can only do so much. So I'm not going to disparage Elway's two Super Bowl wins at the end of his career with competent squads. And let's be fair here: In the second of those two Super Bowl triumphs, Elway threw for 336 yards with a touchdown passing and running. That strike to Rod Smith in the second quarter -- over Eugene Robinson -- was actually somewhat cruel:
A little over a decade later, Elway basically took over the Broncos' front office and built a winner. The popular narrative is that he brought in Peyton Manning, who saved the day. But actually, Elway saved Manning from himself. Elway gave John Fox a short leash after the blowout loss in Super Bowl XLVIII and didn't hesitate to cut ties after a 12-4 season wasn't deemed good enough. He realized the Broncos needed a defense and built a squad that could have rivaled the vaunted 1980s Chicago Bears. (Totally not as good -- obvs -- but not bad.)
Is Elway the G.O.A.T.?
And to think, it almost didn't happen
You might have heard of the famed John Elway trade, but man, there are so many different layers. I mean, when you get your own "30 for 30," you know it's something big. If you haven't seen it yet, I can't recommend it enough.
The most fascinating thing to me is Elway nearly being a Los Angeles Raider. What a different world this would be. The Broncos wouldn't be the Broncos at all. Al Davis' hiring of Mike Shanahan in 1987 would have rivaled Belichick to the Patriots. (Who knows -- maybe Tom Flores doesn't step down and he's in the Hall of Fame.) And a little kid named Adam probably would have been drawn to the Raiders. My life would be so different ...
Can he find a quarterback?
The Broncos' post-Elway quarterback landscape included Brian Griese (who jacked up his face falling down his teammate's driveway), Jake Plummer (who was much, much better than Denver fans give him credit for), Kyle Orton and some other guy (we'll touch on him later) before they got to Peyton Manning. And really, they went from Peyton Manning to the Ghost of Peyton Manning (who actually started and won Super Bowl 50).
Look, Elway staged a lot of fourth-quarter rallies during his NFL career. But finding a signal caller for the next decade might be his most daunting challenge.
How is this guy not the unquestioned starter?
I mean, the mustache alone.
Credit where credit is due
Am I giving too much credit to Elway and Davis? Perhaps it was another duo that's responsible for the Broncos winning ...
Never bring up ...
If there is one thing that still sticks to Elway (well, from his professional days, at least -- dude didn't take too well to having his college career end with "The Play"), it's got to be the 1996 Divisional Round loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. NFL Films called it the sixth-biggest upset in NFL history.
The gist: The Jags were a second-year expansion team that only got into the playoffs on a missed field goal. The Broncos were 13-3 and the top seed in the AFC. Then the unpleasantness happened. Elway called it the biggest loss of his life. And he had lost three Super Bowls.
Real quick on Super Bowl XXXII
It gave the Broncos their first Lombardi Trophy. It gave us the "This one's for John" speech. And there was more. We've had some pretty huge Super Bowl upsets in recent history. But damn, the Broncos over the (idiot) Packers was huge. The Broncos were heavy underdogs going into that game, with Green Bay the defending champ. But Denver stopped Brett Favre and Co. cold. There were so many amazing pieces to this game. Terrell Davis coming off the bench and fighting a migraine to be a decoy in the second quarter. (Of course, he wasn't exactly a decoy for the game. SEE: 157 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a Super Bowl MVP.) The Packers allowing the Broncos to score a touchdown late in the fourth to preserve time. And of course, the helicopter spin:
Von Freaking Miller
No Fly Zone
Miller deserves all the plaudits he receives. But let's also give some credit to the Broncos' secondary, a.k.a., "The No Fly Zone," led by Chris Harris Jr. (my guy) and Aqib Talib. You might remember Talib from his dust-up with Michael Crabtree last year. The Broncos defender promised to snatch the chain from Crabtree and actually made good on it:
I don't endorse this behavior (and would discipline my own child for doing such things), but I'm not mad about it, either. As somebody who always skews toward wrestling heels, sometimes I just like watching the bad guy.
The Broncos raised a few eyebrows (or, at least, my 'brow) when they hired Vance Joseph -- and not Kyle Shanahan -- as head coach. Especially when you consider the history Kyle's father has with Elway -- Mike and John won those two Super Bowls together. But it does make more sense when you consider Joseph served for three years as an assistant coach under former Broncos head man Gary Kubiak, who retired at the end of last season. And now my eyebrow is lowered. In fact ... Somebody go ahead and alert Freezing Cold Takes, but I really believe this is going to work out well for the Broncos.
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL over the last five years, with 90-plus catches and more than 1,000 yards in each. One of his underrated strengths: recruiting, as Thomas helped get Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets. If you remember the Titans installment of this series, I love when the local sports teams kind of band together. And if DT and the Broncos truly had an impact here, I applaud it.
The franchise's best
Are you joking right now?
The franchise's best not named John Elway
Give me Terrell Davis. Again, he was a huge key to the Broncos' success in the late 1990s. I'm glad he finally got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because it was a joke that he wasn't in. As I've said before, I will forever use the Jerome Bettis benchmark. As in, Is this running back better than Jerome Bettis? And if you can find me one person (even in Pittsburgh) who would have taken the Bus over TD, I will laugh. LAUGH.
Not enough credit
Rod Smith was a damn good receiver for the Broncos. He had back-to-back 100-catch seasons, including a league-high 113 in 2001. He's the all-time leader for the club in most of the meaningful categories. And you know the drill by now ... He's never given enough credit. Never brought up in historical conversations. Blah, blah, blah.
Thankfully, as I said before, Davis finally got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so we can stop those lame arguments. Now it's time to get Smith in there. I'll endorse that.
Here's the thing that makes Rod Smith one of my favorites. When Jerry Rice (briefly) joined the Broncos in 2005, Smith was wearing the number. Legend has it Rice asked for the number, but was turned down. Though in this story on the team's official website, Rice said he would never take the jersey off his back. And while this is circumstantial, he did take Steve Largent's number OUT OF THE RAFTERS in Seattle. So we might never know the true story, but Smith is a G in my book for this. So rock that Jerry Rice No. 19. Who cares if he never actually played a game for the team? It's probably the greatest hipster jersey in a world of hipster jerseys.
I suppose you're all expecting me to say Tim Tebow here, because it's the most obvious thing in the world. But Tebowmania was what it was. A small -- but fun -- blip in NFL history. I mean, I'll never forget my wife literally (not figuratively) dropping a beer on the floor after Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on that touchdown pass to beat the Steelers. It was awesome. But Elway properly rated the moment, because he moved Tebow to the Jets and brought in a different quarterback. It was like, "Wow, this is cool. But we are wildly exceeding expectations here." It's like a hot run of blackjack where you accidentally hit on a hard 18 and draw a 3. You know you can't do that stuff again. So Elway got it.
Oh, Josh McDaniels was overrated.
Closing fun fact
Arizona State's Jake Plummer was one of my all-time favorite players as a kid, so I had high hopes for him when he signed with Denver. But I went to a Broncos-Chargers game down at The Q and it bummed me out to see so many Broncos fans. They were everywhere. And that's still the case today. But I guess that means you won't lack for company if you ever decide to back this team. I'd say if you were to become a fan now, you'd be in danger of being a bandwagon fan. But there are so many things working in the Broncos' favor. This team is going to be competitive as long as John Elway wants to stick around and keep running things. He is a winner both on and off the field. The city of Denver is absolutely amazing. Really, the whole state is. So I can see the appeal of wanting to jump aboard, even if that makes you the Kevin Durant of sports fans.