|All Points West: Sticking with my Orange Crush|
|January 22, 2016 Frank Marquez|
Nebraska has no NFL teams.
Sad, but true. Football junkies like myself inherited the trait from men in their family with nothing better to do on the weekends, honey-do chores aside. We’re envious of cities like Los Angeles. Unbelievably, its fans took for granted having either to root for the Raiders or Rams for a time, until the late Al Davis moved the Raiders back and forth to Oakland, and Rams’ owner Georgia Frontiere found greener pastures in Saint Louis. I’m sure the Rams players are delighted with the move, grateful for the prospect of frolicking in the ocean waves of the Pacific, once again.
Growing up, Nebraskans generally chose NFL teams based on location.
Those of us living in the Nebraska Panhandle, watched the Denver Broncos, while anyone east of North Platte likely tuned into fuzzy black-and-white screens to cheer for the Kansas City Chiefs.
These days, my old Broncos sweatshirt, shrunk and stained beyond recognition, and my ‘80s baseball cap, which was stolen by a jealous friend, has left me with renewing my wardrobe with slick sports shirts bearing the new logo. Actually, the logo is almost 20 years old, having been on the sides of the Denver headgear since 1997. It replaced the smoke snorting unicorn jumping out of the letter D. I’m nostalgic. Maybe some fans see wearing my old T-shirt, the only thing I have left from a bygone era, as trashy or uncool. I see it as having seniority. Sometimes I can’t believe Peyton Manning was only a year old in 1977 when I got hooked, and the big game is nearly as old as I am - 50.
What will the next 40 years bring?
Back in 1977, just 12-years old, I became a fan when rookie Coach Red Miller guided Denver, just seven years after joining the league, to a division title and a 12-2 record. The team’s defense was nicknamed the Orange Crush, which was also the name of a popular soft drink, and it was easy to catch fan fever. My favorite player was No. 77 Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg (1983-94). Orange became the new black for a day. The Broncos defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders, 20-17, in the AFC title game.
Since that time, the Broncos have had relative success over four decades. Within that time, they have won 13 division titles, seven AFC Championships and two Super Bowls: XXXII and XXXIII, having played in a grand total of seven big games.
Enter Coach Dan Reeves in 1981, and franchise quarterback John Elway in 1983, the year I graduated from high school.
The team’s now general manager Elway had to wait until the twilight of his career to win his first Super Bowl in 1997. Offensive Coordinator under Reeves, and play-caller for Elway, Mike Shanahan took over as head coach. Three dismal lopsided losses in the big game to the New York Giants, 39-20, in Super Bowl XXI; the Washington Redskins, 42-10, in Super Bowl XXII; and the San Francisco 49ers, 55-10, in Super Bowl XXIV (the worst on record to date) probably decided Reeves’ fate. During the 1997 season, Elway and running back, now NFL Hall of Famer, Terrell Davis helped guide the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory, 31-24, over the defending champion Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
The Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champions the following season, defeating the Atlanta Falcons (led by Elway’s longtime head coach Dan Reeves) in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34–19.
In 2008, Shanahan was fired after 14 seasons. The coaching carousel became prevalent during the late 1980s into the 1990s into the new millennium. John Fox’s tenure lasted from 2011 to 2014. By 2015, Gary Kubiak took the reins. Coincidently, he was Elway’s understudy at QB from 1983-91.
Some consider this season being the last gasp for Peyton William Manning who came to the Broncos after 14 seasons. Manning, son of football royalty Archie Manning of the New Orleans Saints and brother to the Giants’ Eli Manning, won more than he lost for the Indianapolis Colts. Consider he’s closer to 40 than 39, Manning struggled with injuries including an ankle which kept him hobbled during part of the season.
This allowed backup Brock Osweiler to get some time under center.
Osweiler, who could be a starter for any other NFL franchise, faced the Chiefs, Bears, Patriots, Chargers, Raiders and Steelers, keeping the Broncos in the thick of things. Fans got to see who will likely succeed Peyton when the season’s done.
Next weekend, Manning will face the Patriot’s Tom Brady in the 2016 AFC Championship, hopefully adding to the Broncos’ collection of hardware. The two greatest quarterbacks of the 21st century will meet for the 17th, and in all likelihood, last time. Brady’s bunch has trotted off the field victorious 11 times out of the 16 so far, but Manning accepts winning and losing with more style and grace. History is being made here.
Broncos history. If he wins, Manning will have played in four Super Bowls, his only crown coming as a Colt against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in 2007, after beating Brady in the AFC title game.
I’ll be there in front of the big screen on Sunday afternoon, hands gripped tight (like they were until the final quarter against Pittsburgh), door closed to the man cave.
Hopefully, just hopefully, I’ll be ordering that AFC champs T.
Big game or not, Manning goes out like a hero.
Either way, I’m sticking by my team. Isn’t that what being a fan is all about?