The problem with being a football fan is that the off-season is so much longer than the season. By the time the Broncos take their next meaningful snap, the Presidential contest will be a two-man…er, two-person race, the Beijing Olympics will have run their course and we’ll be months removed from discovering if the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is really just a metaphor for Indiana Jones’ fight against devil-worshipping hippies (I sure hope so). Eight long months of anticipation gives way to a quick four months of cipation; two-thirds of the year, fans have nothing but variations on “what if” and “what will be.”
The stock one-word summary of the Broncos 2007 season would be “disappointing,” but a more accurate one would be “tough.” Let’s face it – any year that, literally, begins with the murder of one of the team’s most charismatic players is not going to be a good one. The losses to the Chargers, Lions, Packers and Bears were tough, but so were the wins over the Bills, Steelers and Raiders. For a league that’s supposedly all about toughness, most Broncos fans would probably settle for a little warm and cozy right about now.
Yesterday’s game was neither warm nor cozy, yet a picketing writer couldn’t have scripted a more appropriate season finale. All the plot lines and story arcs were the same: The offense shows flashes of brilliance but struggles with consistency. The defense can’t make stops down the stretch. The coach makes questionable calls that adversely affect the game. Brandon Marshall gives another sensational performance and Jason Elam gets the last laugh. Lady Luck makes a “very special” guest appearance.
Clearly, the football gods like to tie things up nice and tidy. One year, almost to the day, after being eliminated from the playoffs by an inferior opponent in overtime, the Broncos were cast in the role of “inferior playoff spoiler who triumphs in overtime.” It may not have been our first choice, but we played the part well.
Speaking of playing parts, the Broncos have their own casting decisions to make. Without question, Jim Bates’ audition as Defensive Coordinator was a disaster. His schemes didn’t work, but more significantly, the players didn’t seem to respond to his coaching style. Hasta La Vista, baby.
New Special Teams coach Scott O’Brien may not get renewed for a second season either. Yes, the execution of the fire-drill field goals won us a game or two, but our special teams play, which has been consistently terrible for years, was a huge liability again this season.
Then there are the roles of the role-players. With John Lynch contemplating retirement, our needs at safety are pressing. Free agent signees Travis Henry, Daniel Graham and Dre Bly are all ludicrously overpaid, and a tough decision lurks regarding Javon Walker’s roster bonus.
Still, the MVPs of yesterday’s game provided a promising glimpse into upcoming seasons. Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, and Elvis Dumervile all showed marked improvement in their collective sophomore year and finished the season on a high note. Then there’s the glamorous – dare I say sexy – play of Brandon Marshall. Without exaggeration, almost every single one of his 102 catches this season resulted in a “did you see that!?” highlight, even – perhaps especially – the ones that went for little or no gain.
Plus we get to pick 12th in the draft.
So as the curtain falls on the Broncos 2007 campaign, a year that high-brow football analysts might characterize as “equal parts farce and tragedy,” there’s really only one line yet to be read. It’s delivered by “The Fan,” a surrogate Greek Choir representing not just Bronco fans but the millions of pigskin aficionados who don’t cheer for the Patriots. It’s as cliché as “Happily Ever After,” yet perfect as a mental snapshot of those who see 32 to 1odds and like their chances. It’s spoken loud and defiantly and with more than a hint of knowing self-delusion.
All together now: “We’ll get em’ next year.” -- Mark Schiff