Sports

Hot Broncos Fan Hashtag: #firehackett

A Broncos fan at the September 18 game against the Houston Texans reacting to Nathaniel Hackett burning the team's final time out with seven minutes left to play.
A Broncos fan at the September 18 game against the Houston Texans reacting to Nathaniel Hackett burning the team's final time out with seven minutes left to play. CBS via Twitter
On September 25, the Denver Broncos will take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football — the NFL's highest-profile showcase. But instead of eagerly anticipating watching new quarterback Russell Wilson work the magic that made him a Super Bowl champion, many fans are busy tweeting #firehackett, a hashtag targeting the team's first-year head coach, Nathaniel Hackett.

A flurry of #firehackett messages went winging across the cybersphere in the immediate aftermath of the last Broncos matchup, on September 18 against the woeful Houston Texans — a victory, true, but by a much closer score (16-9) than anyone expected owing to a series of unfortunate events that could all be connected to Hackett. Among them: a Wilson-led offense that often looked like footage of an aircraft imploding in slow motion; so many penalties that yellow-flag manufacturers probably had to work overtime just to maintain supplies through the fourth quarter; and the sort of clock management capable of making Big Ben smack his head.

Not everyone deploying the hashtag felt it was time to abandon all hope in the new coach. Wrote one person on Twitter: "Wow! #BroncosCountry is already calling for #firehackett??? 2 games in??? I know he is showing his inexperience, isn't [that] what you get when you hire a 1st time HC? R-E-L-A-X."

This advice didn't quell the flow. Plenty of #firehacketts continued to pop up in the days following the Texans win, with users' conviction that Hackett needed to be ratcheted seeming to grow by the day. One guy tweeted #firehackett replies to the Broncos' Twitter account 23 times yesterday. Yes, 23.

One reason for this involves the growing concern that Denver is about to be humiliated on national television again. Most pundits had the Broncos defeating the 49ers because they were playing at home and San Francisco would be led by Trey Lance, the outfit's designated quarterback of the future but one who's utterly unproven in the present. But during the previous 49ers contest, against the Seattle Seahawks, Lance broke his leg, prematurely ending his season — and his replacement, the much more experienced Jimmy Garoppolo, quickly led his mates to a 27-7 victory.

Note that the Broncos lost to the Seahawks 17-16 in an even greater Hackett debacle on Monday Night Football six days earlier.

How could Hackett have generated so much disdain already? A lot of the reaction can be traced to expectations. Denver has gone through a succession of failed quarterbacks since the retirement of Peyton Manning, racking up a record that hasn't been so mediocre since the 1960s, when the fledgling franchise was known more for horrendous yellow-and-brown vertically striped socks than gridiron glory. Even though the idea that Wilson's mere presence would fix all the Broncos' ills was hopelessly naive, plenty of boosters were desperate enough to believe it anyhow.

Meanwhile, the perception about Hackett, the former offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, was that he'd been hired as a way of luring quarterback Aaron Rogers to Colorado. Instead, Rogers essentially used Denver's interest in him to secure a giant contract from the Pack — and while Hackett made a positive first impression in Colorado with his upbeat persona, which contrasted sharply with the dour gloom of predecessor Vic Fangio, his on-the-sidelines performance through the campaign to date has effectively torched all the goodwill he'd collected. Moreover, he was hired before the new ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, daughter Carrie Walton Penner and son-in-law Greg Penner officially took over — so they don't have a personal stake in whether he stays or goes.

Not that Hackett's likely to get the heave-ho should the Broncos stink it up against San Francisco on Sunday. Canning him so early would make Walton, the Penners and general manager George Paton appear panicky. But a defeat — particularly one in which the offense again looks pathetic and the coach spends precious seconds dithering over whether to kick a field goal or go for it on fourth down — will turn #firehackett from a hot take into one of the most scorching hashtags in Denver and beyond.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts