The good news is that the Denver Broncos are heading to the Super Bowl for the eighth time. The bad news is the blizzard of blather that we can expect right up until kickoff. Once again, our city is drowning in a tidal wave of Orange Gush.
Every time the Broncos have marched into post-season play, the team has been mobbed by a horde of fawning, cheerleading, jock-sniffing, rabble-rousing Broncomaniacs — and that’s just the local media. The fans, of course, get really excited.
And there’s plenty to get excited about. Seven Super Bowls to date, five blowout defeats. Arguably, it’s better to be humiliated in the biggest game of all than to not get there at all, but the Broncos have been exceptional in their quest to achieve a level of futility undreamed of by lesser sports franchises. We’re talking dynasty here.
Can Manning and the most ferocious defense in the NFL pull off an upset on Super Bowl Sunday? Of course: A team that can maul and stifle the heavily favored and hype-anointed New England Patriots is capable of anything. But as the hype machine kicks into overdrive, it’s best to remember the ways in which that contraption has misled us in the past. The following capsule history of Broncos hype should remind us all that, no matter how tough things may get on the field on Super Bowl Sunday, it won’t be half as embarrassing as what goes on in the press box.
1960: Designated sixteen-point underdogs, the Denver Broncos upset the Boston Patriots 13-10 in the first regular-season game of the upstart American Football League. The game receives only a few paragraphs in the sports sections of both dailies, which are preoccupied with the Denver Bears’ chances of winning a minor-league pennant.
1967: The Broncos land on the front page of the Denver Post by defeating the Detroit Lions 13-7, the first time an AFL team has beaten an NFL team. The Post’s Dick Connor writes that the win “erased for all time the ragtag label the Broncos have worn through seven previous years.” Unfortunately, the victory is an exhibition game; the ragtag Broncos will wait another seven years for their first winning season.
1977-78: The term “Broncomania” surfaces in a front-page Post article. “If you have Broncomania,” writes Dana Parsons, “enjoy this year, because it may never be this much fun again.” The Post is quick to capitalize on the Super Bowl-bound Orange Crush, offering a ghastly poster of coach Red Miller for fifty cents and cranking out predictable stories about zany fans and their wacky Broncos fight songs. The Rocky Mountain News consults an astrologer, who predicts that the Broncos will beat Dallas by a narrow margin. Governor Dick Lamm declares a state holiday in honor of the team, then rescinds it after a brick sails through a window of the Governor’s Mansion. One hundred thousand people show up for a Broncos parade before the big game. Woody Paige and Bob Collins of the News and Connor and “Candid” Cameron of the Post all pick Denver to win handily. Craig Morton is intercepted four times (a Super Bowl record), and the Broncos fall 27-10. A measly thousand fans greet the losers at Stapleton.
1981: Edgar Kaiser buys the Broncos from Gerald and Allan Phipps for $30 million and replaces Miller with Dan Reeves, who models his moptop haircut for the toadying press with visible discomfort. KCNC outbids KUSA for the right to air Broncos pre-season games, advancing the hilarious notion that exhibition games are worth televising.
1983: Kaiser steals John Elway from the Baltimore Colts. The Post launches the Elway Watch, chronicling the crown prince’s turn-ons (video games; red meat and potatoes; Petticoat Junction; his girlfriend, Janet) and turn-offs (chick flicks; quiche; Frank Kush). HE JUST WANTS TO BE ORDINARY, a Post headline sighs. “John’s not perfect,” Elway’s dad tells reporters. “He’s been known to have a beer, and he chews tobacco.”
1984: After trying to buy the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, Pat Bowlen settles for the Broncos, shelling out a reported $70 million. Heavily favored at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver manages to lose its fourth playoff game in four appearances since 1978, choking off the Super Bowl chatter.
1986-87: Sportscaster Jim Celania is fired after a series of gaffes make him unpopular with Broncos management and fans. Broncos talk shows multiply on the airwaves, and as the team heads for the playoffs, the media blitz takes off, with the usual madcap stories about zany fans and their wacky fight songs. The News dusts off the hoary question of how the altitude will affect the visiting New England Patriots. Local sportscasters high-five the team on their way off the field after the game. Denver’s playoff victory dominates the media the next day.
INJURED ELWAY PLAYS FLAWLESSLY, the News declares, making Elway the first flawless quarterback to complete 13 of 32 passes.
The Drive in the AFC championship game in Cleveland sends the headline writers into rapture. ELWAY HELD IN AWE BY THE VANQUISHED, swoons the Post. The News consults a biorhythms analyst and psychic Lou Wright, who both predict that the Broncos will win it all this time. In a time of shrinking editorial budgets, the Post pays novelist/fan Leon Uris $10,000 to cover the Super Bowl. The Denver media sends a total of 125 people to Pasadena to cover the game, roughly 120 more than they’d send to cover a major earthquake. All but two of Denver’s sportswriters ignore the obvious strengths of the favored New York Giants and pick the Broncos to win; Dick Connor says Denver ought to win by at least twenty points.
When the big day arrives, Phil Simms completes a Super Bowl record 22 of 25 passes, and the Broncos flame out, 39-20.