For most longtime Denver Broncos fans, news that former head coach Lou Saban had died instantly recalled a memory that remains vivid well over three decades after the fact. In a 1971 game against the Miami Dolphins, the squad ran out the clock rather than trying to break a 10-10 tie -- and afterward, Saban explained his decision by declaring, "Half a loaf is bettern than none."
In a statement eulogizing Saban, who coached many other teams during a long, energetic career, current Broncos owner Pat Bowlen declared, "Lou Saban should be credited as the individual who first brought respectability to the Denver Broncos," and in some ways, that's true. The Broncos were terrible before Saban took over, and pretty lousy while he was here -- but he helped build a foundation that served the franchise well as the '70s moved forward. Nevertheless, the aforementioned remark may have played a bigger part in the Broncos' eventual rise than any offensive call or player acquisition. Broncos fans made it clear that half-a-loaf wasn't better than none -- that it was better to take risks for victory than to play it safe and settle for a non-loss. Ownership listened, sacking Saban eight games later, and since then, a succession of off-the-field bosses have made it clear that winning is priority one, and mediocrity's not an option.
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Saban probably didn't intend to send this message, but it came through loud and clear -- and a generation later, it continues to resonate.