Don’t fault Todd Sauerbraun for the Bronco’s heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears. Don’t put it on Dre Bly or the defense, or even give the credit to Devin Hester and his ridiculousness. No, when you spin the wheel of blame for the Sunday’s calamitous collapse, the needle will come to rest on a single, unlikely culprit: Me and my friends.
Four years ago, when visiting our buddy in Minneapolis for the Broncos-Vikings game, we took a solemn and drunken oath to follow our team on the road to every football city in America for the next 31 years. “How cool would it be,” we reasoned, “to create an annual a tradition that spans three decades, one that celebrates both the immutable bond of friendship and hard-fought Bronco road victories. Broncos!” At that point, we toasted merrily, spilling beer from our goblets and sharing a hearty laugh in assurance that our team would dismantle the Vikings the following afternoon. A recap of our five pilgrimages thus far:
Oct. 19, 2003 – Broncos 20 Vikings 28 Starting in place of injured Quarterback Jake Plummer, Steve Beuerlein went 9 of 19 with three picks before dislocating his pinky (remember Beuerlein’s horrified expression as he held his hand aloft, pinky protruding at a 90 degree angle) and the Broncos fourth quarter comeback fell short. Yet the game will forever be remembered for one play: With time running down in the first half, Culpepper wound up and left one fly, hitting Randy Moss deep downfield where he was quickly wrapped up. Except that before hitting the ground, Moss lateraled to the Burger King who ran it in for a touchdown. The Vikings took the lead for good and the Broncos ended up on the wrong end of a SportsCenter highlight for months to come.
Dec. 5, 2004 – Broncos 17 Chargers 20 During his tenure with Denver, Jake Plummer threw a lot of picks, but few were as memorable or costly as his fourth quarter interception in the end zone (his fourth turnover of the game) that could have put the Broncos ahead of our divisional rivals with just minutes to go. Had the Broncos beaten the Chargers that rainy December day, we likely would have won the AFC West. Instead, we entered the playoffs as a wildcard team and lost the second annual Humiliation Bowl to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Oct. 23, 2005 – Broncos 23 Giants 24 2005 was a spectacular season, with the Broncos finishing 13-3 and handing golden-boy Tom Brady his very first post-season loss. Outside of the week one beat down from the Dolphins and the requisite December loss at Arrowhead, all the games except one had a happy ending. The lone exception? The Giants game, wherein the Broncos blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead and Lesser Manning hit Toomer in the end zone with five seconds left, capping a dramatic comeback in front of the 38 Giants fans who didn’t leave the stadium at the end of the 3rd quarter. In an AP article about the game, Eli said of the game-winning score “that’s definitely the biggest play of my career.” Reeling from three straight painful losses, my friends and I vowed, over the cruel heckles of Giants fans, that next year we would travel to see a team so horrendous we couldn’t possibly lose: The Arizona Cardinals.
Dec. 17, 2006 – Broncos 37 Cardinals 20 What should have been The Snake’s triumphant return to Arizona instead turned into Jay Cutler’s first career victory, a Shellac-down of the underperforming Cardinals. The game went beautifully, with Cutler’s perfect 54-yard TD strike to Javon Walker in the first quarter standing as one of the plays of the season, but it really doesn’t count as a road win; before the game, I was informed by one of the only die-hard Cardinal’s fans in America that, by virtue of their lack of local support and native Arizonians, the Cards are the only team in the league that plays all of their games on the road. He was right - with all the orange and blue in the crowd, it might as well have been played at Mile High. It was a Bronco home win by default.
Then there’s last weeks game. It’s still too painful to describe the specific details of seeing Rex Grossman – REX FUCKING GROSSMAN – dismantle our defense on the Bears final two possessions, but after the game, John Lynch was quoted by the Denver Post as saying “I’ve been in a lot of [games] and I don’t know if I remember one like that.”
My friends and I do. We’ve been to four of them in the past five years. Nevertheless, we’re duty bound to continue this pitiful streak for 26 more years. Next season, we’re shooting for Carolina, a team that hasn’t won a home game in over a year. Keep faith, Panther loyalists, your saviors are coming to town. - Mark Schiff