The Broncos' loss to the Ravens on Saturday was agonizing, and not just because we (like pretty much everyone else) inaccurately predicted an easy Denver win. But let's put things in perspective, shall we? In our opinion, there have been five Broncos playoff defeats that were even worse. Make yourself feel at least a little better by counting down our picks, complete with videos that will bring it all back -- hopefully not including your breakfast.
Number 5: Super Bowl XII -- Dallas Cowboys 27, Broncos 10
In 1977, the perennially underachieving Broncos suddenly became the year's most unlikely success story under first-year head coach Red Miller. The team notched a 12-2 record (this was back in the days when the regular season was fourteen games long) thanks largely to a stout defense nicknamed the "Orange Crush" and steady quarterback play by Craig Morton, a former member of the Cowboys nearing the end of his career.
But against Dallas, the miracle turned mediocre. The Broncos committed a staggering eight turnovers en route to a 27-10 clobbering that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Watching Cinderella get mugged -- and knowing that the entire country was doing likewise -- hurt like hell. Yet because of the shockingly great campaign that preceded the game, the pain was less severe than after the contests that followed.
Continue counting down the five Broncos playoffs defeats more vomit-inducing than the loss to the Ravens. Number 4: NFL playoffs, January 4, 1997 -- Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Broncos 27
This is the moment in the Broncos' past most like the one all of us suffered through this past weekend. Denver had been on a steady rise since the hiring of Mike Shanahan as head coach largely due to the emergence of Terrell Davis, a relatively unheralded running back from Georgia who gave the offense a thrilling new dimension. In 1996, the combination of T.D. and veteran John Elway resulted in a 13-3 record and the top seed in the playoffs (sound familiar?). Better yet, the Broncos' first playoff game was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a young, untested franchise (season record: 9-7) that seemed certain to be nothing more than a speed bump over which they'd fly.
Didn't turn out that way. After jumping to a 12-0 lead, Denver allowed the Jags thirteen consecutive points and went into halftime trailing. Then, the Broncos stunk it up during the third quarter, putting up a goose egg in comparison with another ten Jacksonville points. A comeback attempt followed, but it fell short: The Jaguars won by three.
This excruciating and unforgivable failure fueled the Broncos' hunger for redemption -- and they won the next two Super Bowls. This memory is the slender reed to which many longtime fans are currently clinging.
Continue counting down the five Broncos playoffs defeats more vomit-inducing than the loss to the Ravens. Number 3: Super Bowl XXI, January 25, 1987 -- New York Giants 39, Broncos 20
John Elway's first Super Bowl appearance started out in relatively Super fashion. Despite the Giants being favored (New York went 14-2 during the season and had held opponents to just three points in two playoff wins, while the Broncos finished 11-5 and needed "The Drive" to make it to the championship), Denver actually led at halftime, albeit by just 10-9.
In the second half, however, the Giants put up 26 consecutive points thanks to an off-the-charts performance by current commentator Phil Simms, who completed 22 of 25 passes -- a postseason percentage record that stood for more than two decades.
The rout that resulted was plenty bad. But the Giants were great and Elway was young, so fans figured he'd do better when given another chance. They'd be wrong -- twice.
Continue counting down the five Broncos playoffs defeats more vomit-inducing than the loss to the Ravens. Number 2: Super Bowl XXII, January 31, 1988 -- Washington Redskins 42, Broncos 10
The Super Bowl loss to the Giants didn't crush the Broncos' spirit. Indeed, they roared through the next season as if on a mission from God -- because sunsets are orange, a lot of us reminded ourselves. And their opponent this time around wasn't nearly as formidable. Indeed, the Redskins' quarterback, Doug Williams, began the season on the bench, and no one mistook him for an all-time great.
He looked like one on the biggest stage in football, though. The Broncos went up 10-0 in the first quarter, then laid down and let Williams and the 'Skins run over them. Williams threw four touchdown passes in a single quarter, eventually piling up 42 consecutive points en route to MVP honors.
It couldn't get worse than that, could it? Answer: yes, it could.
Continue counting down the five Broncos playoffs defeats more vomit-inducing than the loss to the Ravens. Number 1: Super Bowl XXIV, January 28, 1990 -- San Francisco 49ers 55, Broncos 10
After a year away from the Super Bowl, Denver returned to the limelight in 1990. But even the most dedicated Broncomaniacs were wary about taking on the mighty 49ers, led by Joe Montana, who'd won the previous year. And their concern was more than warranted.
The Broncos were thoroughly outclassed on both sides of the ball, barely putting up a fight in the face of the 49ers juggernaut. San Francisco's 55 points were the most ever scored in a Super Bowl, and the 45 point margin of victory set a record as well.
At that point, the Broncos seemed on track to become the undisputed worst team in the history of the Super Bowl. But Elway wound up winning two of them later in the decade, cementing his reputation as an NFL legend -- something to remember right about now. Keep hope alive!
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