I have been a Denver Broncos fan since I was 5 years old. I know this because I was five when I saw “The Drive“, the 98 yard touchdown drive that John Elway orchestrated against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game. What I witnessed was remarkable enough for me to do two things: cement Elway as my favorite football player and the Broncos as my favorite team.
The Super Bowl against the Giants played that same season I do not have any memory of. But I do remember the next year, beating the Browns again in the AFC Championship (how Marty Schottenheimer managed to not pull a Tonya Harding on Elway during this era is a testament to his character, or his lack of competitiveness) and then playing the Redskins in the Super Bowl (by this time I must have really committed to this football thing). I remember the excitement of my team playing in such a big game and getting out to an early 10-0 lead. They lost 42-10 in what was probably my first taste of bitter disappointment as a sports fanatic.
Two seasons later, Elway and the Broncos made it to their third Super Bowl and for the third time, at the expense of the Browns (Schottenheimer had mercifully moved on to coach the Kansas City Chiefs by this one). My uncle Joe hosted a Super Bowl party and I was so exciting, with my Denver Broncos sweatsuit on and total confidence that this time, we would win. The Broncos lost, 55-10. It was and still is, the worse loss in Super Bowl history.
Despite the disappointment, I came back every year for more. And by this time, I was also a die-hard Cubs fan so I was getting beat down as a fan from two sides of the sports world. Anyway, the years passed and Denver struggled. I hated hearing about Elway’s three Super Bowl losses and the prospect of him never winning “the big one”, thus tarnishing his legacy. I am obviously biased, but I loved and believed Elway to be the best quarterback of his time or any since because he did more with less. He never had a great defense or great running backs to hand the ball to. He carried his teams on his back playing in an offense that forced him to have to make big plays late in games because the offensive play-calling was so conservative. There was a reason why he had to make so many fourth-quarter comebacks.
Then came the 1996 season. The Broncos were back. They had a new coach in Mike Shanahan and finally, a great running-back in Terrell Davis. They went 13-3 that year and earned the top spot in the AFC. After getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs, they were stunned at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars, a freaking expansion team. I was livid. By this time I had endured enough tough losses that sadness, pain and denial had given way to flat-out anger. It is something I still struggle with today when it comes to watching my teams play. It is a problem and I am working on it.
But all of that misery was erased the following year, when Elway and the Broncos finally won the Super Bowl, defeating Brett Favre and the Packers (this play still makes me giddy). There was no party for this one. I watched this game alone in my bedroom because I just could not stand to be around anyone should the outcome not go my way. I was so happy that night, but I think I was most happy for Elway, my favorite player. He was past his prime at this point, but he was still so fun to watch and still playing at a high level.
The Broncos won the Super Bowl again the next year, which was John Elway’s last game. You could not ask for a better way to go out. It was definitely the end of an era and when Elway made his retirement official, he was not the only one that got choked up (I’ll save the obvious psychological issues with sports fanaticism for another time).
Denver has not returned to the Super Bowl since and have not done much to speak of, either. I have still rooted as hard as ever for them, but it has not been a successful century. But the Broncos are relevant again, and once again, their relevance and fate are tied to a superstar quarterback, though one very different from Elway.
The Broncos and then head coach Josh McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. I was mortified. It was not just that I could not stand Tebow while he played in college (which is probably an understatement); it was that I did not think he could be an NFL quarterback and I thought it was monumentally stupid to take him in the first round. This was the popular sentiment at the time, so it was not just me.
Once the shock of his selection wore off, I was overcome with the very real and strange proposition that I would have to root for Tebow now (it was like Anakin Skywalker turning on a dime and becoming a Sith, the entity he was fighting to destroy since he had become a Jedi; or not). I wanted Tebow to succeed because I wanted the Broncos to succeed, and I wanted taking him in the first round to not haunt the team (ironically, McDaniels was fired last season and the Tebow pick may have been one of the reasons why).
Tebow had some memorable moments his rookie season and started the last three games to close out the campaign. This past off-season was a critical one for the team: John Fox was hired as the new head coach and John Elway was named the team’s President. The man who was once THE MAN in Denver was now in charge and one of the key issues was what to do with Tebow. Elway and Fox did not draft him and with Fox naming Kyle Orton the starter to begin the year, it seemed the Tebow experiment would be on hold indefinitely.
Fast forward to the season and Denver is struggling at 1-4 and John Fox pulls the trigger and names Tebow the starter. The fans in Denver had been calling for the move since the year started, though I was not on that bandwagon. But the move made sense; it was time to see if Tebow could in fact be the quarterback of the Broncos or if the team would once again look to the draft to find Elway’s replacement (note: playing the QB position in Denver since Elway’s retirement has not been an easy gig).
Since the move, well, you probably already know what has happened. Denver has gone 7-1 with Tebow under center and the team is now alone in first place in the AFC West at 8-5. Tebow’s growing legend is not simply being fueled by the winning, but by how the team has won. Denver has won three games in overtime and five games when trailing in the fourth quarter. Tebow has become the talk of the sports world and has crossed over to the mainstream media, with an op-ed in the New York Times and a piece in Time.
I disliked Tebow in college for numerous reasons. I did not like the team he played on (Florida Gators), I did not like all the attention and credit he got, I thought he was overrated as a player, and his religious shtick was nauseating. The funny thing is that not much has changed since his college days, except the team he plays on. And apparently, that makes all the difference for me. I still think he gets too much of the credit and I do find his religiosity sincere, but tiresome. When the first words out of his mouth every time for an interview are “First of all, I just want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ”, I feel like it is a bit orchestrated (I will save this aspect of the Tebow phenomenon for another post). But the bottom line is that every Sunday I hope he does well and helps lead the Broncos to victory. And I am starting to feel with each passing week that leading the team to victory is exactly what he will do.
I have watched every second of Broncos football this year thanks to Sunday Ticket, which was free from DirecTV this year (thank you!). Every game Tebow has started has been a rollercoaster ride. I often find myself unimpressed with his abilities to throw the ball, yet overcome with joy and optimism when he delivers an accurate and timely pass. The first 2 or 3 quarters of games are immensely frustrating, as the Broncos struggle to score points or sometimes move the ball at all, but the fourth quarter on is exhilirating as Tebow and the team find a way to win.
Tebow is undoubtedly a winner and he has the confidence and faith of his teammates. I am so glad to see the Broncos winning and relevant again, but it is surreal to be a Broncos fan right now. I have no idea how long this will last, which should make me happy to simply be along for the ride, but I cannot help but want them to go all the way. It seems completely far-fetched, but then again, I never could have thought what has happened the last eight weeks could happen. I still do not know if Tebow is the answer in Denver, but I know right now he is.
I do not believe Tebow is super-human or being guided by God; I just think he is a gifted athlete who fights until the bitter end, and his competitiveness, grit and belief have rubbed off on the rest of the team. He is a leader, and a damn good one. He does things very differently from John Elway. It must be strange for John to watch a man who lacks many of the skills that he had in his day continue to win and continue to receive the adoration of Broncos fans at a level that perhaps he never saw. John is an old-school quarterback and Tebow is more of an old-old-school quarterback, like the ones who played in leather helmets. But even the Johns (Fox and Elway) have had to acknowledge that Tebow is special, and as the team continues to win, they are put in the position of having to build the team around Tebow and his skills in the future (Elway has already said he would work with Tebow this off-season on his mechanics and footwork).
To Tim’s credit, he does his best to deflect praise and give credit to his teammates. But for the most part, the media is not having it. This, like the fourth quarter, is “Tebow-time”. What it all means for the future of the Broncos is unclear. All I know is that I will continue to cheer on my team and their star quarterback because the Broncos winning games is what matters to me as a fan. I hope Tebow proves his critics wrong and goes on to be a great quarterback for this team for many years to come. But I do not expect he will ever be the object of my affections the way the team will be, nor will he supplant Elway as my all-time favorite Broncos player. Then again, should Tebow and the Broncos win a few Super Bowls, I could be asked to reconsider my position.