The Denver Broncos are a professional American football team based in Denver, Colorado. They are members of the West Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League. The Broncos began play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League and joined the NFL as part of the AFL–NFL merger of 1970. The Broncos are owned by Pat Bowlen, and are coached by John Fox. The Broncos have played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since 2001, after previously playing at Mile High Stadium from 1960–2000.
The Broncos were barely competitive during their 10-year run in the AFL and their first seven years in the NFL, never making the playoffs. They did not have a winning season until 1973. Four years later, in 1977, they made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and advanced to Super Bowl XII. Since then, the Broncos have become one of the NFL's more successful teams, having suffered only six losing seasons in 35 years. They have won seven AFC Championships and two Super Bowls, and have four players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: John Elway, Floyd Little, Gary Zimmerman, and Shannon Sharpe.
1960–69: AFL era
The Denver Broncos were founded on August 14, 1959 when minor league baseball owner Bob Howsam was awarded an American Football League charter franchise. The Broncos won the first-ever AFL game over the Boston Patriots 13–10, on September 9, 1960. On August 5, 1967, they became the first ever AFL team to defeat an NFL team after beating the Detroit Lions 13–7, in a preseason game. However, the Broncos were not successful in the 1960s, compiling a record of 39–97–4 in the league.
Denver came close to losing its franchise in 1965, but a local ownership group took control and rebuilt the team. The team's first superstar, "Franchise" Floyd Little, due to his signing in 1967 and his Pro Bowl efforts on and off the field, was instrumental in keeping the team in Denver. They were the only original AFL team never to have played in the title game, as well as the only original AFL team never to have a winning season while a member of the AFL during the upstart league's 10-year history.
1970–82: "Orange Crush"
In 1972, the Broncos hired former Stanford University coach John Ralston as their head coach. In 1973, he was UPI's AFC Coach of the Year after Denver achieved its first winning season at 7–5–2. In 5 seasons with the Broncos, Ralston guided the team to winning seasons three times, the franchise's only three winning seasons up to that time. Although Ralston finished the 1976 season with a 9–5 record, the team, as was the case in Ralston’s previous winning seasons, still missed the playoffs. Following the season, several prominent players publicly voiced their discontent with Ralston, which soon led to his resignation.
Red Miller, a long-time assistant coach was hired and along with the Orange Crush Defense (a nickname originating in the early '70s, also the brand of a popular orange-flavored soft drink) and aging quarterback Craig Morton, took the Broncos to their first playoff appearance in 1977, and ultimately first Super Bowl, where they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys, 27–10.
In 1981 Broncos owner Gerald Phipps, who had purchased the team in May 1961 from the original owner Bob Howsam, sold the team to Canadian Financier, Edgar Kaiser, Jr, grandson of shipbuilding industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.
1983–99: John Elway era
Dan Reeves became the youngest head coach in the NFL when he joined the Denver Broncos in 1981 as Vice President and Head Coach. Quarterback John Elway, who played college football at Stanford, arrived in 1983 via a trade. Originally drafted by the Baltimore Colts as the first pick of the draft, Elway proclaimed that he would shun football in favor of baseball (he was drafted by the New York Yankees to play center field and was also a pitching prospect), unless he was traded to a selected list of other teams, which included Denver. Prior to Elway, Denver had over 24 different starting quarterbacks in its 23 seasons to that point.
Reeves and Elway guided the Broncos to six post-season appearances, five divisional titles, three AFC championships and three Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowl XXI, XXII and XXIV) during that 12 year span together. The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants, 39–20; Super Bowl XXII to the Washington Redskins, 42–10; and Super Bowl XXIV to the San Francisco 49ers, 55–10; the latter score remains the most lopsided scoring differential in Super Bowl history. The last year of the Reeves-Elway era were marked by feuding, due to Reeves taking on play-calling duties after ousting Elway's favorite offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan after the 1991 season, as well as Reeves drafting quarterback Tommy Maddox out of UCLA instead of going with a wide receiver to help Elway. Reeves was fired after the 1992 season and replaced by his protégé and friend Wade Phillips, who had been serving as the Broncos defensive coordinator. Phillips was fired after a mediocre 1994 season in which management felt he lost control of the team.
In 1995, Mike Shanahan, who had formerly served under Reeves as the Broncos offensive coordinator, returned as head coach. Shanahan drafted rookie running back Terrell Davis. In 1996, the Broncos were the top seed in the AFC with a 13–3 record, dominating most of the teams that year. The fifth-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars, however, upset the Broncos 30–27 in the divisional round of the playoffs, ending the Broncos' 1996 run.
During the 1997 season, Elway and Davis helped guide the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory, a 31–24 win over the defending champion Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Although Elway completed only 13 of 22 passes, throwing one interception and no touchdowns (he did, however, have a rushing touchdown), Davis rushed for 157 yards and a Super Bowl–record 3 touchdowns to earn the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award – this while overcoming a severe migraine that caused him blurred vision. The Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champions the following season, defeating the Atlanta Falcons (led by Elway's longtime head coach Dan Reeves) in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34–19. Elway was named Super Bowl MVP, completing 18 of 29 passes for 421 yards, with an 80-yard touchdown to wide receiver Rod Smith and one interception.
1999–2012 Post-Elway Era
Broncos' quarterback Jay Cutler in 2007.
John Elway retired following the 1998 season, and Brian Griese started at quarterback for the next four seasons. After a 6–10 record in 1999, the Broncos recovered in 2000, earning a Wild Card playoff berth, but losing to the Baltimore Ravens. After missing the playoffs the following two seasons, former Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Jake Plummer replaced Griese in 2003, and led the Broncos to two straight 10–6 seasons, earning Wild Card playoff berths both years. However, the Broncos went on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts in back-to-back seasons and were blown out by more than 20 points in each game, allowing a combined 90 points.
After losing the 2005 season opener, the Broncos won five straight games. Plummer and the Broncos clinched their first AFC West division title since 1998 on December 24, and finished with an 8–0 home record and a 13–3 overall record. The Broncos entered the playoffs for the third consecutive year with the momentum of a four-game winning streak. After a first round bye, the Broncos defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 27–13, denying New England from becoming the first NFL team ever to win three consecutive Super Bowl championships. The Broncos' playoff run came to an end next week, after losing at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, 34–17. Denver turned the ball over four times and were outscored in the first half, 24–3. The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL.
The Broncos' defense began the first five games of the 2006 season allowing only one touchdown, an NFL record, but struggled down the season stretch. Plummer led the team to a 7–2 record, only to lose two straight and be replaced by rookie quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler went 2–3 as a starter, and the Broncos finished with a 9–7 record, losing the tiebreaker to the Kansas City Chiefs for the final playoff spot. Cutler's first full season as a starter in 2007 became the Broncos' first losing season since 1999, with a 7–9 record.
The 2008 season ended in a 52–21 loss at the San Diego Chargers, giving the Broncos an 8–8 record and their third straight season out of the playoffs. Shanahan, the longest-tenured and most successful head coach in Broncos' franchise history, was fired on December 30, 2008, after 14 seasons.
On January 11, 2009, two weeks after Shanahan was fired, the Broncos hired former New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the team's new head coach. Three months later, the team acquired quarterback Kyle Orton as part of a trade that sent Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears.
Tim Tebow playing against the Kansas City Chiefs in January 2012. Under McDaniels and Orton, the Broncos jumped out to a surprising 6–0 start in 2009. However, the team lost eight of their next ten games, finishing 8–8 for a second consecutive season and missing the playoffs. After the season, Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall was traded to the Miami Dolphins, and the Broncos set a new franchise record for losses in a single season, with a 4–12 record in 2010. On December 6, 2010, McDaniels was fired following a combination of the team's poor record and the fallout from a highly publicized videotaping scandal. Running back coach Eric Studesville was named interim coach for the remaining four games of the 2010 season. He chose to start rookie first-round draft choice Tim Tebow at quarterback for the final three games.
After the season, Joe Ellis was promoted from Chief Operating Officer to team president, while John Elway was named the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations on January 5, 2011. In this capacity, Elway will report to Ellis and will oversee the position held by the General Manager (Brian Xanders) and head coach positions. On January 13, 2011, the Broncos hired former Carolina Panthers' coach John Fox as the team's 14th head coach.
After a 1–4 start to the 2011 season, it was announced on October 11, 2011, that Tebow would replace Kyle Orton as the Broncos' starting quarterback. In his first start, Tebow would lead the Broncos in a come-from-behind 18–15 overtime victory over the Dolphins, after being down 15–0 with under three minutes to go in the game. On November 22, 2011, Kyle Orton was waived and since the quarterback change, the Broncos went 7–4, including four consecutive game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime against the Jets in Week 11, the Chargers in Week 12, the Vikings in Week 13 and the Bears in Week 14. Despite losing their last three games of the 2011 season, the Broncos clinched their first playoff berth and division title since 2005 (the Broncos finished in a three-way tie with the Raiders and Chargers, but won tiebreakers over both teams).
In the Wild Card round of the 2011–12 NFL Playoffs, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime 29–23. After Denver built an early lead, the Steelers managed to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos set the NFL overtime record (regular season or playoffs) for the fastest overtime ever, winning in 11 seconds on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas, following a 20-yard touchback. This was also the first overtime win under the new rules that allow for sudden death only in touchdown or defensive point scenarios. This game became known as the 3:16 Game due to the wide range of stats, including 316 passing yards by Tebow, that correlated with the verse John 3:16. The following week, the Broncos were blown out 45–10 by the Patriots in the Divisional round.
2012–present: Arrival of Peyton Manning
On March 20, 2012, the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning reached an agreement on a 5-year contract worth $96 million. The following day, the Broncos traded Tim Tebow and a seventh-round draft selection to the New York Jets in exchange for fourth- and sixth-round draft selections. Shortly after acquiring Manning, the Broncos also signed tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, as well as former Cleveland Browns' safety Mike Adams.
In the 2012 draft, the Broncos selected defensive tackle Derek Wolfe and quarterback Brock Osweiler, both in the second round. Running back Ronnie Hillman was taken in the third round.
2012 NFL Season
Main article: 2012 Denver Broncos season
After setting records for training camp fan attendance, the Broncos opened their season at home with a 31–19 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Manning throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos started the season 2–3, which included losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and New England Patriots. In Week 6 (October 15), the Manning-led Broncos overcame a 24–0 halftime deficit to shock the San Diego Chargers 35–24, on a nationally televised Monday night game. From this win, the Broncos closed out the season with an 11-game winning streak, finishing 13–3. The Broncos not only clinched a second consecutive AFC West division title, but also earned the AFC's No. 1 seed in the 2012–13 NFL playoffs. However, they would lose to the eventual Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round Game, by a double-overtime score of 38–35.
The loss was Manning's 11th loss in 20 playoff games. This ties him with Brett Favre for the most losses all time in the postseason.
2013 NFL season: Record-breaking season and a return to the Super Bowl
Main article: 2013 Denver Broncos season
The Broncos made several key off-season moves, including the signings of All-Pro wide receiver Wes Welker, linebacker Shaun Phillips and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, as well as drafting defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball in the first and second rounds of the NFL draft, respectively. Key departures for the Broncos include defensive end Elvis Dumervil, linebacker D. J. Williams, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, running back Willis McGahee and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
The Broncos had to endure a tumultuous off-season that included the suspensions of front office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert, Jr. due to separate drunk-driving offenses, several injuries to the offensive line as well as the six-game suspension of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller due to violations of the NFL's drug policy.
The Broncos achieved a 13–3 record and the AFC's No. 1 seed for a second consecutive season, despite losing All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Clady to a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 2, missing cornerback Champ Bailey for the majority of the season due to a foot injury, as well as notable late-season injuries to Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris. The team also set numerous franchise and league records, including touchdowns and points scored, and quarterback Peyton Manning setting new NFL single-season records for passing yardage and passing touchdowns. In the playoffs, the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers in the Divisional round and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, but were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks 43–8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Denver Broncos have three AFC West rivals — the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers. All teams, along with the Broncos, were charter members of the American Football League (AFL), with each team placed in the AFL Western division. The Broncos were barely competitive during the AFL years (1960–69), going a combined 10–45–1 against their fellow AFL West rivals.
The Broncos have had several memorable matchups with the Chiefs, particularly during the years in which John Elway was the Broncos' starting quarterback (1983–98). The Broncos defeated the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round of the 1997 NFL playoffs, en route to their first Super Bowl victory. The Chiefs currently hold a 56–52 series lead over the Broncos, including the aforementioned 1997 divisional playoff '
The rivalry with the Raiders was ignited in 1977, when the Broncos advanced to their first Super Bowl by defeating the Raiders in the 1977 AFC Championship. The rivalry intensified in the mid-1990s, when Mike Shanahan was hired as the Broncos' head coach in 1995. Shanahan coached the Raiders in 1988 before being fired four games into the 1989 season. The Raiders currently hold a 60–47–2 series lead over the Broncos, including 1–1 in the playoffs.
San Diego ChargersEdit
Unlike the Chiefs and Raiders, the Broncos currently have a winning a record against the Chargers, with a 59–49–1 series lead, including 1–0 in the playoffs. One of the most memorable games between the two teams occurred in the 2012 season, when Peyton Manning led the Broncos from a 24–0 halftime deficit to a 35–24 comeback win at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night Football. The two teams met in the playoffs for the first time on January 12, 2014, at Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, with the Broncos winning 24–17.
Seattle Seahawks Edit
The Broncos had an old rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks, who were members of the AFC West from 1977–2001, prior to the Seahawks' move to the NFC West as part of the NFL's 2002 re-alignment. During the 25 years that the Seahawks resided in the AFC West, the Broncos went 32–18 against the Seahawks, including a loss at Seattle in the 1983 NFL playoffs. Since 2002, the Broncos have won two of three interconference meetings with the Seahawks, and the two teams met in Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014, with the Seahawks winning 43–8.
The Broncos had a brief rivalry with the Browns that arose from three AFC championship matches from 1986–89. In the 1986 AFC Championship, quarterback John Elway led The Drive to secure a tie in the waning moments at Cleveland Municipal Stadium; the Broncos went on to win in 23–20 in overtime. One year later, the two teams met again in the 1987 AFC Championship at Mile High Stadium. Denver took a 21–3 lead, but Browns' quarterback Bernie Kosar threw four touchdown passes to tie the game at 31–31 halfway through the 4th quarter. After a long drive, John Elway threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to running back Sammy Winder to give Denver a 38–31 lead. Cleveland advanced to Denver's 8-yard line with 1:12 left, but Broncos' safety Jeremiah Castille stripped Browns' running back Earnest Byner of the football at the 2-yard line — a play that has been called The Fumble by Browns' fans. The Broncos recovered it, gave Cleveland an intentional safety, and went on to win 38–33. The two teams met yet again in the 1989 AFC Championship at Mile High Stadium, which the Broncos easily won by a score of 37–21. Interestingly, the Broncos would not win the Super Bowl after any of the championship games where they beat the Browns.
As of the 2011 season, the Broncos have met the Steelers in postseason play seven times, the most of any NFL team. The Broncos own a 4–3 playoff record vs. the Steelers. Perhaps the most memorable postseason matchup occurred in the 1997 AFC Championship, in which the Broncos defeated the Steelers 24–21 at Three Rivers Stadium, in the 1997 AFC Championship, en route to their first Super Bowl victory. Eight years later, the Steelers returned the favor at INVESCO Field at Mile High, defeating the Broncos 34–17 in the 2005 AFC Championship, and subsequently won Super Bowl XL. In the Wild Card round of the 2011 NFL playoffs, in a game dubbed the 3:16 Game, the Broncos stunned the Steelers 29–23 on the first play of overtime, when quarterback Tim Tebow connected with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard game-winning touchdown pass.
The Broncos and Patriots met twice annually during the American Football League (AFL) years from 1960–69, and played in the first-ever AFL game on September 9, 1960. Since 1995, the two teams have met frequently during the regular season, including nine consecutive seasons from 1995–2003. As of the 2013 season, the two teams have met in the playoffs four times, with the Broncos owning a 3–1 record. The teams' first playoff match on January 4, 1987 was John Elway's first career playoff win, while the teams' second playoff match on January 14, 2006 game was the Broncos' first playoff win since Elway's retirement after the 1998 season. The two teams met in the Divisional round of the 2011 playoffs, with the Patriots blowing out the Broncos by a score of 45–10. The Broncos' rivalry with the Patriots later intensified when longtime Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning became the Broncos' starting quarterback in 2012. Manning and Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady have maintained a legendary rivalry since 2001, with the two quarterbacks splitting four playoff meetings, the most recent of which was a Broncos' 26–16 win in the 2013 AFC Championship.