[Note: Denver Broncos training camp opens today at Dove Valley, and it's perhaps the most anticipated camp opening since John Elway came back to go for his second straight Super Bowl championship. As such, we're re-running a Classic DDP article about the arrival of Peyton Manning in Denver... and the hope that he can repair the breaches left by Jay Cutler, Josh McDaniels, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Enjoy.]
It’s been stressful as hell to be a Bronco fan the last seven years or so. It’s rare that a place in flyover country makes national news on the regular with quarterback maneuvers and play, but Denver’s had lots of national attention for all the wrong reasons for, well, as far back as I can really remember.
Sure, everyone remembers McCutlergate, but it goes back farther than that.
The struggles actually began in 1999, when Mike Shanahan took conventional wisdom and threw it out the window of his Dove Valley office, deciding to insert second year Michigan product Brian Griese into the starting lineup, spurning experienced and savvy veteran leadership from Bubby Brister in the process. All this after Brister had been named the starter in training camp. And he did it all three days before the start of the season.
Griese struggled. The defending Super Bowl Champs went 6-10.
Jake Plummer would come to town in 2003 to replace Griese, who never really lived up to his potential (or his surname). Denver was an immediate contender again, making the playoffs every year that Plummer played in the Mile High City, getting the first playoff win of the post-Elway era and getting as far as the AFC Championship Game (which they lost to eventual champion Pittsburgh).
Then disaster struck, all the way from Santa Claus, Indiana.
For a team that desperately needed help along the defensive line, a team that had two first round picks (15 and 25), talent on the offensive side, and a quarterback in Plummer who the locker room respected and loved, Mike Shanahan packaged both first round picks and moved up to nab… quarterback Jay Cutler from Vanderbilt.
Whether you liked the move or hated it, for the first time in my memory, you had an honest-to-Tebow split in the Broncos fanbase. Cutler fans and Plummer fans.
Plummer fans liked what they saw; the quarterback who’d had the best season of his life just months before, setting Broncos team records for touchdowns and winning percentage.
Cutler fans liked what they thought might be there; the strong arm, ability to avoid pressure in the pocket, high-level athleticism and strength.
I liked them both. I was quickly informed by the unwashed masses that it was not acceptable to like both. After all, if you don’t put it all down on record, how can you be mocked for your choice later by those same McCarthy-like morons?
I mean, who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?
The Tim Tebow situation, of course, made the other two examples from your intrepid reporter pale in comparison.
Fortunately, the Peyton Manning situation changes everything. For the first time since Elway retired, we’ve got the best case scenario at QB. Which gives Bronco fans a unique opportunity to come together once again behind the idea of “team.”
Of course there will always be those who want to separate and divide, who will tell you that a fanbase is meaningless in the overall scheme of things. And they’re not wrong.
Except that being a fan is so much more enjoyable when all those around you are fans as well, and it’s even better when you’ve all got the same horse in the race. Sure, I like talking trash to fans of other teams as much as the next guy.
But the magic of a Peyton Manning signing is that he can bring us all together again. Nobody can question his heart, his ability, and he’s not polarizing politically or religiously. He just plays football really well (and makes funny commercials).
I welcome the day — and it’s today — that Bronco fans can be content to just be Bronco fans. No longer do we have to split along lines of “haters” and “believers.”
The sun came up today, Broncos fans. It had a giant forehead.