Denver Broncos End Team’s Half Century In NFL As Most Consistent When Averaging Each Decade’s Finish

It’s been a long wait to get to this point in the History of my team. The Denver Broncos became my team in the late 70’s when baseball didn’t do a good job of holding my interest after becoming a New York Mets fan while living in Levittown, NY. That took place between two stints of living in Denver as my parents were undecided on the best place to raise kids. It was after that second stint that my love of the Broncos received a major boost on the way out of Fenway Park after seeing Nolan Ryan pitch for the California Angels. When I give talks on my love of pro-football I know this event 41 years ago becomes embellished somewhat but not by a huge amount… After my Dad told me to pick out a hat I turned the corner behind the Green Monster and there, in a divine light, on the top row of a wall of hats is a highlighted Bronco trucker style cap. Its all-time great D logo with a bucking Bronc inside of it and flanked by AFC CHAMPIONS lettering would only be beaten out by my 2-time Super Bowl Champion hat that I gave to Jason McElwain thinking I would soon find a 3-time champion hat. That pretty much solidified my enthrallment with this organization which (after 19 years on the field) had just that one losing Super Bowl appearance 2 years prior to hang its tack on. I knew the club had American Football League baggage that fans had not yet overcome but was not aware of the fact their .287 winning percentage from 1960 to 1969 made them contenders for the worst team in sports of that decade. This franchise was all an entire region of the country had to cheer for and were given vertical striped socks early and a lot of excuses late that carried over into its NFL days.

Broncos Show Up In Denver Instead Of A Big League Baseball team

Bronco history includes the fact that a hope for a third baseball major league was the start of Denver’s quest to get a top level sports team. The 1958 transfer of a New York MLB team to both Los Angeles & San Francisco seemed to give the idea to many places in the country that maybe they deserved consideration for a team in what was then the top sport in the U.S. There was a lot of pent-up demand but with the naming of the expansion New York Mets & Houston Colt 45’s along with some other baseball franchise changes the plans of the formation of the Continental League were ended. The American Football League was formed when the National Football League did not want to grant an expansion team to Lamar Hunt in Dallas in the late 1950’s. Hunt’s formation of the AFL gave Denver’s Bob Howsam another tenant in Bear’s stadium which he needed since he’s enlargement of it was no longer going to be home to a top level baseball team. Howsam is the founder of the Denver Broncos organization and owned the club for just the first season but he was the right guy at the right time for the formation of what would become the biggest sport’s best fan base!

Football Success & Denver Colorado: Mutually Exclusive in the 1960’s

Especially ugly uniforms and its own time zone were pretty much all football was known for in Denver if people had a clue at all. It’s always interesting to learn about how long it took some fans to realize there was a pro-football team in the city, state or region. Denver was the worst place to be rooting for the home team in pro-football during the AFL’s only decade of play. The Broncos dressed for 140 AFL games (only in the cringe worthy brown & gold for ’60 & ’61) and if had lost all four games the team tied the Broncos would have had 101 games lost by 1969. Either way they averaged 3.9 wins over the 10 seasons that saw them have a .500 season as the highlight. A book called Remember The AFL includes a list of the 10 worst AFL teams and while Denver’s team holds 3 of those spots it is not #1. The distinction belongs to the 1962 Oakland Raiders. Of the 8 original AFL clubs only Denver never saw a playoff game let alone an AFL title game. The Miami Dolphins & Cincinnati Bengals joined the AFL late in the decade and the 10 clubs were renamed the American Football Conference (joined by the Steelers, Colts & Browns) for the 1970 season as the AFL was merged fully into the NFL. On the bright side: Denver won the first AFL game that counted in 1960 in Boston and in an exhibition game at Denver University became the first AFL team to beat an NFL team in 1967 (Detroit Lions).

Broncos Join NFL, Team Frustration Continues Yet Manage To End 1970’s As A Top-Ten Team In Reg. Season Winning Percentage

Broncos go 5-8-1 to complete Denver’s 1st season in the NFL and as a location of a top-level sports franchise. The AFL had earned the right to join the NFL having beaten them in the Super Bowl the previous 2 seasons. (The merger took place in 1966 officially.) The Broncos could not get past 5 wins in any of the first 3 seasons and the hiring of guy that won 2 back-to-back AFL titles with the Buffalo Bills, Lou Saban, did little as the team’s first NFL coach. Lou failed to complete his 2nd NFL Season in Denver. 14 wins after three 14 game NFL seasons was pathetic but in ’73 a pair of ties allowed the team to post more W’s than L’s for the first time in the 13 year history of the team. I don’t think anyone had a 13 or even 12 year Bronco career that ended prior to the start of ’73. That person would have probably gotten a spot on the team’s ring of fame for perseverance.

Had there been one additional game won during the 1975 season the Broncos would have been .500 or better the rest of the 70’s following the last of those 3 losing years in 1972. Even with not having been a team follower during the 1977 season when the club played and won its 1st playoff game, won its 1st AFC title and played in it’s 1st Super Bowl, I still consider that equal with the 1st championship year for team greatness! It’s pretty amazing how the team rallied that decade and by the end of the ’79 season the first post-merger decade ended with Denver having the 8th best win-loss record in those first 10 years out of 28 clubs. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Seattle Seahawks had joined in ’76.)

The 80’s brought John Elway and 3 AFC titles to go with the one earned in Red Miller’s first season of 1977 when the Orange Crush became a really big thing. Denver was well into being a football crazed town and the Elway hype was like a tanker plane dropping its fuel instead of water over a wildfire… everything was uncontrollably orange. Dan Reeves was brought in for his long connection to Tom Landry. The move payed huge dividends and the organization has been wrestling Tom’s Dallas Cowboys for a higher spot in the top 5 of the stat my publication NFL Since 1970 tracks. Frustration of not getting a title in 3 tries at a Super Bowl plus 1984’s early playoff exit as the 2nd seed were Dan’s highlights but they sure beat just about every other team’s highlight in that era except S.F. & Wash. No Lombardi trophy to show at Dove Valley meant we were hungrier than ever as the team looked to see who could help.

Reeves lasted until that 1992 season and as it became obvious he was struggling with how to use Elway effectively his firing lead to progress being made to bring Denver back-to-back titles by the time John hung up the cleats. Wade Phillips provided a 16-16 record in his 2 years but in the end was a place holder until Pat Bowlen, itching for that title, went after Mike Shanahan following his time as offensive coordinator on the 1994 Champion San Francisco 49ers.

In the first season (’95) Shanahan scored Terrell Davis and the rookie RB helped the team stay a game within .500 the entire season (8-8 on the year) and rushed for 1100 yards. Davis rocketed to super stardom with an increase in yards each season and gaining 2,008 in the last of his 4 full strength seasons. Davis was beyond instrumental in this team and QB, both starting life in 1960, winning an NFL title in Jan. 1998 and again in Jan. 1999. Mr. B & the rest of the Broncomaniacs had that lost sought reign over 2 seasons. Davis’ injury along with Elway calling it a career after 16 seasons caused the team to stumble to an 6-10 record in 1999 but fell just one game short of sharing the 6th best regular season record for the 1990’s with G.B. & Minn. 31 teams played in the ’90’s with Houston added as #32 in ’02.

Broncos Suffer Only 5 Losing Seasons Since 2000 While Fielding Some Super Teams

The organization is 1.5 games out of 7th place in regular season winning percentage since the turn of the century. The Saints & Seahawks are blocking them from that 7th spot the Baltimore Ravens currently hold. The defeat by the Pittsburg Steelers in the AFC Championship game in Jan. ’06 meant they would have to wait until 2013 to face that NFC Champion & former AFC West foe Seattle in the Super Bowl. Mike Shanahan got a reprieve but lasted only one more season as Pat Bowlen ended his era that lasted 2 years longer than Dan Reeves’ dozen. Mr. B was a patient owner but he had limits on how long Denver fans had to wait to see a team seeded in the top 3 come playoff time and it’s a big reason his bust sits in Canton, Ohio! Since Mike’s departure the club has had mixed results but good ones have been stellar as the Peyton Manning era could have easily produced 3 world titles. We settled for only a 3rd team championship and also picked up AFC title numbers 7 & 8. A Raven’s fantastic finish in a 2012 playoff game stunned & stunted greatness… On that note…

In no particular order here is the rundown on facts all sports fans should know about Denver’s favorite team’s history from ’70 to ’19:

  • Denver has the most AFC West titles earned of the 49 up for grabs since 1970 (’82’s strike season was a 1-8 seeding in playoffs with no divisions used). The count: DEN 15 LV 12 SD 10 KC 10 (KC had have never won back to back until the current 4 year domination.)
  • Denver had led in the stat of having the fewest number of 10+ loss seasons since ’70. They unfortunately posted 2 in the last 3 seasons and now trail the Steelers (4) by one. 14 teams have 15 or more…Tampa leads with 26 & didn’t join NFL until ’76.
  • The above stat show that Broncos fans have been able to head to the stadium in late Dec. most of the 50 seasons since the merger and maintain at least a glimmer of hope for a playoff spot. That’s a big deal as it shows fans have sat through a really low number of “garbage time” games… (games that are irrelevant in the quest for a title)
  • In the 49 full seasons of play Denver joins Pittsburgh & Green Bay as the only clubs to post at least 4 wins each season. (For the Steelers that number is actually 5.)
  • Only Denver has faced 1/2 the possible NFC foes in the Super Bowl w/out a rematch. The Patriots have had 3 rematches in their games against 1/2 the NFC. Denver just needs to go back-to-back-to-back & will match the Pats 6-5 Super Bowl record.
  • Denver unfortunately lost it’s bid to hold the record for most games without being shutout in 2017. The run, starting in a 1992 game in which Elway sat out, should be good enough for 2nd to the ’77 to ’04 49ers for a long time. A fact you can’t make up: the Colts were shut out that same week in ’17 ending their bid to pass the Broncos. Both the losing teams were about 25 games short of moving up & have to start over.
  • In the stat of winning 10 games or more in a regular season the Raiders dropped to 3rd in the AFC West as their 15 was passed by the Chiefs in ’18. KC’s 17 seasons is still well behind Denver’s 21.
  • Denver is one of 6 teams to never earn the 1st pick in the draft by being the worst club.
  • Denver held the title of the worst place to be a fan of the home pro-football team from 1960 to 1969 and since the merger has reached as high as #2 in winning percentage.
  • Peyton Manning lead the team to 12.5 wins on average over his 4 years as the QB of the better NFL horse and in one of those the team scored almost 38 points a game on average. 50 wins in 4 seasons has been seen in very few NFL cities.
  • The best was held for last as only Broncos fans can say their team has ranked in the top 8 (forget the top 10!) each of the 5 decades since the merger. The organization has averaged placing 6.8 each decade for the half century while every other club has had at least two decades placing 10th or worse. It’s a fun stat showing how consistent the Broncos have been. Steelers not far behind in 2nd with a 7.3 average.

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