Every once in a while, one of those seasons comes along.
In 2011, Tim Tebow came in for a 1-4 Denver Broncos team — and with the help of some divine intervention — somehow got them to the playoffs, beating the Steelers with one of the most iconic moments in team history: Tebow to DT.
In 2016, the Denver Nuggets got off to an ugly 9-16 start. But as former first round pick Jusuf Nurkic struggled, on December 15th, head coach Michael Malone made the call to move a guy by the name of Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup. Jokic flourished and the Nuggets offense immediately exploded. The team finished the season going 31-24 while posting by far the best offensive rating in the NBA.
In 2018, the Colorado Avalanche were coming off of the worst season in franchise history, pundits wondered if head coach Jared Bednar or GM Joe Sakic were in over their heads. As the season got going, it was clear the Avs weren’t nearly as bad as the year prior, starting 17-16-3. Then, out of nowhere, the Avs went almost a month without losing a game, rattling off 10 wins in a row and vaulting themselves into the playoff discussion. It all culminated with a win-or-go-home final regular season game against the St. Louis Blues in which the Avalanche won 4-1, highlighted by a dogpile on the ice after the empty-netter.
Each one of these seasons fits the formula for one of those seasons.
It all starts with what came before them. For the Broncos it was 4-12, for the Nuggets it was 33-49, for the Avs it was 25-56-4. These teams and fanbases were coming out of the depths of despair, looking for a ray of hope. Becasue of this, there were little to no expectations. People didn’t enter the season with some sort of championship-or-bust mindset, which allowed them to enjoy the ride for what it was.
Next, they all marked the start of something special. For the Broncos, I firmly believe it was the fact that the team made the playoffs with Tim Tebow at quarterback that inspired Peyton Manning to join them, eventually resulting in the team’s third Super Bowl. For the Nuggets, it was the beginning of a golden era for the team, and the launchpad of the career for the best player in franchise history. For the Avs, it was the first step towards the Stanley Cup Championship that they just won.
More than anything, what makes these seasons so special is the way they are revered by the fanbases. None of these years even got close to ending in a championship, but if you say “Tebow to DT” or “Jokmas” or “Game 82” to a diehard fan of any of these teams, you’re all but guaranteed to get a big smile out of them. In the end, they were fun.
The Denver Broncos and their fans have a chance to have one of those years this year. For six years now, the team has been the worst thing you can possibly be: bad and boring. If anthing is certain about them this year, they will be neither. The Broncos should have a high-flying offense behind Russell Wilson and new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, and an aggressive defense under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. The epic roars of Mile High will replace the moans and groans of the recent past.
For the first time in years, the Broncos should be fun, but it all comes down to perspective.
One thing that differentiates this Broncos team from the teams I mentioned above is the outside addition of a Hall-of-Fame player at the most important position on the team, and that complicates things a little bit. In Broncos country, Hall-of-Fame quarterback play means championships are on the way. It always has. And because of that, it could be easy to shift expectations from the “maybe they can squeak into the playoffs” of the last five years to “time to go get a ring.”
But to do that would be to erase all hope of this being one of those years. 2022 should be the year that sets the bar for the Russell Wilson era. A freebie, if you will. It’s too early for Super-Bowl-or-bust and unlike the Peyton Manning era, there’s no quickly-expiring clock on the quarterback.
This is only the beginning. The first of what should be several years of good Denver Broncos football. Let’s embrace it as such. Expect touchdowns, expect thrilling wins, expect your favorite players to make big plays, expect competitve play no matter the opponent, expect deafening Orange & Blue explosions under prime-time lights.
Enjoy this season for what it is, every twist and turn and curveball along the way. Let is be one of those seasons. And who knows, maybe something special will happen.