Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver Broncos Community!

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver nuggets Community!

The long and the short of it

Mike Olson Avatar
September 18, 2020

“We don’t skip steps”

– Michael Malone

“We don’t skip steps”

– Tim Connelly

“We don’t skip steps”

– Nikola Jokic

“We don’t skip steps”

– Josh Kroenke, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris…

Oh, and in case you were wondering…

You probably get the point by now. Apparently the NBA’s new Cinderella Squad is vehemently against skipping. And steps. And especially skipping steps.

It wasn’t always this way for the Denver Nuggets, and when they instituted this mantra, it was regarded with as much skepticism as excitement amongst their fans and the media. Surely they were actually simply stockpiling a wave of youth talent to sort through for trading and and disassembly to finally assemble some star-studded monster squad down the road. Four or five years later, it’s become apparent that these guys are actually pretty serious about this. There will apparently be no step-skipping in Mile High City Basketball.

Across town, the Denver Broncos have tried a few different approaches to this problem, with a mixed bag of results, and understandably so. When a talent as transcendent as Peyton Manning crosses your radar, you skip as many steps as it takes, and then leapfrog and knock down anyone else in your way. That little upgrade resulted in what may have been the most dangerous offense in league history, two Super Bowl appearances, and a ring to seal the deal and send Peyton off into that orange-and-blue sunset. Sometimes, step-skipping has its payoffs.

But not every leap has brought the ultimate goal of a title, and how could it? There are 32 teams vying for that trophy, and though only a few of them have a realistic chance at it, there’s as much good fortune as great play in the outcome for every champion along the way. There were moments the Broncos gambled on a free agent or three, and the hoped-for results were anything from close to catastrophic. Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not always one you can afford to practice in a win-or-get-out sort of a scenario.

But step-skipping hasn’t always been the path for these Broncos, either…

In 1983, a young stud quarterback with a huge “it” factor rode into town, and shifted the fortunes and expectations of the team fairly immediately. And it was just that simple. Draft Elway, win a couple Super Bowls. Easy. Peasy. One giant step. Right?

Well, to hear a couple of my relatives tell the tale, it seems as if it was just that simple. But to simplify it to that degree is akin to saying, “We shot a rocket into the sky, and then those guys got onto the moon.” As most Broncos fans know, Denver certainly didn’t skip any steps when it came to Elway. Hell, in many ways, the Broncos tried, but ended up in a lengthy game of forward-and back that got them to the Super Bowl in Elway’s fourth season, the first of three tries in the next four years. But try as they might, Denver could never find the combination of talent to surround the young quarterback with, and in three tries, the Broncos came away empty-handed every time.

Elway wouldn’t see another Super Bowl for another eight years – over half of his career – until the last two seasons he played. Over the course of that era, the Broncos settled on a slightly different tack.

The year after their third Super Bowl appearance with Elway, the Broncos fortunes shifted dramatically in the 1990 season. After drafting rookie tight end Shannon Sharpe, Denver proceeded to a dismal 5-11 record, good for last in the AFC West. It was apparent it was time for some changes in the roster around a star who suddenly had nearly a decade’s mileage under his belt. Over the following seven seasons, Denver would completely overhaul it’s roster with players they drafted to fit their plans and a mix of multi-faceted character guys who could anchor key roles. Suddenly, Denver had taken on something of a build. And though they boomeranged back from that horrible 1990 season with a 12-4 record in ’91, it was a brick-by-brick approach that finally turned the team into the juggernaut that won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII as the better team on the field. To finally achieve those goals, the Broncos had to stop skipping steps.

Which makes today’s Broncos such a fun team to watch again, even in the stead of a somewhat head-scratching loss last weekend against Tennessee. The talent thrumming through the roster is obvious, from new “it” factor stud Drew Lock to Jerry Jeudy to Phillip Lindsay to Noah Fant to Jake Butt to… whew… and that’s just on the offensive side of the ball. There is talent and character running deeply through this young squad, and you can see them starting to realize their own potential. Sometimes, like last Sunday, that burgeoning talent and mishmash of errors also runs them into just enough mistakes and miscues to hand the game away. But there’s no mistaking that much of the young talent on both sides of the ball for Denver will be bringing better and better football to the Mile High City for the next several years of their development, should they all get to stay.

Once you’ve tasted that how sweet it is to taste that Championship, whether as a fan, player, or organization, it’s hard to give up that sugar, for sure. There are expectations now, and that only raises the bar on how many more rings you’re expected to bring. When you finally and inevitably fall from that pedestal, it isn’t long before your adoring fans are bugging you about when the next one might be. But even in an era of expectation in which the Broncos are three-time champions, there are moments you see something brewing, and wonder if it could very well be worth the wait. There’s a short road to medium success in the National Football League, and it tends to involve leveraging your future for right now. Many teams try that recipe, and so few succeed.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, and backing up to those non-step-skipping Denver Nuggets, they shocked the NBA universe by taking down one of those sorts of teams that took the short road, skipped a ton of steps, and mortgaged their future for a bundle of temporary stars. Today, that constellation is sitting back at home wondering what the hell sort of basketball tornado just hit them. If you enjoy Denver sports, it’s been a fun ride to watch, no matter how recently you might have jumped onto the bandwagon.

So, give some thought to sitting tight, Broncos Nation. That short road looks awfully tempting with this mix of hot young talent to blend with a bag of mercenaries that could lift them up to another level, and stop the feeling you get when you watch a very winnable game slip away via a few ill-timed gaffes.

However, if you can sit through a few bumps, bruises, ignominies, and palpitations, there’s an exceptional chance that you’re looking at a squad that simply needs a little time to grow and coalesce before it might just terrorize the NFL for many years in a row. The long road doesn’t have that immediate jolt to it, but the payoff can be… pretty damned sweet.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?