The Denver Broncos were founding members of the American Football League and they struggled during their first decade and a half as an NFL franchise, failing to finish above .500 until 1973, when they posted a record of 7-5-2.
A few years later in 1977, the Broncos saw their first AFC West Championship, en route to an appearance in Super Bowl XII, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Broncos wouldn’t win again in the playoffs until 1986, when quarterback John Elway led the team past the New England Patriots before winning a thriller against the Cleveland Browns to punch their ticket into their second Super Bowl, this time in a loss against the New York Giants.
Elway led the Broncos to a second consecutive Super Bowl, but again lost, this time to the Washington Redskins by a score of 42-10. After a mediocre 1988, they went to and lost one more Super Bowl in a blowout against the San Francisco 49ers, becoming just the second team in NFL history to post an 0-4 record in the Super Bowl.
The 1990s proved to be up and down for the team until they finally broke out as the #1 seed in 1996. The task seemed easy enough: defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, who at the time were only in their second season of play and started the season at 4-7 before winning their final five. It wasn’t to be, as the Jaguars upset the heavily favored Broncos, sending Elway and the team packing again.
1997 proved different, however, as the Broncos exerted revenge in the AFC Wildcard game in a 42-17 blowout over the Jaguars before upsetting both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, entering their first Super Bowl in nine seasons.
Super Bowl XXXII saw one of the greatest, and arguably the greatest, Super Bowl matchup in NFL history, as the Broncos worked their magic one last time, defeating the defending champion Green Bay Packers 31-24 in which John Elway won the Super Bowl MVP Award to go with running back Terrell Davis’ NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year Award.
In 1998, the Broncos challenged the NFL by starting the season 13-0, with some believing they would become the first 16-0 team in NFL history. However, the team pressed the brakes toward the end of the year when they locked up the Number One seed and finished 14-2. This time heavy Super Bowl favorites, the Broncos swept past all three opponents (Miami, New York Jets, Atlanta) and easily won the Super Bowl, winning each contest by at least thirteen points.
After Elway’s retirement following Super Bowl XXXIII, the Broncos again hit a spell of lean seasons with the occasional playoff appearance. They again came within one game from reaching the Super Bowl in 2005, but this time it was the Steelers upsetting the team, avenging the 1997 loss nine years prior.
Five more lean seasons followed before 2012 when legendary quarterback Peyton Manning signed with Denver, which immediately put the team back on track. In Manning’s four seasons during his career twilight, the Broncos never finished below 12-4, setting records as the highest scoring offense in NFL history in 2013 before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII by a score of 43-8, one of the most shocking Super Bowl results in NFL history which had many analysts favoring the Broncos.
After an upset in the divisional playoffs in 2014 against Manning’s former team, the Indianapolis Colts, it was clear the quarterback’s arm wasn’t where it was. This became more evident in 2015, with Manning posting career lows in passer rating and touchdown passes, while throwing almost twice as many interceptions.
However, a strong defense and solid relief from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos fought throught the playoffs, never allowing more than twenty points a game and scoring just enough to advance as Manning returned to the starting lineup.
To cap off a storybook career, Peyton Manning, like John Elway almost two decades before him, retired a Super Bowl champion after winning Super Bowl 50.
Lean seasons have again plagued the Broncos, who haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Manning’s retirement. However, with the addition of veteran Joe Flacco along with a young Drew Lock waiting the wings, plus running back Phillip Lindsay, defensive end Bradley Chubb, franchise stalwart Von Miller, among others, the Broncos might just be poised to make a run at the Super Bowl once again in time.
Denver Broncos Quick Hits
Broncos Stadium at Mile High
Orange, navy blue
John Elway, Steve Atwater, Terrell Davis, Peyton Manning
Elway and Manning retired the offseason after winning the Super Bowl.
Main Article: Denver Broncos Helmet History
Main Article: History of the Denver Broncos Jersey