The remnants of the Denver Broncos’ golden era are everywhere. Visit the club level at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and the giant draping banners depict the franchise’s Super Bowl heroes rather than current favorites. Visit the condiments aisle in most Denver grocery stores and you’ll see Ed McCaffrey’s mustard shelved near Terrell Davis’ barbecue sauce.
Somewhat painfully, these iconic champs have been out of the game for quite some time, a decade or more depending on the player. Since the juggernaut teams of the late 90s, it’s kind of felt as though Denver’s most popular franchise has been relegated to second-tier status. What’s interesting is the numbers tell a different story.
From 2000 to 2010, do you know where the Denver Broncos ranked in winning percentage? Seventh. Granted, they played fewer games than the teams ahead of them as Denver became a perpetual “bubble” playoff team, but seventh isn’t bad considering that of the six teams with better percentages, four of them were from the AFC and became conference champions in nine of the ten seasons (New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore).
So…in reality, even the lean years haven’t been that lean (although 2010 was pretty bad). The Broncos managed to win 57% of their games with Brian Griese, Chris Miller, Gus Frerotte, Steve Beuerlein, Jake Plummer, Danny Kanell, Jarious Jackson, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Chris Simms, and Tim Tebow all getting a turn as the team’s starting quarterback.
In that same time period (2000-2010), the Indianapolis Colts were the second-winningest team in the league, winning essentially 70% of their games, and averaging a league-high 26.3 points per game. The Colts were bettered by the New England Patriots by seven-tenths of a percentage point. Peyton Manning was the starting quarterback for every game during that period.
Sure, rosters change and players have aged, but the main point is the Broncos organization consistently fields winning teams. Moreover, the Broncos have won without an elite quarterback at the helm. Now that a quarterback who won 70% of games through the course of a decade has been inserted, a failure to finish above .500 would be statistically anomalous.
The Broncos have a tremendously difficult 2012 schedule, and the nagging fact remains that any road to the Super Bowl likely involves a toppling of the winningest organization of the last decade (New England). However, if Peyton Manning’s neck truly is game-ready and holds up…well, Denver pantries may see a renaissance in player-pedaled condiments.