Did anyone really expect the Broncos to be here?
All together now, those of you who one month ago saw the Denver Broncos as a legitimate Super Bowl favorite raise your hands.
That’s what I thought. Lots of hands.
Now, those of you who saw this coming two or three months ago, up with the hands.
Not nearly as many.
Finally, those of you who saw this coming prior to the start of the NFL season, get ‘em up.
Many of us became hopeful of the Broncos becoming playoff contenders the day John Elway received that mid-March phone call from Peyton Manning telling him he would sign on with Denver. But I don’t know of one person who honestly saw this coming — the Broncos being a 5-2 Super Bowl favorite along with the New England Patriots — as the team went 2-2 in preseason or early in the regular season as they started 2-3.
Lots of folks, Yours Truly included, hoped the Broncos with Manning at the controls would win the woefully weak AFC West like they did last year with Tim Tebow at helm when they went 8-8.
There were lots of thoughts of 9-7, maybe even 10-6, and maybe hopes of another win in the wild-card round, something akin to last season’s upset of the beat-up Steelers at New Mile High.
But the No. 1 seed in the AFC?
A bye in the first round?
Become an overwhelming favorite to advance to the AFC Championship Game where they might be a slight favorite at home against the Patriots?
Maybe win a Super Bowl matchup they should be favored in?
Give me a break.
This season has been too much to hope for.
Those of us who are occasionally honest will admit that as recently as Oct. 15 when the Broncos trailed the San Diego Chargers 24-0 at halftime, we were just hoping Manning could somehow figure out a way to throw a spiral ... and stay on his feet for the remainder of the season.
We were thinking at that point the Broncos would be in a season-long struggle with the Chargers to win the West, perhaps battling right down to the final week to determine which team earned the playoff spot, which team went on vacation.
Instead, the Broncos won the division by six games over the Chargers, won the last 10 games of the regular season and morphed into the darlings of the pro football universe.
Bronco fans should savor what has transpired.
And you might want to prepare for what lies ahead. This is starting to remind me of another era.
Think back to late December 1997.
The Broncos qualify for the wild-card spot and face Jacksonville at home. The Broncos win it 42-17, setting up a seemingly impossible task on the road in Kansas City against the AFC West-champion Chiefs. On Jan. 4, 1998, the Broncos with Elway and Terrell Davis leading a conservative offense and Steve Atwater and John Mobley heading the defense, upset the Chiefs 14-10.
The Broncos then go into Pittsburgh and nip the Steelers in the AFC title game 24-21, setting up a Super Bowl matchup against the defending-champion Green Bay Packers. The Broncos go on to upset the heavily favored Brett Favre-led Pack 31-24 to claim their first Super Bowl title.
Very few saw it coming, not with the heavy road schedule and not with the domineering Packers, a team that had romped to the Super Bowl title the previous year over the Patriots 35-21.
It was a historical moment for Elway, for the Broncos, for the state and region.
No one who witnessed any or all of it will forget.
Is it just me, or is that feeling coming back?
I’m starting to think this is just the beginning of something really big.
Think back to that first Bronco Super Bowl title and then think ahead to the next season: 13 wins in a row, romps over virtually everyone, including 38-3 over Miami in the first round of the playoffs, 23-10 over the Jets for the AFC crown and 34-19 over the Falcons to win a second straight Super Bowl.
Even with the aging of the Hall of Fame QB and the declining health of Davis, the Broncos would have remained a Super Bowl contender the next season. But Elway retired, realistically ending the team’s Super Bowl hopes for more than a decade.
But those hopes and dreams have returned with the addition of Manning and the team’s week-by-week resolve to improve.
The only thing that will stop this Bronco juggernaut-in-the-making will be the retirement of Manning.
And that ain’t happenin’ soon.