A Broncos Nation Divided
As Jay Cutler marched the Bears on a 98 yard scoring drive, the game day
thread on BroncosForums.com was spiraling out of control. The fans of
cutler cursing new coach Josh McDaniels. The fans that have washed their
hands of Cutler, cursing the announcers that went on and on about how a
team never trades a franchise Quarterback -- about the gift that fell in Lovie
Smith's lap. The fans of Mike Shanahan cursing Pat Bowlen, because they
felt that Mr. Bowlen pulled the trigger too soon on firing Shanahan. All in all,
a divided forum -- a divided Broncos nation.
With each penalty, with each injury, the divide widened, the tempers flared
more. A nation in turmoil, fan against fan, a virtual civil war ripping apart
the Broncos nation.
BroncosForums wasn't alone. Similar meltdowns were occurring on message
boards and blogs across the internet, not to mention bars and living rooms
across the Rocky Mountains. How did such a great fan base fall into such
disarray? How could so many fans watch the same events unfold over the
offseason, over the last five or ten years, yet see those events in such
The beginning of the end for Mike Shanahan started just under nine months
ago, when the Broncos held a three game lead with three games left in the
season. Surely, the Broncos two year playoff drought would end -- all that
was needed was one win in the final three games. Then the unthinkable
happens, not only do the Broncos lose in weeks 15 and 16, but the chargers
win in those same weeks, and then the lead is down to one game. Still,
there is hope, beat San Diego and the AFC West title returns to Denver.
When the game was over, the Broncos not only lost, but were blown out in
a way Denver fans had not seen in years. The Broncos defense surrendered
more points than any Broncos team in nearly 20 years. The Chargers
finished with a team record 289 rushing yards, and their offense fell only a
few yards short of 500 yards.
It was an end to the season that few had envisioned. The Broncos became
the first team in over forty years to blow a three game lead with three
games to play.
Still, there was hope. Even with seven Broncos running backs finishing the
season on injured reserve, the Broncos offense finished second in the league
in total offense and third in passing offense.
As bad as the season ended, hope for the new season already started to
emerge. The feeling that with the fire power of Cutler, Marshall, Royal,
Clady and the rest of the offense, all that was needed was to shore up the
defense -- just put an average, middle of the pack defense on the field to
give the offense a chance to win.
Little did Broncos fans know that the historic three game implosion to end
the season would just be a ripple compared to the waves they would endure
A couple days after the season ended, Mike Shanahan was fired. After
leading the Broncos to two Super Bowls and having one of the best winning
percentages in the NFL over the previous 14 years, and even the ten years
since Elway retired, three straight losing seasons and blowing a three game
lead for the division title lead Pat Bowlen to believe it was time to make a
As the shock wore off, Broncos fans again felt hope. With one of the top
offenses in football, surely Pat Bowlen would hire a defensive wizard to
come in and put a defense on the field to support the offense. Yes,
Shanahan's firing came as a shock to many, but then the thought of getting
a defensive head coach, once again brought hope to the Broncos faithful.
Then, in another surprising move, Mr. Bowlen hires Josh McDaniels, a young
offensive coordinator who was coming off a great three year run in New
England. When this new shock faded, the talk of bringing in Don Capers,
Mike Nolan or another proven defensive coordinator once again brought
some hope to the fans.
As if things couldn't get any worse, after news leaked that Josh McDaniels
was involved in trade talks to ship out Jay Cutler in exchange for Matt
Cassel, the one year starter that he had worked with for four years in New
England, Cutler asked to be traded. Surely the nightmare of the last four
months couldn't continue, there was no way that McDaniels and Cutler
wouldn't be able to sit down and work it out. Not this offseason, the word
'surely' had no place. Cutler was soon traded to the Chicago Bears for two
first round picks and Kyle Orton.
At almost the same time that Cutler was being traded, Brandon Marshall was
undergoing surgery on his hip, which he believed was misdiagnosed by the
Broncos medical staff the previous year. A couple months later, as he is
rehabbing from the surgery, his anger at the Broncos failure to renegotiate
his contract, combined with the hip diagnosis, lead him to walk out of the
Broncos offseason camp, and ultimately lead to Marshall's suspension for
disrupting practice and conduct detrimental to the team.
In nine short months, the Broncos went from a shoe in to win the AFC West,
to having a new head coach, Kyle Orton under center in place of Jay Cutler,
and Brandon Marshall, only the ninth player in NFL history to have
back-to-back 100 reception seasons, was suspended for conduct detrimental to
Could things get any worse?
That's what Broncos fans were thinking on Sunday night as they watched
Kyle Orton walk off the field holding up a bloody finger, knowing full well that
backup Chris Simms had been knocked out of commission the week before with a sprained
ankle. Moments later, Jay Cutler, the onetime franchise quarterback of the
Broncos, now wearing a Bears uniform, took the field on his own two
yard line. In five painful minutes, Cutler marched the Bears down the field,
with the final stake to the heart being a six yard pass to Matt Forte for a
touchdown. Yet, it was only preseason.
It was only preseason. These new Broncos, with the new quarterback and
the new coaching staff, and their new look 3-4 defense had yet to play a
regular season game. It was only preseason.
As the fans tore each other apart on the message boards and blogs, you
might have thought that it was actually January, 2010, with the Broncos
having missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Even the division of
the Jake Plummer years paled in comparison to what we saw as the
frustration of the past nine months came to a head as Chris Collinsworth
said, "teams just don't trade away franchise quarterbacks" as Cutler marched
the Bears down the field, reminding fans -- those that loved him and those
that hated him -- of what could have been.
Long into the night, after the game had ended, just a preseason game at
that, peace was not to be found among the fans. The fans of the same
team, fans of the great Denver Broncos were civil no more. Civility, a word
long forgotten, lost sometime between the Shanahan firing and the Marshall
suspension. For many, the word hope also had disappeared from their
vocabulary, lost sometime over these nine painful months.
The Broncos will become a winning franchise again. Maybe this year. Maybe
next year. Maybe three or four years from now. The Broncos will again rise
to the top of the NFL ranks. The only question is when it will happen.
However, that is not the only question that the Broncos nation faces. They
face another 'when'. When will the fans of one of the classiest franchises in
the NFL begin to once again treat each other with class, with respect?
How long before we see a time when Broncos fans can discuss the state of
the Broncos and even disagree while still treating each other with respect --
Being one of the NFL's elite franchises, isn't just about wins and losses, it's
about how you talk about the game, how you treat your fellow fan. In this
area, the collapse of the Denver Broncos to end the 2008 season pales in
comparison to the collapse of the Broncos nation -- to the Denver fans
feeding on their own.
While the fans have no control over who is hired or fired. Have no control
over who is traded, drafted or suspended. Have no control over overthrown
balls, dropped passes or missed tackles. They do have control over one
How they treat their fellow fan.