Welcome to my "sports in denver" blog. As a denver broncos season ticket holder since 1968 I am having a strange sense of deja vu as the Broncos open training camp this week.
This 2009 Broncos season reminds me of the atmosphere just before the miracle 1977 season.
Consider in 1977 the Broncos:
fired their most successful head coach in team history (John Ralston)
hired the New England Patriots offensive coordinator as new coach (Red Miller)
were blown out in a late season game the year before to miss the playoffs (38-14 loss to new england in week 12)
entered the season with an imbalance - great defense, bad offense
entered the season with a new veteran starting quarterback acquired by trade (Craig Morton)
Fast forward to 2009, the Broncos:
fired their most successful head coach in team history (Mike Shanahan)
hired the New England Patriots offensive coordinator as new coach (Josh McDaniels)
were blown out in a late season game the year before to miss the playoffs (52-21 loss to san diego in week 17)
entered the season with an imbalance - great offense, bad defense
entered the season with a new veteran starting quarterback acquired by trade (Kyle Orton)
Both the 1977 edition and the 2009 edition of the Broncos had very difficult schedules.
St. Louis Cardinals 10 wins 4 losses in 1976
Buffalo Bills 2 wins 12 losses in 1976
@Seattle Seahawks 2 wins 12 losses in 1976
Kansas City Chiefs 5 wins 9 losses in 1976
@Oakland Raiders 13 wins 1 loss in 1976
@Cincinnati Bengals 10 wins 4 losses in 1976
Oakland Raiders 13 wins 1 loss in 1976
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 wins 4 losses in 1976
@San Diego Chargers 6 wins 8 losses in 1976
@Kansas City Chiefs 5 wins 9 losses in 1976
Baltimore Colts 11 wins 3 losses in 1976
@Houston Oilers 5 wins 9 losses in 1976
San Diego Chargers 6 wins 8 losses in 1976
@Dallas Cowboys 11 wins 3 losses in 1976
@Cincinnati 4 wins 11 losses 1 tie in 2008
Cleveland 4 wins 12 losses in 2008
@Oakland 5 wins 11 losses in 2008
Dallas 9 wins 7 losses in 2008
New England 11 wins 5 losses in 2008
@San Diego 8 wins 8 losses in 2008
@Baltimore 11 wins 5 losses in 2008
Pittsburgh 12 wins 4 losses in 2008
@Washington 8 wins 8 losses in 2008
San Diego 8 wins 8 losses in 2008
NY Giants 12 wins 4 losses in 2008
@Kansas City 2 wins 14 losses in 2008
@Indianapolis 12 wins 4 losses in 2008
Oakland 5 wins 11 losses in 2008
@Philadelphia 9 wins 6 losses 1 tie in 2008
Kansas City 2 wins 14 losses in 2008
Outside of the AFC West the Broncos faced five teams with 10 wins or more the previous season in 1977 and will face 5 teams with 10 wins or more the prior season outside the AFC West in 2009. Yes, in 1977 there was only a 14 game schedule, but the Broncos 2009 16 game schedule is comparable considering the 2009 team will also be playing two 9 win teams (Dallas and Philly) outside the division.
The 1977 Broncos had to rebuild a shaky offense. They had 3 new starters in the offensive line to start the season (Mike Montler center, Andy Mauer left tackle, Paul Howard right guard - howard had missed the 76 season with injury). The schedule started with a difficult but winnable game - against the 10-4 Cardinals at Mile High, followed by 3 games against weaker teams before the schedule got much tougher. The 77 team team struggled in the opener but had just enough to beat the Cardinals 7-0. Three wins against inferior teams put the Broncos at 4-0 heading into Oakland in week 5. That week 5 game was one of the best in Broncos history, a stunning 30-7 Denver win over the hated Raiders. Suddenly the Broncos were 5-0, with a win against the NFL's defending Super Bowl champion. The team's confidence grew game by game and they finished with a remarkable 12-2 record.
Just like thier 1977 counterparts, I think if the 2009 Broncos can get off to a good start in the soft early part of their schedule they can surprise. The 2009 Broncos have to rebuild a shaky defense and it's going to take a few games to get that unit performing at an acceptable level. The Cincinnati opener is going to be difficult but winnable (just like the 77 opener against the Cardinals) followed by two easier games (Cleveland, Oakland) before the schedule gets really tough.
No one predicted the 1977 Broncos would have a winning record, much less a Super Bowl season. "Red Miller's going to need at least a year to get his system in place", "No way the Broncos make the playoffs with that schedule", was heard around town.
I'm hearing the same barbs about Josh McDaniels and the 2009 Broncos. This long time fan has hope for 2009. I hear McDaniels saying the Broncos were too much of a finesse team last season, and he plans to implement a more physical, hard nosed style of play. Red Miller implemented a similar change in team chemistry in 1977.
Can history repeat itself? The patched up 77 Bronco offense started shaky but by December scored 34 points in a playoff win against one of the best defenses of the decade (Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain). Maybe a shaky 2009 Denver defense will gel as the season progresses, just like that '77 offense. Even with a new quarterback the 2009 Denver offense will be fine. I expect lots of points scored with the addition of rookie rb Knowshon Moreno to an already impressive set of skill players and a solid offensive line. While I don't anticipate the 2009 Broncos to reach the Super Bowl, I think it's far too early to write off the season. Just remember what happened in 77!