It’s likely that, eventually, the Broncos are going to shit the bed. The only thing is, as long as there’s some drama, Jason Davis wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Broncos, during my naive youth when football was life and death every Sunday between the months of September and January, raised me on a steady diet of inveterate astonishment, followed ever so closely by inevitable defeat. The 80s were, to this transient military brat whose only constants were the Broncos and the next move, a series of highs and lows that served to congeal my fandom. That mass of orangeness—up until the coming of Shanahan, Davis, and a team that didn’t rely on the three-yard run, three-yard run, Elway scramblepass—throbbed each and every time Denver did something miraculous, only to suffer the ignominy of total defeat (be it by utter thrashing at the hands of Williams or Simms or Montana, or by fumble at the worst possible time, committed by one of our meager few eventual HOFers) a week or two down the line.
And, I can’t really say that the throbbing was entirely unpleasant, even though it was always accompanied by a vacuous ache in my gut. At least they did that—provided me that bit of supreme joy at a game unbelievably won—on the way to a loss unbelievable in its scope. Sports fans are naturally susceptible to the rhythm of their teams over the arc of the season, growing and shedding layers of emotional pain the same way some mammals grow and shed layers of fur. It’s nature, and you can’t fight nature.
Until 1997, nature told Broncos fans that life was always meant to be seasons filled with regular-season comebacks and historically significant preliminary-playoff-round comeback wins brought about by the arm and legs of the only man on which we could ever count, immediately followed by crushing failure brought about by a supporting cast on which we never could.
Red Sox fans might be able to tell you something about this—the inability of a fanbase to shake its old ways—if it wasn’t for the inequities built in to baseball. The Broncos won two Super Bowls, thereby—according to any hack with a word processor and column inches to fill, anyway—“breaking the curse” and summarily ejecting the collected detritus of disappointing season after disappointing season from the bowels of anyone with an emotional investment in the team. The difference, and the reason why the Red Sox Nation have earned themselves the distinction of being among the most loathsome fans in sports, is that the Denver Broncos play in the NFL, where no team is rich relative to the rest of the league the way the Red Sox are rich relative to everyone else but the Yankees. There might be a few doddering Sox fans creaking softly in rocking chairs somewhere in New England who weren’t changed by 2004, but that’s probably only because their memories aren’t what they used to be. Pesky held the ball.
Broncos fans should have changed after John took his trophy and sauntered (literally) into the sunset, but I don’t think they truly did. Our predominance was just too fleeting.
If you asked me if the back-to-back Super Bowl years fundamentally changed me as a fan, I would probably stare at you blankly, my eyes marked by my total lack of comprehension of the question. Those were wonderful, marvelous, pain-justifying seasons that salved old wounds and sent our hero into retirement with the honors we knew he so richly deserved, but they seem like an ancient dream—repeated twice over, the latter with much less stress—in retrospect. There might be two silver football-on-a-stick trophies gracing a cabinet at Dove Valley, but their effect on who I am as a Broncos fan amounts to about the same as the Wade Phillips era, in reverse; it’s all memories of emotional extremes, outliers to be thrown out when it comes to formulating an overall picture.
Tim Tebow, or rather the team Tim Tebow happens to be leading during this four-game winning streak that has now reached ridiculous proportions of no-fucking-way, is feeding the part of my Broncos fan soul that misses the impossible victories. I have no faith that Tebow, or this defense, or the renaissance of Willis McGahee, or whatever the hell is really responsible, will complete the latter half of the equation and explode upon impact in the biggest possible game, but frankly, I don’t care. It has been long enough—the heroics of Jake Plummer were the last time Broncos fans had the warm blanket of fourth quarter comebacks wrapped around them more than once in a blue moon—that it just feels good to recognize my team again. To have them play in concert with the internal rhythm I still nurse is a comfort. To have the Denver Broncos of 2011 resemble, sort of, the Denver Broncos of 1986, 1987, 1989, and so on, is (even to me) sickeningly gratifying.
Make no mistake that Tebow confounds, the way only a player with ineffable skills like his can. He cannot throw the most basic of NFL routes, Bear Bryant would find the offensive systems necessary for him to be mildly effective archaic, and there’s little doubt that Tebow can no more sustain this run of improbable victories based on his own talents than he can single-handedly circumcise the entire Filipino nation. Ultimately, this will all end in disaster, with Tebow found out to be exactly what we already know him to be: a terrible quarterback with a knack for the dramatic.
But while he’s winning, especially while he’s winning the way he’s winning, I’m going to gorge myself on the sweet nectar of the Broncos fan. I’ll ignore the battle over the country’s Christian soul that some seem to believe Tebow embodies, I’ll muffle the jackhammering awareness that Tebow has all of the abilities that make for a good H-back but none of the those that make for a good professional quarterback—save the intangible and slippery concept of leadership—and I’ll do everything I can to enjoy it. I’ll just squint and imagine him to be John Elway, throwing with the wrong arm just like Elway would if he was in fact throwing with the wrong arm.
Deep in there somewhere, beyond any place of rational thought, a rhythm I recognize has returned. No matter how or why it’s happening, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t warm my orange-colored cockles.
And if Tebow (or the defense, or Eddie, or Champ, or Willis or whatever) has it in him to take us all the way to the end of the equation, the part where we are cut down unmercifully at the hands of an NFC opponent, I don’t think I’d mind at all.
It would feel pretty damn right.
—Photo Joe Mahoney (AP)/CBS News