It is inevitable: Every year before football season starts, somebody will ask me, “How do you feel about the Broncos this season?”
I have responded with the words “cautiously optimistic” for so long that I can’t remember when I started. The two words communicate the psychology of the true Bronco fan: We are accustomed to winning, but we are also accustomed to having our hearts ripped out of our chests during the playoffs. So we remain upbeat and positive, but we try to keep our hopes grounded.
We are always a loyal group. Even during that shitty 2010 season when we only won four games – the year that McDaniels nearly flushed our entire franchise down the toilet. That was also the same year when the Raiders smoked us like a pack of menthols. (Do you remember 59-14? I still have nightmares about that game.) The Orange and Blue have been our true north guiding us through the darkest of non-Elways times: the "Jake the Snake" era, the Cutler temper tantrums, the hijinks of Kyle "Neckbeard" Orton, and the Tebow experiment.
The team has rarely let me down. Some years were better than others, but the Broncos tended to be on the winning side of things. As of today, since the day I was born, the Broncos have a winning record of 60.6% (319-207). But during my 33 years on this Earth, I have witnessed more Super Bowls where we were on the losing side of things.
But, man alive, nothing was sweeter than 1998 and 1999, right? The jubilation felt after those back-to-back Super Bowl victories has pretty much sustained most of the Denver fan base for a decade and a half. We have been running on fumes ever since with only the occasional pit stop to fill up a gallon or two here and there.
Fuel tanks were filled up again when Peyton entered the picture in 2012. After we signed Manning, I was almost tempted to throw the “cautiously optimistic” response out the window, and replace it with “completely confident.” And, by the way things started off during the Manning era, that might have seemed like a safe bet.
But then the "Mile High Miracle" happened, and all of that stored up optimism fizzled out as we watched Joe Flacco connect with Jacoby Jones for a game-tying 70 yard touchdown pass. The Ravens squeaked by a field goal in double overtime.
Also, let us never forget what happened the year after that: Super Bowl 48. Complete confidence flew over the heads of Broncos fans like that opening snap that sailed over Manning's head. My inner monologue at that time: “It’s ok. We can shake that off. It’s just a safety. It’s just two points.” I was back to cautious optimism in a matter of seconds. We all know what happened next, so it doesn’t need to be repeated. I was all out of optimism by halftime.
There was also last year where we focused all of our energy worrying about the Patriots in the AFC Championship that we lost sight of the Colts in the Divisional Playoff.
I don't place all of the blame on Manning like many are quick to do. There is always the lingering reality of his post-season mediocrity (11-12 overall, and 1-2 during Super Bowls).
But the truth of the matter is I don’t want anybody else taking snaps. Unless, of course, we are up by four scores; then it is time to put in Osweiler. He could benefit from the time against actual first-string defenses and Manning needs the rest. Aside from that scenario, Manning is our best option for winning the Super Bowl this year.
More importantly, this team has demonstrated the ability to win despite Manning’s struggles. With the exception of the Green Bay game, all of our victories this season can be attributed to our defense. The comparisons to the “Orange Crush” days are apt. It’s been a privilege watching the likes of Talib, Harris, Miller, Ward, Ware, and Marshall this season.
So here we are again, in the midst of a run to the playoffs. Following the huge morale boost of routing the previously-undefeated Packers, we are embarking on the toughest part of our season: the down-but-never-out Colts, the always-villainous Patriots, the reformed Bengals, and a resurgent AFC West that would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler against the team that has won the division four years in a row.
And here I am again. The Broncos are 7-0 and trending in the right direction, but I still hedge my bets and curb my enthusiasm. We should defeat the Colts, but we said the exact same thing last year during the playoffs.
There goes my cautious optimism again. Go Broncos!