Mile High Mess: The Broncos can’t even win the right way

Oct 31, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio during the second quarter against the Washington Football Team at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the olden days, we’d have called that “Mile High Magic.”

On Sunday, in dreary, grey, half-empty, Empower Field at Mile High, it was mostly just a Mile High Mess.

The 2021-22 Denver Broncos can’t win for losin’. Or is it can’t lose for for winnin’? In an NFL game that might best be described as Pop Warner debacle, one bad football team somehow beat an even worse one, and the Broncos 17-10 win over a team named “Football Team” moved them to 4-4 on the season. Victory was snatched from, um, a tie, then defeat was nearly snatched from victory; then in the last two minutes, all of that happened again, but opposite.

Confused? Join the 30,000 or so who bothered to stick around for Barnum and Bailey’s – rather, Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur’s – version of the “Two-Minute Drill.”

“Should we just leave now?” Quinn, my 11-year-old nephew turned to me and asked. He was attending is his first-ever Broncos game but still wanting to get home in time before all the good trick-or-treating candy was gone. There were just 37 seconds remaining on the clock, and after Justin Simmons’ second interception of the day, and the Broncos possessing the ball, there was no reason to stick around.

Other than to teach a very important lesson to a budding, young and impressionable sportsfan: You don’t leave until it’s over.

“Nahh. Let’s see this thing through,” I told him, secretly beaming with the opportunity to be the kind of uncle suddenly able to teach the proper etiquette involved in being a good sports fan – plus, there was an Xs and Os lesson at hand, too.

“Look at the scoreboard,” I continued. “There’s only 37 seconds, but Washington also has all three timeouts. So, in theory, they can get the ball back – let’s see what the Broncos decide to do here…”

From there, no professor of football, much less an amateur uncle, could explain the what and why that had just taken place.

Run. Fumble. Recovery (phew!). Pass play (pass play!?!?). Incompletion. Clock stops. Another run. Another fumble. Turnover. Somehow, Washington managed to get the ball back on the Denver 24 with 21 seconds and two timeouts. That kind of thing doesn’t even happen to Quinn on Madden.

“That’s not what you’re supposed to do,” was all I could tell him, suddenly nervous he might witness his first-ever Broncos loss in person.

We’ll be talking about that one years from now, but for all the wrong reasons. We had a great time; lots of laughs and lots to remember. Throughout the day, though, I found myself saying a lot of “When I was a kid…” and then rekindling the glory days that feel like a distant memory.

When the Broncos announced the number of no-shows – 11,755! – and showed it on Thundervision, I told Quinn that was a number that used to be in the hundreds. He pointed to the corners of the upper deck and said, “It looks like a lot of those are empty.”

How is it possible, even when the team is this bad, that 11,755 people didn’t want to see Peyton Manning’s name unveiled on the Broncos Ring of Fame. I remember attending when John Elway’s name made it onto the ring – right between the goalposts so everyone could see it on TV after every score in the north endzone – and it was a day to remember. If memory serves, it was one tough ticket to score, too. Yesterday, 11,755 chose to eat their $100-plus ticket rather than consume the Broncos flavorless product. And who can blame them? The current Denver Broncos are gross.

Peyton Manning deserves better.

Outside of a few preseason games, the first “real” Broncos game I attended in person was, ironically, against the Washington Football Team (then called the Redskins, which didn’t seem like a big deal back then). It was John Elway versus Jay Schroeder, Dec. 13, 1986, a brisk Saturday game that saw the Broncos win (rather than somehow avoid losing) 31-30. The line heading into that game (not that I cared at the time), was, also ironically, Broncos -3.5, just like it was yesterday. But there was nothing similar about the then and now for either team. The Redskins were always a contender, Elway was larger than life, and the win that day sealed an AFC West title for the Broncos. Four weeks later, the Broncos were playing in their second Super Bowl.

Sunday’s win over Washington “catapulted” them to a .500 record, Teddy Bridgewater gets “smaller” with every week and the Broncos next trip to the Super Bowl is unforeseeable, if not unimaginable.

“At old Mile High Stadium these ramps used to be metal, and when the Broncos won, it would sound like the place was going to explode,” I explained to Quinn as we walked out alongside the drunks (thank goodness some things haven’t changed) still willing to hoop and holler.

He looked at me and said, “Do you think Vic Fangio will get fired?”

He should, Quinn. He should. Back in the day, it would have already happened. Fangio, Shurmur – all of them – would have been gone long ago. It wouldn’t happen today or even this week. But it should. If pink slips aren’t generously passed out before season’s end, I’m not so sure that new GM George Paton shouldn’t be on the same list whenever the new owner, whoever it might be, takes the reins.

Quinn was six-years-old when Peyton Manning hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, about the same age as I was when the ’77 Broncos went to their first Super Bowl, just old enough to know it happened, but too young to really remember. As a sportfan-in-the-making, most of Quinn’s memories of the Broncos are blah.

Yesterday was fun, but not because the Broncos are.

A generation from now, will Quinn be able to take his son or nephew and proudly say things like, “Back when I was a kid…”

Or will they choose to do something else – skiing or hiking or watching RedZone instead?

It took years to build the Broncos great tradition, but it feels like it’s rapidly eroding. Can this season come to a rapid close so a new owner can come in and save the day? Hurry, hurry. Omaha! Omaha!

A win is a win is a win. But Sunday’s Mile High Mess sure didn’t feel like it.

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