June 20, 2009
Matt Oesterle, a lineman at Doherty High School, is taking a radical stand.
He believes the Denver Broncos will muscle their way to a winning record. He admires the seismic changes made by coach Josh McDaniels.
"I think this new coach can really change things for the Broncos," said Oesterle, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound guard/end who is expected to dominate the line for Doherty next season. "In the next couple years, we're really going to be looking up."
Excuse Oesterle's use of the word "we" when he describes the Broncos. He considers the team an extension of his family.
He's not alone. The Broncos serve as a secular religion for the Front Range. On Sunday evenings after a loss, gloom invades the region.
Sorry, but I'm forecasting a sad football autumn. The Broncos underachieved their way to eight wins last season. With the current cast of characters, the Broncos must overachieve for seven wins in 2009.
Colorado football fans are spoiled. Since 1973, the Broncos have traveled to the Super Bowl six times, winning twice, while suffering only six losing seasons.
In Mike Shanahan's farewell address, he suggested the Broncos new coach would "be crazy" to overhaul the offense. Shanahan had a point. The Broncos led the AFC in total yards.
McDaniels has ignored Shanahan's suggestion and shredded Denver's attack. He shipped Jay Cutler to Chicago, and Brandon Marshall is sprinting mighty fast on his own exit route.
The defense is porous. The offense, led by quarterback Kyle Orton, looks pitiful. The horizon appears dark and menacing.
But that's my view.
Oesterle arrives at a different conclusion.
He sees a disciplined, no-frills winner. He sees a culture developing with more toughness and discipline. He was glad to see Cutler - "a baby" - depart. He hopes Marshall hits the road, too.
"You can't have guys like that on your team," Oesterle said. "It just brings down team morale. If you let it start happening now, it will happen to more and more players."
Oesterle knows these Broncos. He's 17 but already a devout, knowledgeable fan. That's one of the great features of Colorado. You run into grade schoolers, teens, dads and grandmothers who are bonafide Broncos experts.
Oesterle has driven with his family to games since he was 3. He remembers the Super Bowl party at his aunt's house Jan. 25, 1998, when the Broncos stunned the football nation with an upset victory over the Green Bay Packers.
His entire family was happy, which made sense. The entire state was happy.
He suffered - and that's the right word - last season when the Broncos somehow marched straight out of playoff contention.
He wanted change.
He got his wish.
He likes McDaniels' no-nonsense approach. He sees a winning team next season.
Of course, not everyone agrees. Come to think of it, I haven't found another fan who believes the Broncos are destined for a winning record.
On Sunday, I was walking through the Coors Field parking lot when a blue-and-orange, mass-produced bumper sticker grabbed my eye.
"Fire McDaniels," the sticker read.
Wow. The man has yet to coach a game, and there's already a crusade to banish him from our state.
Oesterle sighed when he heard the news.
"That isn't nice," he said. "Hey, give him a shot."