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Klee: Expectations of Super Bowl or Bust still shadows Broncos

photo - Baltimore wide receiver Jacoby Jones catches a pass over the defense of Denver free safety Rahim Moore for a 70-yard touchdown catch to tie the game in the final minute of the the AFC Championship on Jan. 12, 2013. With the Broncos' subsequent loss, the team's "Super Bowl or Bust" mantra was born. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) + caption
Baltimore wide receiver Jacoby Jones catches a pass over the defense of Denver free safety Rahim Moore for a 70-yard touchdown catch to tie the game in the final minute of the the AFC Championship on Jan. 12, 2013. With the Broncos' subsequent loss, the team's "Super Bowl or Bust" mantra was born. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
By Paul Klee Updated: February 1, 2014 at 3:33 pm 0

NEW YORK - When, exactly, did the mantra of "Super Bowl or Bust" truly kick in for these Broncos?

"Right after we lost to the Ravens last season," veteran safety Mike Adams said.

This is a hard way to play in the NFL. Peyton Manning and the Broncos have played 18 games with the heaviest burden a football team can carry.

With expectations that are almost impossible to meet.

"This team has always been about one thing," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said here during Super Bowl week. "That's getting to the Super Bowl."

Without so much as a pause, Pot Roast added: "And winning the Super Bowl."

Super Bowl XLVIII is Sunday.

Are the Broncos ready?

Better question: how could they not be?

If the Broncos aren't fired up like a New York subway, after 13 months of setting records, roster shuffling, doubting, player suspensions, bizarre injuries and absurd expectations, well, they would never be ready.

This Broncos season was reality TV in real time. The only thing missing from this Super Bowl equation was their head coach being hospitalized, thinking his days on this earth were over. Oh, wait.

"How many teams can say their coach had to leave the team in the middle of a season?" John Fox said.

How many teams can claim it is one of the greatest in NFL history?

This Broncos team can. This is a league where offense rules. In 47 previous Super Bowls, there's never been a better offense than this one.

The Broncos set NFL records for points in a season (606) and having five players score at least 10 touchdowns. Peyton Manning set the single-season passing records for yardage (5,477) and touchdown passes (55).

Perhaps the most endearing spect of their record-setting campaign was how the Broncos handled the success. Manning's Broncos are more like "awww, shucks" than "awww, look at me!" Mile High salutes? That's so 1998.

"We're not really a team that likes to talk a lot," wide receiver Eric Decker said.

There was always a different feel to this Broncos season. The break from the norm started right about the Monday morning after the Broncos sustained a painful loss to the Ravens 13 months ago at Sports Authority Field.

"I think when you experience something like that, it fuels you until the next time you have an opportunity in the playoffs," vice president of football operations John Elway said.

The Seahawks are the second-youngest team to play in a Super Bowl. Seattle's playing with little to lose.

The Broncos are playing with a quarterback who will be the second-oldest to start in a Super Bowl. Denver's playing with the heavy burden of expectations.

"This has been the second chapter of my career," Manning said.

The first meeting between the Broncos and Seahawks, in a meaningless preseason game back in August, should have been a hint.

This season might be Super Bowl or Bust. But it would be a test until the end.

Derek Wolfe, the defensive lineman, was taken from the field in an ambulance. Champ Bailey, the Hall of Fame-to be cornerback, left the locker room on a set of crutches. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie nursed a bum ankle.

It only got tougher from there.

No excuses were allowed.

"When you think about everything we've been through ." Fox said.

Here, let me finish: . it's remarkable the Broncos are playing in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Right or wrong, that's not what the football history books will remember. Not when a season is Super Bowl or Bust.

"Just getting here," Knighton said. "That's not what our goal was."

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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