Published: August 25, 2013
The forecast for the Denver Broncos 2013 season can be summarized quickly.
"Anything short of the Super Bowl will be a disappointment," wrote Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times. He's correct. Optimism about the Broncos is running out of control, especially in Colorado.
But, please, remember this:
Broncos fans have been sorely disappointed before. Optimism has been stomped on by teams that seemed headed to The Big Game but stumbled far short.
We don't have to travel to the ancient past for the first disappointment. As the Broncos headed into the 2006 season, there was every reason to believe a team that had fallen just short in 2005 would arrive in the Super Bowl.
You probably remember the 2005 AFC title game against the Steelers at Mile High. The Broncos came roaring into game after a convincing victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Quarterback Jake Plummer, long known as Mr. Erratic, had dumped his wild ways and become a mature, commanding presence in the pocket. Champ Bailey led one of the most powerful defenses in Broncos history.
Plummer returned to his former self in the title game, and his repeated bumbling doomed the Broncos. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger throttled the Broncos secondary. The Steelers' defeat was the second-most bitter Broncos loss of the 21st century, after, of course, last season's shocking loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
But redemption seemed probable in 2006. Dick Vermeil, freshly retired as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, spoke to cadets at Air Force Academy a few weeks after the season, and following the speech he told me the Broncos were clearly the class of the NFL. He expected big things in 2006.
The Broncos fell to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs. In the final game of the season, the 49ers arrived at Mile High with no playoffs chance and no real incentive.
The 49ers devoured the Broncos behind 153 yards by halfback Frank Gore, who was extremely happy in his postgame analysis.
"It's great," Gore said of the upset. "And it makes it better beating a great team like Denver. That's no sorry team, man."
Great? Ah, no. The 49ers defeated a free-falling team. In the first 24 quarters of the 2006 season, the Broncos' allegedly mighty defense allowed only 41 points. In the final 26 quarters, the suddenly mushy defense surrendered 187 points. The Broncos lost five of their last seven games.
The 1999 season was even worse. The Broncos were greedily seeking a third straight Super Bowl title and had every reason to believe. John Elway had marched off into the sunset, but Terrell Davis remained, and he was on a two-season tear that ranks among the most dazzling in NFL history.
The 1997 and 1998 Broncos were blessed with a remarkable sense of tranquility and togetherness, but the era of good feeling vanished in 1999.
Coach Mike Shanahan, on his way to losing his nickname of "Mastermind," split the locker room when he demoted charismatic quarterback Bubby Brister in favor of Brian Griese, who will never be described as charismatic.
And in what might be the saddest instant in Broncos history, Davis suffered a severe knee injury while trying to make a tackle after a Griese interception. Davis never was the same.
Neither were the Broncos, who went into a free-fall and finished 6-10.
Listen, I'm not going to lecture anyone for dreaming big in 2013. Peyton Manning will be throwing to a dazzling array of receivers. The defense, led by the recently suspended Von Miller, looks solid.
But, please, inject some realism into your optimism. When it comes to Broncos history, what looks like the best times have this strange tendency to turn into the worst.