DENVER — In the days before the coronavirus pandemic , the Broncos were set to play the Atlanta Falcons in London. They were to play at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, marking the team’s first international game since 2010.

Why would the Broncos lobby the NFL for a game that’s an 11-hour flight from home?

Their brand needs a lift. The Broncos haven’t been the Broncos as the world knew them. Playing in London was less about playing a game and more about a hopeful reminder, “Hey, remember us?” John Elway? Peyton Manning? Those sweet orange helmets with the ‘D’?

Ever since Manning retired after Super Bowl 50 in 2015, the Broncos have lost more than a Hall of Fame quarterback. They’ve lost their mojo. They’ve lost their status in the “they’re always good” crowd with evergreen performers like the Ravens, Seahawks, Packers and Patriots. Outside Broncos Country they’ve lost relevancy.

That’s what four straight seasons without a postseason appearance will do. That’s what 27 wins over four seasons will do. That’s tied for the worst four-year stretch since 1975.

Hey, don’t take it from me. Take it from John Elway, the president of football operations and a fan of Broncos history: “The bottom line is we’ve got to win. That’s ultimately the bottom line.”

And that’s what makes 2020 such an important season for the franchise. It’s the first long look at quarterback Drew Lock. It’s a shot for Vic Fangio to show he’s the right guy for the job. It will confirm the notion the Broncos are back on track ... or still treading water, going nowhere.

It’s also going to be played during a pandemic — a time when a lot of people have more important things to worry about than a football team that’s just OK.

They’ll tune out if there’s not a good reason to watch. Winning is a good reason to watch. Lose, and a bunch won’t.

Throw in strong emotions during a presidential election ... disapproval over players kneeling during the national anthem ... moms and dads with kids attending school in the living room ...

You get the point.

Did I mention fans won’t be allowed at Empower Field at Mile High for the season opener and attendance overall figures to be limited? Sunday afternoons at Mile High were stress relievers.

Not this year. At least not like usual.

The Broncos have not been themselves, and that’s true of all facets of the organization.

The steady and prideful ownership of Pat Bowlen has been replaced with ugly family lawsuit after ugly family lawsuit.

The franchise that brought you two decades of Elway and Manning shuffled between Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen. The Broncos had only four head coaches over 30 years. They had four in the past decade.

All those black eyes eventually make it hard to see the glory days of yesteryear.

Maybe that’s why Elway struck a tone of urgency before this season. Maybe that’s why he consistently turned the conversation from the demands of COVID-19 back to winning.

“It is what it is. Whoever handles this the best they will probably have the most success. We can’t sit here and bitch about it,” Elway said. “We’ve got to realize it’s part of it, and we’ve got to deal with it and stay with our nose to the grindstone. This is not going to be over in a month. It’s going to take us six months. As long as we realize the length of this and how long this commitment is going to be, then we’ve got a chance to be successful.”

For the Broncos, there is no better time than now, even after Von Miller’s ankle injury. There is no more necessary time than now, because they haven’t been the Broncos the world once knew.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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