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AP MANNING SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL S FBN FILE USA CO

This week’s column is dedicated entirely to my favorite team, and the team that I’ve ignored all season, the Denver Broncos. This week, Peyton Manning broke the all-time touchdown passing records, and honestly, I didn’t know how to feel about it.

I’ve been a Broncos fan since I was a kid, so it’s very odd to see them named as America’s team. I’ve got a Nike Drench Peyton Manning jersey, and this year, all of the sudden, everyone likes it.

Last year this was tacky. But I had matching shoes!

Last year this was tacky. But I had matching shoes!

I’m not used to all the new fans. We’re supposed to be the underdogs.

I’m from the Philadelphia area. People always asked me why I rooted for a team that was so far away from me, because apparently our loyalty should be based on our region and nothing else.

When I was a kid, I was maybe the smallest kid in the schoolyard. I had terrible asthma, and thick glasses. I wore hand-me-downs, and read books every night. I didn’t watch television or play video games, so I couldn’t relate to other kids, because I had no idea what they were talking about. I played all the other sports everyone else did, I just wasn’t particularly talented at them.

I got by through sheer determination. If you got into a fistfight with me, you were going to have to dedicate serious time and effort, because I was going to take a beating and keep on coming. If you beat me in a race, you were going to have to do it every day to infinity. And that’s what  the Broncos were like. There was Elway, with his imperfect team, rallying them to furious finishes in nearly every game, it felt like. The Broncos were the first team I ever heard of where the starters voluntarily took a paycut, so that the organization could sign new players. They did it multiple times. They wanted to win.

Yeah that looks right.

Yeah that looks right.

They were the most winning underdogs you can imagine. This was a team defined by a Super Bowl pasting by the San Francisco 49ers, but looking at Elway’s career, he made it to the big game SIX times.

After he was gone, they tried to replace him, which wasn’t fair. There was poor, sad Brian Griese who made a career out of two throws and whose drinking reduced him to wheeling shopping carts home from the grocery store because he wasn’t allowed to drive. There was Jake Plummer, who had the drive to win, but couldn’t control his passion enough to make good reads when it counted. There was Jay Cutler, who should have been the one, but then the coaching staff imploded and Cutler was shipped to Chicago.

This is the face of your franchise.

This is the face of your franchise.

In the ultimate coup, Elway plucked Payton Manning out of free agency and the Broncos became his team. The move made sense, but I was always disappointed that we couldn’t beat our playoff tormentor. Signing him felt like a concession. Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join them.

They built a great team around him, although they lost the most gifted coach on their roster to their divisional rivals, the Chargers. Watching the team now is the exact opposite of what they used to be. Instead of scrappy competitive underdogs, the Broncos are part of the NFL’s elite, and when you need them the most, they fall apart the fastest, as an outmatched and inflexible coaching staff dumps more and more responsibility onto their quarterback, who is getting worse under pressure despite having more comebacks than anyone except for Dan Marino. (Yes, Dan Marino.)

It messed up when they forget about the great ones.

It messed up when they forget about the great ones.

The touchdown record belonged to Brett Favre.

It’s only now that you appreciate Favre. He was the last old-school quarterback to play in the NFL, and there will never be his like again. He played in the days when the wide receivers and cornerbacks had a wrestling match down the field, which is why he didn’t have video game numbers.

He didn’t miss games, and he took shots that would have killed modern quarterbacks and bounced back up without screaming at his offensive line. When there were contract disputes with his offensive players, he told them to shut up and play football and then he went straight to management and fought for them.

He felt like he could win every game, he played, and the guys with him learned to believe it too. There was no feeling like when Brett winded up to throw the ball deep, and you knew something, SOMETHING was going to happen, but you didn’t know what it was.

They talk about the interceptions, but they don’t remember the comebacks, and there were a lot of them. Most importantly, he loved to play football. He didn’t want to do anything else. He wasn’t trying to build a brand, or sell shoes, or be on magazine covers. I don’t know what kind of headphones he liked, and he got too excited to have a ritual celebration. He just played football. I miss guys like that.

Peyton Manning is a cerebral experience. Manning is like a supercomputer, analyzing and downloading his opponent. He is rarely beaten, most of the time he loses, it just feels like the download didn’t finish and had there had been a little more time he would have won.

Its weird having him on our side.

I should be happy, right?

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But I remember the old days. I remember having an entire defense that no one recognized or appreciated except for us. I remember scrappy Karl Mecklenburg and his six Pro Bowls, and every time he’s on a Hall of Fame list, I know that no one else knows who he is. I remember that our safeties were Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith and that you didn’t run that down and in if you wanted to keep living. I remember Shannon Sharpe bailing us out when our receiving corp was kinda of iffy.

We had the poor man’s Eddie George, Rod Bernstine at running back and then we had Glyn Milburn (the middle class man’s Eric Metcalf) set the all around yards record in a game and then lose his job to Terrell Davis. That worked out.

There was undrafted Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey at wideout. McCaffrey was so concerned about his perceived lack of speed that he cut the padding out of all his equipment, went out there and played on the shells.

I still love the Broncos. But I don’t know who all these new fans are. I’m not used to people paying attention to us. Its nice having Peyton Manning, but it feels strange.

We’re the favorite team in the NFL. And I have no idea what to do about it.

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