A little prelude:
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl there will be 52 dudes, plus a coaching staff, who will get totally shafted by the media.
These men are every single player who suits up in a Broncos’ jersey that doesn’t read “MANNING” on the back.
Now, I’m not saying that the Broncos get to the Super Bowl without Peyton Manning (which I’ll get to in just a moment), but there’s a hell of a lot more to a football team than just the guy under center.
Which is why you’ll find a whole slew of Hall-of-Fame-level QBs who never brought home a Lombardi trophy:
—Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, Fran Tarkenton—
No man is an island on an NFL roster.
Denver doesn’t make it this far without #18, but #18 doesn’t get here either without a kick-ass supporting cast.
Just ask the grand master of ring-free quarterbacks, Dan Marino.
It’s not that I get tired of reading about Peyton Manning.
It’s just that the media circus leading up to the Super Bowl is a massive cluster-duck. (See what I did there?)
There are hundreds of hours to fill with football coverage before kick-off and, face it, a lot of this stuff is garbage. There’s real analytical coverage in there all right, but it’s buried under the sludge and overshadowed by tons of blah-blah-blahing about Peyton Manning.
It seems like there’s a massive collusion between sportswriters come Super Bowl time to pick one major story line and run with it. Last year it was Jim vs. John, the Harbaugh Bowl. More words were written about two guys not even suiting up than Funky Joe Flacco (that’s not his nickname, I just made it up on the spot.)
So, before I set myself up to be seen as a pot calling the kettle black, let’s look at how the Broncos got here.
It all began in March, 2012.
In order to not be labeled a hypocrite, I’ll keep this Manning section brief and to the point:
- Peyton Manning becomes the hottest QB free agent of all time, even though he’s got a bum neck. (Joe Montana was traded.)
- Broncos’ president John Elway beats Peyton Manning in a game of Madden. (I can’t prove this.)
- Peyton Manning signs with Denver.
- The Mile High City instantly overflows with Super Bowl aspirations, and rightfully so.
A fruitful season with a fruity ending.
Last year Manning had the season of his career (at that point), Denver got a first round bye, and then they were upset in Manning’s first playoff game as a Bronco by the Ravens 38-35 in double overtime.
Super Bowl run, version 2.0.
Denver’s season started off with a very-much-anticipated rematch against the Super Bowl Champion Ravens. And the Broncos set the tone for what would be a record-breaking season by demolishing Baltimore 49-27.
Sure, the Ravens weren’t the same team after several key cogs left in free agency and the heart and soul of their defense, Ray Lewis, retired, but the blowout win was a statement.
The Broncos then smoked the Giants, smoked the Raiders, smoked the Eagles, and won a 51-48 shootout against the Dallas Cowboys.
Through five games Denver was averaging 46 points per game. Eventually they would break the NFL’s all-time points record for a season.
After one more win against the Jaguars, Denver traveled to Indianapolis where they lost their first game of the season to the Colts 39-33.
They then rattled off three straight wins in convincing fashion over the Redskins and then division rivals San Diego and KC. The game against the Chiefs was another big statement win for Denver as Kansas City was (9-0) heading into the game and in first place in the AFC West.
Denver’s second loss of the season came on November 24th after Tom Brady led the Patriots back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to force overtime and win 34-31 on a Gostkowski field goal. Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards and a TD in the game, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Broncos from dropping to 9-2.
The following week Denver swept the Chiefs and basically ensured themselves of winning a second straight AFC West crown.
The final four games of the season saw Denver dispatch the Titans, Raiders, and Texans, but in the biggest upset of the season Philip Rivers led the Chargers to a 27-20 victory over the AFC West champs at Mile High Stadium.
At 13-3 the Broncos were the #1 seed in the AFC, earning a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And yes, as you already know, Manning inked his name into the record books on numerous occasions, setting new NFL single-season records for scoring offense, passing touchdowns, and passing yards.
A rematch with the Bolts.
Nobody gave San Diego much of a chance to come into Denver and pull off another upset, but a late fourth quarter rally by Rivers and the Chargers had the Broncos’ defense on their heels and the Denver fans on the verge of soiling their britches.
Down 24-17, San Diego recovered an onside kick after Eric Decker flubbed the recovery, but for once the Denver defense saved the day and got the ball back for the O. The Broncos advanced to the AFC Championship by the skin of their teeth.
The shootout that wasn’t.
With Tom Brady and the Patriots coming to town for the QB showdown of the post-season, football fans across the globe were expecting to see an explosion of big plays and a high scoring extravaganza.
What they got was the Broncos getting up 20-3 before Brady could even get his cup adjusted into a comfortable position.
Denver squashed the Patriots rushing attack that had dominated the Colts and Peyton Manning dinked and dunked his way to 400 yards and two touchdowns with no picks.
This game’s final score of 26-16 gives the impression that it was close. It wasn’t.
Top seeds collide.
It’s not very often that the top seeds from both the NFC and AFC make it to the Super Bowl. It’s also not very often that the number one offense takes on the number one defense.
The Denver-Seattle Super Bowl will be one for the ages, but we’ll save a full breakdown for our Super Bowl Preview.
Stay tuned for Road to the Super Bowl: Seattle Seahawks.