DENVER (CBS4) – If the Denver Broncos’ 2014 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts feels more momentous than other recent debuts, it’s for good reason — and not just because it’s thrilling to watch Peyton Manning and Co. march up and down the field.
Rather, it’s probably due to one of the darkest days in Broncos history: The 43-8 Super Bowl drubbing by the Seattle Seahawks.
Sure, there’s anticipation about a season opener. But it’s a sense of redemption that will dominate Sunday night — a rare feeling not all openers provide.
In addition to the Colts game, here’s a look at some of the most eagerly awaited or important Broncos season openers, in reverse chronological order, since the franchise joined the NFL.
Sept. 13, 2009: Broncos 12, Bengals 7
The Broncos played their first game without one of the franchise’s most recognizable faces patrolling the sidelines. Mike Shanahan, who led the team to its only Super Bowl victories and the most wins in team history, was fired by owner Pat Bowlen shortly after the 2008 season ended.
Despite tallying 138 victories and an impressive .616 winning percentage over 14 seasons, Shanahan was dismissed after three straight seasons without 10 wins or a playoff appearance.
Bowlen said a “change” was needed, so he hired alleged wunderkind Josh McDaniels, he of New England Patriots fame, to run the show.
In the season opener, it appeared McDaniels would lose his debut, but the Broncos scored a touchdown on a freak 87-yard tipped pass play from Kyle Orton to Brandon Stokley with 11 seconds left.
The Broncos won their next five games before the bye week to start 6-0 but lost eight of their next 10. McDaniels was fired 12 games into the 2010 season.
Sept. 13, 1999: Dolphins 38, Broncos 21
Losing Shanahan was one thing. Losing the most ballyhooed Bronco ever was another. The circumstances were quite different: John Elway left on his own terms, nice ones they were. After back-to-back Super Bowl wins and an MVP trophy, the winningest quarterback in NFL history retired.
His replacement, two-year pro Brian Griese, had never started an NFL game when he faced the Miami Dolphins in the season opener. His career began well with a 61-yard touchdown strike to Ed McCaffrey — and he threw two more scores to McCaffrey that day — but the defense couldn’t hold its own. Still, Griese out-dueled future Hall of Famer Dan Marino with 270 yards and three TDs.
With Elway gone and running back Terrell Davis injured, the Broncos finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Aug. 31, 1997: Broncos 19, Chiefs 3
As much as the Super Bowl loss to Seattle stung, the Broncos suffered perhaps a more crushing defeat in the 1996 playoffs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That season the Broncos secured a No. 1 playoff seed and looked like favorites to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1990.
But the upstart Jaguars shocked the Broncos at home, winning 30-27. Elway said losing that game was one of the worst feelings of his career. Tight end Shannon Sharpe said he was going to go home to cry.
The only salve, of course, was to bounce back in the following season’s opener and win the Super Bowl, right? Hey, why not win two?
The Broncos did just that, first defeating the Chiefs in the home opener on the backs of a stingy defense that allowed only 12 first downs and 241 yards. You know the rest: The Broncos lost just four games, claimed a wild card berth and embarked on a “revenge tour” through the playoffs, beating three teams — including Jacksonville, 42-17 — that had bested them in the previous 12 months. The season ended with the team’s first Super Bowl victory.
Sept. 4, 1983: Broncos 14, Steelers 10
Just as Elway’s career ended with much fanfare, his rookie year did, too.
The No. 1 pick overall in the draft that year, Elway endured incomparable scrutiny as the Broncos quarterback. Local media conducted “Elway Watches” that seemingly covered his every move. A Denver paper even reported what kind of Halloween candy his family handed out that year.
The spotlight wasn’t any less intense on the field. And Elway certainly struggled in his rookie campaign. In 10 starts that year, he threw seven TDs and 14 picks.
Elway’s debut against Pittsburgh was rather shabby as well: He finished 1-of-8 for 14 yards with an interception. But, hey, he was a rookie, right? Veteran quarterback Steve DeBerg fared little better that day, but it was the Broncos running game and stout defense that led the way.
Sept. 9, 1960: Broncos 13, Patriots 10
Here’s when it all began.
Before their NFL days, the Broncos were among eight teams in the American Football League that merged with the NFL a decade later.
In their season opener before 21,597 fans at Boston’s Nickerson Field, the Broncos defeated the Boston Patriots 13-10. (Here’s a copy of the program, which cost 50 cents.)
Frank Tripucka, who is in the team’s Ring of Fame, threw for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Patriots took the early lead on a Gino Cappalletti field goal before Tripucka’s 59-yard toss to Al Carmichael. Gene Mingo added a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown before the Denver defense held off Boston.
– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com