Are the Denver Broncos About to Repeat History?
The Quest to Repeat History
The 2013 Denver Broncos are set up to win the Super Bowl in February of 2014, and if you look closely you will notice some incredible similarities between the upcoming season and the championship year of 1998.
Let’s start with the obvious. In January of 1998, the Broncos were upset at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars after going 13-3 in the regular season and clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Last season the Broncos went 13-3 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and then were upset at home by the Baltimore Ravens.
In both of those years, the Broncos were the odds-on favorite to win the AFC and advance to the Super Bowl. Both defenses struggled to get off the field in those losses despite having good units in the regular season.
In spite of the number of points those two teams put up in those playoff games, 27 versus the Jaguars and 35 versus the Ravens, the Broncos offense just did not click the same way in the playoffs.
If history follows, then the 2013 season should be a great one for the Broncos. As hard as the loss to the Jaguars was 15 years ago, in retrospect it was the missing piece. It gave the Broncos that missing piece, that edge that cannot be artificially manufactured.
It’s the edge that drives players to do five more reps while lifting weights, the edge that motivates player to watch five more minutes of film and the edge that motivates everyone to be perfect in practice.
The crushing playoff losses are only the tip of the iceberg as far as how similar the 1998 team is to the 2013 edition, so let’s take a look.
Hall of Fame Quarterbacks
John Elway was 37 years old without a championship and that was the only thing his career was missing. Peyton Manning has a Super Bowl but still has something to prove to everyone who says he’s a great regular season quarterback but mediocre in the playoffs. Manning is also 37.
As with Elway then, Manning already has a place reserved for him in the Hall of Fame, but he wants to win now more than ever. If you don’t believe me, then ask rookie running back Montee Ball. Manning sent texts to Ball throughout the recently completed rookie mini-camp to make sure the rookie is spending time in the playbook.
Elway and Manning are two of the greatest competitors in NFL history, and Manning is leading this offense just as Elway did in 1998.
The Ground Game
No one is going to confuse Ball for Terrell Davis, but the comparisons have already been made by some, including Elway himself. The 2013 Broncos won’t be the running team that the 1998 Broncos were, but with the addition of Ball, the running game will be better than it was last season.
Ball will not run for 1,750 yards as Davis did in that Super Bowl season, but he could run for 1,200 and on a team with Manning that would be huge. Ball will also help in short-yardage situations, keeping the Broncos offense on the field.
Again, Ball is not Davis, but he doesn’t have to be. If opposing defenses now have to account for a running game in addition to the passing game, then records could start falling.
The Offensive Line
Both editions feature above average offensive lines as the 1998 version was the best unit in the league. The offensive line in 2013 may not be the best, but it’s in the top ten and possibly the top five. The signing of Louis Vasquez makes a strong unit even stronger.
As of this past weekend, there is now a thread that ties the two units together. Alex Gibbs was the offensive line coach for those Super Bowl teams and is widely considered to one of the best ever. Now he returns as a consultant for the 2013 team, and if you think he’s going to quietly standby and offer advice then you don’t know Gibbs. He will be in the faces of every offensive lineman, and they will be better as a unit.
In 2012, the offensive line protected Manning very well but struggled to run the ball when they had to. The combination of Ball at running back, Vasquez at guard and the return of Gibbs all lead to a drastically improved running game.
The Offensive Weapons
Elway had Ed McCaffery, Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe as his three-headed receiving monster. Manning doesn’t have a Hall of Fame tight end, but he’s got a big three that will rival any.
Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker had more yards and touchdowns combined than what Joe Flacco threw for in 2013. It’s difficult to imagine a defense being able to cover those three on a consistent basis; someone is going to be open.
Manning, though, has something that Elway did not have in 1998; two tight ends that are above average receivers in Jacob Tamme and Joel Dressen. Defenses are going to focus on the big three, they have to, but that will often leave either Tamme or Dressen wide open. Throw in Ronnie Hillman out of the backfield and someone is going to be open on every play.
The 1998 team ran the ball better than the 2013 team will, but the current edition of the Broncos offense has a real shot to be the best passing team in Broncos history.
The defense for the Broncos in 2013 has a chance to be one of the best units in the league whereas the 1998 defense got better as the season progressed. The one thing they do have in common is this; they both have the luxury of a great offense.
The defense in 1998 was built to play with a lead and they did it very well, especially in the playoffs. The offense led by Manning is going to put up a lot of points, and the 2013 defense will benefit from playing with leads.
The Head Coaches
Most football people would not compare John Fox to Mike Shanahan, but consider where Shanahan was in 1998. He was a successful coordinator who won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant, but failed to do so as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders.
Fox has had a lot of success in the league as a head coach, but hasn’t won the big one yet. As with Shanahan in 1998, Fox has never had a team with this much talent. The 2013 Broncos are perfect for Fox. They are a team that polices themselves and needs very little coddling from the head coach.
Fox doesn’t always get the credit he deserves even though his record as a head coach is fairly impressive. All he is missing is a championship, and if 2013 follows the 1998 script, then that spot on the resume will be filled shortly.
The Leader Then and Now
If all of those similarities were not enough, both the 1998 team and the 2013 team are led by the same person. In 1998, it was Elway the quarterback who guided the Broncos to their first World Championship. Now in 2013, he’s trying to do it again as the front office boss.
The old saying goes, “If we do not learn from history, then we are doomed to repeat it.” The Broncos have learned from history and seemed destined to repeat it.
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