Before this manic-depressive Denver season comes to a merciful end, I thought I'd finally write something about the Broncos that referred to the team itself, and not a deceased icon in the stands.
I haven't written about the Broncos this year for a myriad of reasons, the biggest one being I haven't cared enough. As a fan that's tough to say, and almost tougher to write, but it's true. My heart just wasn't in it this season, and I think I can live with that.
It started with the tumultuous, whirlwind beginnings of the Josh McDaniels era, a coach just a few years older than myself. I mean, I'm an unemployed, waste of space at 30 - how the hell was this grinning, baby-faced geek going to do anything meaningful or ground-breaking while helming one of the classiest, most well-run organizations in football? We quickly found out as he alienated Jay Cutler, banished him to Chicago, then set about putting talented-but-petulant receiver Brandon Marshall in the doghouse for the better part of his Denver tenure.
So already my expectations were nil. I expected them to win five, maybe six games at best. Then the season starts with them stealing a win, and building on that momentum to start 6-0. In the last two of these games, they beat the Pats at home in OT - culminating in McDaniels's spirited fist-pumping toward his family and the crowd, a moment that gave me goosebumps - and beat the Chargers on the road on a Monday night, winning (mostly) in a way the Broncos never do: with special teams.
And then ... and then the inevitable. During the start, the defense played far over their heads, especially in the 2nd half when they played out of their fucking minds. We knew that couldn't last, and it didn't. Only it had to, because the offense was not built to make up ground, only sporadically chew it up. Losses to more physical teams came, and they came quickly and furiously. Then a loss at home to the Raiders. Then a mini-miraculous comeback on the road at Philly, only to fall a field goal short.
So here they sit, at 8-7, needing to beat the Chiefs at home - without their Pro Bowl receiver, natch - and get a little help to make the playoffs. It doesn't matter, however, because this is not a playoff team. They don't deserve to be watched, at this point, by the whole country, in a Wild Card game. Ultimately they deserve to eke out an ugly win, secure a winning record, and begrudgingly call Year One of the Post-Shanahan era a (beguilingly dismal) success. Success in the way Bart Simpson defines success: spelling it S-U-C-C-E-E-S, and then falling off a roof.
So in this way this Broncos season has been the ugly, ill-fitting sweater. Like when your parents or somebody asks you what you want for Christmas, only you're an adult so you either tell them one reasonable thing you need (a new wallet, an iPod case, a flask) - knowing full well they'll get you that one thing you want and you'll be done with it - or you say "Oh, you don't have to get me anything." Because you're an adult. Or perhaps you're spending the holidays with the family of friends or a loved one, and they don't know what to get you. So they get you a sweater, either to give you something so you feel included, or as an addendum to the one thing you actually wanted. Because everybody loves sweaters.
Only it's not something you'd ever wear, because you don't like turtlenecks. Or the color or pattern is horrific. Or it's itchy. Or it's too small.
This season was all that. It was unexpected, sure, but not in the back of your mind. Somewhere, you knew it was coming. And sure, it's a nice gesture. You appreciate that. But you're holding this thing, saying you like it even though you know you hate it. And at some point you'll have to re-gift it, or try to return it.
And, in all honesty, you wish you'd never been given it at all.
Update: And there it is. To be honest, I expected it. They beat the Raiders by 20 early in the year, then lost to them by 3 when they needed to win. So, since they won in Kansas City in December for the first time in forever (by 31, no less), it only made sense that they would lose by at least 15 at home with a win and a possible playoff berth on the line.
Thus, for the second straight year, and basically the fourth in a row since they reached the AFC Championship game in 2005, this team wallows in mediocrity. Only it's worse since they play well early, get their fans' hopes up, and collapse spectacularly and miserably toward the end. I've never played pro football, and I'm just the proverbial blogger in his parents' basement, but it seems to me that this team has no fucking heart. Maybe there's a stock ticker where that essential organ should be, but there's no fucking pride in putting on the orange and blue. There's no urgency. Just complacency.
I want this team to be relevant again. I want it to succeed. I want to have a reason to watch, to feel attached. But only Josh McDaniels can fix this. Somehow. He holds the key. Unfortunately, it's a complicated and ugly fucking lock.