Atmosphere

Let the Games (Finally) Begin

After a hellish off-season, the Broncos look to the start of the '09 campaign.

September 2009

Few NFL coaching tenures have begun more frantically than that of the Broncos' Josh McDaniels. When owner Pat Bowlen blindsided everyone by firing Mike Shanahan last December and replacing him with the 32-year-old wunderkind from New England, it kicked off a run of drama-queen antics, recriminations, and head-scratching decisions that made the orange and blue—usually one of the stablest franchises in sports—look more like those circuses in Dallas and, gulp, Oakland.

New guys McDaniels and general manager Brian Xander have spent the off-season making personnel choices that just got odder and odder, loading up on the Broncos' strength—offense—while neglecting the gaping hole of a defense. There was the Jay Cutler saga, by now well-worn and best left un-revisited. Then the Broncos' best remaining player, receiver Brandon Marshall, suddenly decided to get disgruntled about his paycheck and demanded a trade of his own. The upshot is the football punditry has ranked the Broncos in the bottom third of the league going into the season.

But here's the thing: Starting with John Elway's arrival in 1983 and on through the Shanahan years, Denver has enjoyed a quarter-century run of success that few cities can equal. In McDaniels, they have a leader who apprenticed under Bill Belichick, the preeminent team-builder of this era. McDaniels helped make Tom Brady a superstar and turned Matt Cassel into a franchise QB. Maybe, just maybe, the kid knows what he's doing. Success and stability are ingrained in the DNA of the Broncos' owner, their city, and their new coach. So fear not, Donkey fans: The team may not light up the league this season, but in the long run we're sure they'll be just fine.