The Denver Broncos own one of the most remarkable sellout streaks in the history of professional sports, as there hasn’t been an empty seat in Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium since 1970. It’s hard to say what’s more impressive: the fact that the run began three years before the club posted a winning season, or the monster leap of faith that fans undertook to keep the team in the first place. After debuting in 1960, the Broncos were one of the weakest squads in the AFL and were very nearly moved to Atlanta. However, brothers/minority owners Gerald and Allan Phipps fought to keep the franchise close to the Rocky Mountains, and soon, season ticket sales soared, and their loyalty was rewarded.
By 1977, the punchless Broncos were a thing of the past, and folks in Denver were much more concerned with the exploits of the “Orange Crush.” The vaunted defense overwhelmed opponents time and time again, allowing only 18 touchdowns over the course of the 14-game regular season. Not only did the club qualify for a first-ever trip to the playoffs, but they galloped all the way to a Super Bowl appearance. While the team would notch double-digit win totals in each of the next two campaigns, the offense was still a work in progress, and true success remained out of reach. However in ‘83, the franchise acquired quarterback John Elway and soon began to fire on all cylinders.
With #7 in center, Denver charged back to the postseason. There would be playoff treks in both ‘83 and ‘84, but it was the title quest in ‘86 that made Elway a household name. Facing the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship game, the Broncos trailed 20-13 with just over five minutes left to play and the ball at their own two-yard line. Over the course of the next 15 plays, Elway orchestrated “The Drive,” a 98-yard march that not only saw Denver tie the score, but also provided the momentum to win the game in overtime. They’d lose the Super Bowl, as they would in ‘87 and ‘89, but the rest of the league had taken notice that the Broncos were doormats no longer.
Head coach Mike Shanahan arrived in time for the ‘95 season, and two years later, he helped propel Denver to world championship glory. Elway had all but cemented his Hall of Fame credentials by this point, and running back Terrell Davis became a fan favorite thanks to his spirited touchdown celebration, the “Mile High Salute.” Back-to-back Super Bowl wins made Denver the focal point of every football-related conversation, and the Rocky Mountain region became known as “Broncos Country.”
These days, “Broncomania” is a worldwide phenomenon, and “Mile High Magic” is coveted by the rest of the league. The city of Denver is celebrated for both its resilient gridiron crew and its eternally faithful fanbase. It took a while to get this point, but together, the Broncos and their diehards have created a legacy that is built to last.