From Denver, Colorado
There was a time when the Broncos were considered just short of unbeatable when they were playing at home.
Those days are gone, just as Mile High Stadium (below left) has disappeared.
This year, the Broncos are only 3-3 when playing at Invesco Field. Last year they were 5-3. The season before Denver was 4-4 without the plane ride. That’s 12-10 over the last three seasons.
How does that compare to what Mike Shanahan’s team was at old Mile High? How about the 1996-97-98 season when they went 27-1 at home, with the only defeat being an upset loss to Jacksonville in the ’96 playoffs.
Connection? Only if you believe concrete and steel can beat another football team, and there are plenty of folks who are convinced that’s the case.
There’s no doubt that Invesco does not have the atmosphere that was part of the Mile High magic. That old stadium was pieced together over time, with a rickety upper deck. When the fans started stomping and jumping around, the building moved and the sound was ear-splitting. Invesco is nice, new and beautiful and there is not the noise the Broncos were used to hearing.
Sort of like when the Chiefs left Municipal Stadium and moved into Arrowhead Stadium. There’s no question that the final game the Chiefs played in the old stadium was a crossroads for the franchise. That game in the playoffs on Christmas Day 1971 saw the Miami Dolphins win in double-overtime.
In the last five seasons at Municipal (below), the Chiefs were 27-7-2. In the first five seasons at Arrowhead, the Chiefs were 13-22. Of course, the move coincided with the real reason the record went south: the Super Bowl Chiefs grew old and they were not replaced by good players
Same thing has been going on with the Broncos. Denver’s poor 12-10 home record in the last three seasons has more to do with its overall 23-21 record in that time span than anything to do with Invesco Field.
Getting that home field advantage back has to be a priority for Shanny and his boys. They would like to start Sunday afternoon when they host the Chiefs. More than revenge for an early season defeat in Kansas City, the Broncos need to win to restore the Mile High magic that has obviously disappeared.
Same thing has happened with the Chiefs. In the 1990s, one of the one or two toughest places to play in the NFL was Arrowhead Stadium. Not so much these days; in the last two seasons the Chiefs are 6-22 and they are 3-11 at home.
For the Chiefs of the last 20 years, whether they played the Broncos at old Mile High or the new Invesco Field, winning in Denver has not been a familiar feeling. In fact, they’ve never enjoyed a victory in the new stadium, which opened with the 2001 season. Herm Edwards has never won there. Dick Vermeil’s Kansas City teams were 0-5 in Denver and every Chiefs fan knows about Marty Schottenheimer and his Mile High problems over the years. Here’s one hard to explain stat: in 10 seasons, Schottenheimer’s Chiefs finished ahead of Denver in the AFC West standings six times. Yet Marty’s teams were 2-8 in Denver’s thin air.
And don’t get me started on the thin air garbage. Len Dawson has always chuckled about the myth that Denver’s mile high elevation was an advantage for the Broncos and a disadvantage for the visiting team.
“We would go up there and they would have those oxygen tanks and masks on the sideline and the guy who was always gulping oxygen was Jerrel Wilson,” Dawson said of the former Chiefs punter who was nicknamed Duck, short for Daffy Duck. “I don’t think the air ever slowed us down.”
In the Texans-Chiefs first 13 visits to Denver for regular season games, they were 11-2, winning one of those games by 52 points and another by 46 points.
The man who figured how to win at Denver was Gunther Cunningham. In his two years as head coach, the Chiefs were 2-0 in the Rockies and in fact went 4-0 against Denver.
POST-SEASON IMPLICATIONS WITH SUNDAY’S ACTION
No team has clinched a spot in the playoffs, although that could change by the end of action on Sunday. There are six teams, including the Chiefs, who have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The others are Detroit, St. Louis, Seattle, Cincinnati and Oakland.
Three teams – the Giants, Titans and Cardinals – can not only clinch spots in the playoffs but division titles this weekend. A Giants victory over Philadelphia gives them the NFC East and a first-round bye in the tournament. Even if they lose, they can clinch the division if Dallas also loses. The Cowboys play at Pittsburgh.
The Titans clinch the AFC South with a victory or an Indianapolis loss. The Titans play Cleveland.
The Cardinals assure themselves their first NFC West title with a victory over¬†St. Louis¬†or a San Francisco defeat. The 49ers face the New York Jets.
Pittsburgh can also clinch a wildcard spot in the playoffs with a victory over Dallas and loses by New England and Miami.
OPPONENT TODAY/DENVER BRONCOS
With Champ Bailey likely out of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, the Broncos will rely on Dre Bly to cover Dwayne Bowe.
FROM THE PAGES OF CHIEFS HISTORY
On December 7, 1975, the Chiefs lost to the San Diego Chargers 28-20 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs led 20-14 going into t he fourth quarter, but the Chargers came back with a pair of final period TDs to gain the victory. The Chiefs touchdowns came from RB Woody Green on a one-yard run and a 17-yard TD pass from QB Len Dawson to WR Barry Pearson. K Jan Stenerud had a pair of FGs. The Chiefs defense picked off three passes by San Diego QB Dan Fouts, as CB Emmitt Thomas, LB Willie Lanier and S Mike Sensibaugh had interceptions.
On December 7, 1986, the Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 37-10 before a crowd of 47,019 at Arrowhead Stadium. To snap a three-game losing streak, the Chiefs defense stepped forward and controlled the game, picking of Denver QBs John Elway and Gary Kubiak five times, including a 72-yard INT return for a touchdown by S Lloyd Burress. LBs Scott Radecic and Gary Spani both had INTs, along with Deron Cherry, Sherman Cocroft and Burress at safety. Chiefs QB Todd Blackledge had a pair of TD passes, throwing nine yards to WR Stephone Paige and 17 yards to RB Jeff Smith. The Chiefs had only 169 yards in total offense but their six scoring drives all began at midfield or in Denver territory.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO …
Celebrating on Sunday are Dallas WR Terrell Owens, who turns 35 today in Pittsburgh where the Cowboys are playing the Steelers.
And enjoying his 30th birthday is Minnesota LB Ben Leber as the Vikings are facing the winless Lions in Detroit.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The Bills are in Toronto today, hosting the Miami Dolphins and expecting to be treated as the home team.
As the season gets closer and closer to being 0-16, they are looking more and more in Detroit at why the Lions are this bad.
AROUND THE REST OF THE AFC WEST
The Chargers say they are going to worry about only themselves, and not think about what the Broncos are doing.
These are¬† tough times for Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell.¬† Tough, tough times.