The Denver Broncos are a professional American football club based in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos compete as a member club of the National Football League (NFL)’s American Football Conference (AFC) West division. They began play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League (AFL) and joined the NFL as part of the merger in 1970. The Broncos are owned by the Pat Bowlen trust and currently play home games at Broncos Stadium at Mile High (formerly known as Invesco Field at Mile High from 2001–2010 and Sports Authority Field at Mile High from 2011–2017). Prior to that, they played at Mile High Stadium from 1960 to 2000.
The Broncos were barely competitive during their 10-year run in the AFL and their first seven years in the NFL. They did not complete a winning season until 1973. In 1977, four years later, they qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and advanced to Super Bowl XII. Since 1975, the Broncos have become one of the NFL’s more successful teams, having suffered only seven losing seasons. They have won eight AFC Championships (1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998, 2013, 2015, and three Super Bowl championships (1997 (XXXII), 1998 (XXXIII), 2015. However, the Broncos share the NFL record for most Super Bowl losses with the New England Patriots. They have six players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: John Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe, Gary Zimmerman, Terrell Davis, and Brian Dawkins.
American Football League
The Denver Broncos have three AFC West rivals—the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders. All teams, along with the Broncos, were charter members of the American Football League (AFL), with each team placed in the AFL Western Division. The Broncos were barely competitive during the AFL years (1960–69), going a combined 10–49–1 against the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Broncos have had several memorable matchups with the Chiefs, particularly during the years in which John Elway was the Broncos’ starting quarterback (1983–98). The Broncos defeated the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round of the 1997 NFL playoffs, en route to their first Super Bowl victory. The Chiefs currently hold a 61–55 series lead over the Broncos, including the aforementioned 1997 divisional playoff game.
The rivalry with the Raiders was ignited in 1977, when the Broncos advanced to their first Super Bowl by defeating the defending champion Raiders in the 1977 AFC Championship. The rivalry intensified in the mid-1990s, when Mike Shanahan was hired as the Broncos’ head coach in 1995. Shanahan coached the Raiders in 1988before being fired four games into the 1989 season. The Raiders currently hold a 63–52–2 series lead over the Broncos, including 1–1 in the playoffs.
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers
Unlike their records against the Chiefs and Raiders, the Broncos currently have a winning record against the Chargers, with a 65–51–1 series lead, including 1–0 in the playoffs. The Broncos pulled off one of the largest comebacks in Monday Night Football history, when Peyton Manning led the Broncos from a 24–0 halftime deficit to a 35–24 win at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium during the 2012 season. The two teams met in the playoffs for the first time on January 12, 2014, at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, with the Broncos winning 24–17.
The Broncos had an old rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks, who were members of the AFC West from 1977 to 2001, prior to the Seahawks’ move to the NFC West as part of the NFL’s 2002 re-alignment. During the 25 years in which the Seahawks resided in the AFC West, the Broncos went 32–18 against the Seahawks, including a loss at Seattle in the 1983 NFL playoffs. Since 2002, the two teams have split four interconference meetings, and the two teams met in Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014, with the Seahawks winning by a score of 43–8.
Aside from the aforementioned AFC West teams, the Broncos have had intra-conference rivalries over the years with the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.
The Drive and The Fumble
The Broncos had a brief rivalry with the Browns that arose from three AFC championship matches in 1986, 1987 and 1989. In the 1986 AFC Championship, quarterback John Elway led The Drive to secure a tie in the waning moments at Cleveland Municipal Stadium; the Broncos went on to win in 23–20 in overtime. One year later, the two teams met again in the 1987 AFC Championship at Mile High Stadium.
Denver took a 21–3 lead, but Browns’ quarterback Bernie Kosar threw four touchdown passes to tie the game at 31–31 halfway through the 4th quarter. After a long drive, John Elway threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to running back Sammy Winder to give Denver a 38–31 lead. Cleveland advanced to Denver’s 8-yard line with 1:12 left, but Broncos’ safety Jeremiah Castille stripped Browns’ running back Earnest Byner of the football at the 2-yard line—a play that has been called The Fumble by Browns’ fans. The Broncos recovered it, gave Cleveland an intentional safety, and went on to win 38–33. The two teams met yet again in the 1989 AFC Championship at Mile High Stadium, which the Broncos easily won by a score of 37–21. The Broncos did not win the Super Bowl after any of the championship games where they defeated the Browns, losing by an aggregate of 136–40.
As of the end of the 2015 season, the Broncos and Steelers have met in postseason play eight times, tied with five other pairings for the most frequent playoff matchups in NFL playoff history. The Broncos currently own a 5–3 playoff record vs. the Steelers. Perhaps the most memorable postseason matchup occurred in the 1997 AFC Championship, in which the Broncos defeated the Steelers 24–21 at Three Rivers Stadium, en route to their first Super Bowl victory. Eight years later, the Steelers returned the favor at INVESCO Field at Mile High, defeating the Broncos 34–17 in the 2005 AFC Championship, and subsequently won Super Bowl XL. In the Wild Card round of the 2011 playoffs, in a game dubbed The 3:16 game, the Broncos stunned the Steelers 29–23 on the first play of overtime, when quarterbackTim Tebow connected with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard game-winning touchdown pass. The teams met again in the Divisional round of the 2015 playoffs at Denver, where the Broncos defeated the Steelers 23–16 on their way to a victory in Super Bowl 50.
New England Patriots
Broncos–Patriots rivalry and Tom Brady–Peyton Manning rivalry
The Broncos and Patriots met twice annually during the American Football League (AFL) years from 1960 to 1969, and played in the first-ever AFL game on September 9, 1960. Since 1995, the two teams have met frequently during the regular season, including nine consecutive seasons from 1995 to 2003. As of the end of the 2015 season, the two teams have met in the playoffs five times, with the Broncos owning a 4–1 record. The teams’ first playoff match on January 4, 1987 was John Elway’s first career playoff win, while the teams’ second playoff match on January 14, 2006 game was the Broncos’ first playoff win since Elway’s retirement after the 1998 season.The game was also notable for Champ Bailey’s 100-yard interception that resulted in a touchdown-saving tackle by Benjamin Watson at the 1-yard line.On October 11, 2009, the two teams met with former Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels as the Broncos’ head coach. Both teams wore their AFL 50th anniversary jerseys. The game featured a 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter, with a game-tying touchdown pass from Kyle Orton to Brandon Marshall, followed by an overtime drive led by Orton that resulted in a 41-yard game-winning field goal by Matt Prater. The two teams met in the Divisional round of the 2011 playoffs, with the Patriots blowing out Tim Tebow and the Broncos by a score of 45–10.The Broncos’ rivalry with the Patriots later intensified when longtime Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning became the Broncos’ starting quarterback from 2012 to 2015. Manning and Patriots’ quarterback Tom Bradymaintained a legendary rivalry from 2001 until Manning’s retirement after the 2015 season.[ Though Brady dominated Manning in regular season play, winning nine of twelve meetings, Manning won three of five playoff meetings, the last of which was a Broncos’ 20–18 win in the 2015 AFC Championship.