DENVER - The Mile High City wakes up Sunday with a cloudy head. Big Saturday night.
A bigger Sunday awaits. By the time this day is done, it will be seared in this city’s mind forever . . . to the good or to the bad.
Before last Sunday, the Broncos hadn’t won a playoff game in front of their own fans since Champ Bailey picked off Tom Brady and returned it 99.5 yards against the Patriots in the Divisional Round on January 14, 2006.
Eight years have passed. If things go the way Denver denizens are praying, they will be headed to their first Super Bowl since they obliterated the Dirty Bird Falcons in January 1999. Fifteen seasons. For a franchise that went to five Super Bowls from 1986 through that 1998 season (going 2-3), this drought’s been tough to take.
But Denver woke up this morning to see their ancient and annoying columnist Woody Paige declare the Broncos would win. Wrote Paige:
“I will not bury the lede. The Broncos will bury the Patriots 34-23.
Stop reading now unless you want to learn the five W's — who, what, when, where and why — and one H — how.
Who? You don't know who? Duh. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
What? "It is what it is,"as John Fox always says.
When? Sometime Sunday, OK? Don't be late for kickoff. Hurry, hurry.
Where? Where have you been all week? Omaha?
Why? Because I said so, that's why.
How? Not how, but how many?
And, in summation, the Broncos are better than the Patriots.”
These papers pay good money for that stuff. Great work if you can get it.
There aren’t a lot of Broncos that have been to a Super Bowl. Wes Welker has been trying to tell them there’s no promise they’ll be this close again.
“I try to tell them about when I went through in 2007 (with the Patriots): we were undefeated and we lost in the end, and I was thinking we'll be back next year, and we'll be back the next year and the next year and we are going to win one,” Welker told the Denver Post. "You don't realize how hard it is to get there. You've got to appreciate it and seize that moment and you have to take advantage of it. Injuries happen, free agency happens, all different things happen. The opportunities of getting to this situation are so rare, you've got to seize that moment."
Saturday night, Robert Kraft – who continues to light candles over Welker’s departure – said something similar at a gathering of Patriots fans in a Denver bar.
“There’s no owner, no head coach, no quarterback, no player who really knows what’s gonna happen [Sunday],” Kraft said. “That’s why the networks pay us what they pay . . .The only thing I can say is this is a very special team we have. There’s certain amount of jitters you face, because, let’s face it, we may never be in this position again.”
There’s no denying Denver is the more talented team as currently constituted. But when the Patriots return to full strength in 2014 with all their broken defensive pieces and one Gronk repaired, the scale will tip back.
For Denver, this has been a once-in-a-generation season. By the end of the day, Broncos fans will know if it really doesn’t get better than this. Or if, in two weeks, it can still get a lot better.