Will Broncos Join the Unlikely Champions Club?

Denver Broncos, Greg Smith, Ramblings and Rants

The Denver Broncos 2011 season is the story of how a team’s belief in itself can overcome its shortcomings and produce a championship.

Before we pick against the nearly two touchdown underdog Broncos this weekend, let’s look back at a few other Cinderella teams — with unproven quarterbacks — who overcame long odds to win the Super Bowl.  These success stories might just give us a reason to like Denver, in New England, this Saturday.

1990 Giants– They limped into the playoffs without starting quarterback Phil Simms.  The Jeff Hostetler-led squad put together an impressive playoff stretch, defeating the Bears, two-time defending Super Bowl Champion 49ers, and high-octane Bills, to win Super Bowl XXV.

Jeff Hostetler celebrates a TD vs the Bills during Super Bowl XXV (AP)

Pro Football Weekly, 1/13/91, before New York’s 31-3 Divisional Playoff win over Chicago:

“Hostetler’s strengths are that he can scramble and make a big play off an ad lib… you get more mobility than when Simms is in the game.  The price you pay, however, is that his throws tend to be erratic.”  (Sound like anyone in Denver?)

Each of PFW’s seven staff writers picked the 7-point favored 49ers to beat New York in the NFC Championship game… a game the Giants won 15-13.

Hostetler’s Tebow-like stats in his 5 games as a starter in 1990:

Passing – 70/122 for 823 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs

Rushing – 34 for 177, 2 TDs

2001 Patriots – coming off a 5-11 2000 season and a 1-3 start in 2001 — in which starter Drew Bledsoe was lost to injury — the Patriots turned to second-year, sixth round draft choice Tom Brady at quarterback and pulled off one of the most stunning playoff runs and Super Bowl upsets in NFL history.

Each of PFW’s 9 staff writers picked the 8-point favored Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, which NE won 24-17.

Each of the writers then picked the 14-point favored Rams in the Super Bowl, which NE won 20-17.

Tom Brady celebrates after beating the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (AP)

A few quotes from that Pre-SB issue:

“New England’s magic carpet ride will come to an abrupt end on Super Sunday.”

“They’ll spend the fourth quarter in the Rams rearview mirror.”

“I can safely predict a Super Bowl blowout.”

A few more quotes from the Patriots ’01 season:

“Another chapter in an improbable season orchestrated by the unlikeliest of leaders.”
– Sports Illustrated, 1/28/02, by Jeffri Chadiha, after the Patriots 16-13 Divisional playoff win over the Raiders

“If you would have told me before this season that the Patriots, coming off a dismal 5-11 campaign, would advance to this year’s AFC title game, I would have said, ‘Yeah, right.  That’ll happen when hell freezes over.’”
– Pro Football Weekly, 1/28/02, by Ron Pollack, after the Patriots beat the Raiders.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy year… We don’t have a lot of big names, but guys do their jobs, and we have become a team in every sense of the word.”
– Patriots Backup Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, after New England’s 24-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game

“New England’s unlikely rise, keyed by Brady’s poise and productivity, stirred the emotions of even casual football fans.”
– Sports Illustrated, 2/4/02, by Michael Silver, after the Patriots Championship Game victory over Pittsburgh

“A game like this makes you trust in all those corny-sounding clichés… On paper you may not look as talented or as fast or as strong as your opponent, but if you get guys to buy into a system and fight to the bitter end, you can accomplish incredible things.”
– Patriots Linebacker Mike Vrabel, following New England’s 20-17 upset of St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI

“You’re looking at a team that has some f—— guts, man… Brady never flinched, and they’ve got one hell of a gutsy coach.”
– Rams Defensive End Chidi Ahanotu, after losing to New England in the Super Bowl

Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs celebrate after winning Super Bowl XLII

2007 Giants – Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin not only saved their jobs in New York but also defined their legacies with an amazing string of road playoff wins on their way to arguably the biggest upset in NFL history, a 17-14 win over the undefeated Patriots, in Super Bowl XLII.

Dr. Z called it:

Amazingly, despite the 18-0 Patriots being double-digit favorites, the legendary Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated picked a Giant upset in the pre-SB issue of S.I:

“I can’t handicap this game by conventional means – rush schemes and offensive planning and the like.  I can only go back to Super Bowl III, when I was the New York Post’s beat man covering the Jets, and I had a hunch that they were primed for a major upset over the Colts even though it didn’t seem logical…I have the same hunch.  The mental toughness is unmistakable.  Giants 24, Patriots 20.”

2011 Broncos – John Fox took over a 4-12 Broncos team that began 2011 with a 1-4 record… Once Fox benched starting quarterback Kyle Orton for Tim Tebow, the season turned around, as Denver strung together a series of dramatic wins on their way to winning the AFC West title.  An upset over the 8-point favored Steelers in the Wild Card round sets up a Divisional showdown in New England, where Denver is a 13.5-point underdog.

Can the magical, Cinderella story continue for Denver and their quarterback?  Will they be remembered like the ’90 Giants, ’01 Patriots, and ’07 Giants?  Or so many other Cinderellas who have tripped in their glass slippers?

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