The Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to turn back the clock on Sunday. The last time the Bengals emerged from Denver victorious was 1975. Roger Crim remembers those days well. Now a successful businessman in Indianapolis, Roger grew up in Western Colorado and has followed the fortunes of the Denver Broncos since they won the first ever AFL game against the Boston Patriots.
The Broncos' origins have a definite Cincinnati connection. The team was founded in 1960 by a man near to the hearts of Queen City natives: Bob Howsam, the architect of the "Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s.
"Being born in Western Colorado and growing up in the '60s, it was natural but not easy to be a Bronco fan," Roger confesses. The Broncos were not tremendously successful in those early years, going without a winning season until 1973 and without a playoff berth until 1977 when first year coach, Red Miller, guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl behind the "Orange Crush" defense. That marked a change in the Broncos' fortunes, and their fans.
"Colorado truly went crazy! Hundreds of people painted their cars orange and I remember one of my neighbors in Grand Junction painted his whole house bright orange and put Bronco sayings all over. It stayed that way for many years. Bronco-mania had arrived and it has never waned even after losing four straight Super Bowl games. First it was '77, then there was Elway and the rest is history!"
Ironically, it was Roger's new city, Indianapolis, that played a major role in John Elway coming to Denver. The Colts drafted Elway in 1983, but the Stanford star refused to sign with them, threatening to play baseball with the New York Yankees rather than play for the Colts, who were at that time a dismal franchise on the cusp of making their infamous move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Denver was one of the franchises Elway stipulated he would play for, a trade was consummated, and a legend was born.
Roger's then teenage daughter, Stephanie remembers the electricity in the community with Elway. "John Elway was a household name and everyone's favorite number was seven."
Elway would go on to guide the team five Super Bowls, winning two. Since Elway's retirement in 1998, the Broncos haven't been back to the big stage and haven't been in the playoffs since 2006.
For younger fans like Stephanie, the playoff drought is a new, and unwelcome experience, but neither the recent struggles nor her move to Indianapolis has dampened her feelings for her hometown team:
"Win or lose, I still love my Broncos and believe they are on a path to a great comeback."
For older fans like Roger who can remember the early struggles, there's perspective. Having endured those early years, a five year playoff drought isn't that big of a deal. I think Bengals fans can relate to that.
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