Among all the football sins coach Nathaniel Hackett has committed against Broncos Country, there are few worse than this atrocity: He has replaced the passion of Raiders week with apathy, making it just another game on the NFL schedule.
“Somebody’s got to win this game,” Hackett said Wednesday.
But it doesn’t mean Broncos fans have to show up for it.
Want Hackett gone? Vote with your feet.
A large number of no-shows in Empower Field at Mile High will speak loudly to new Broncos ownership as a vote of no confidence in the rookie head coach who has turned Russell Wilson into the most boring quarterback in the league.
Will Broncomaniacs stay home on a sunny November afternoon, rather than take the opportunity to boo Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels, now taking the same sledgehammer to the Pride and Poise he once wielded to wreck the Orange and Blue?
The number of no-shows could well be a more compelling measure of how far this franchise has fallen than the final score of a game in which Denver will try to halt a five-game losing streak against duh hated Raiders.
But know what might be a more unseemly sight than 15,000 no-shows for a franchise that prides itself on fan loyalty through thick and thin, as well as rain and snow?
A large swath of silver and black cut into the soul of Broncos Country. In years past, we have allowed an unfriendly takeover of the stadium to paying customers who wear Chiefs or Steelers jerseys. But local die-hards wouldn’t dare sell their tickets to Raiders fans, would they?
“I sold mine to a Broncos fan, but I truly don’t care which fan base they are from any more,” Drew Stone, a frustrated Broncomaniac, told me via social media. “The games and the fan experience are joyless. I can at least make some cash.”
This dusty old cowtown grew into a major-league city, blossoming in a love affair with a pro football team that made fans stand up and shout. Although you can follow the ties that bind back to 1960, I would argue the true birth of Broncomania was Oct. 16, 1977, when the undefeated Broncos traveled to Oakland and trounced the Raiders 30-7 — a victory punctuated by linebacker Tom Jackson loudly informing coach John Madden: “It’s all over, fat man!”
What once was an amazing rivalry has waned for too many reasons to count. Al Davis died. The Raiders sold their Oakland soul, first to Hollywood and then to Las Vegas, where they now work in the shadows of the strip, as a sideshow to Penn & Teller.
Worst of all, however, is how Broncos Country has slowly been turned into a football hellscape, where quarterbacks and coaches are laid to waste. A man who has a front-row seat to the demise of a proud franchise is Broncos safety Justin Simmons.
“I believe that I am the best safety in the league,” Simmons said. “I believe that and I speak that over myself, regardless of what is written about me.”
Simmons is the face of this franchise’s frustration, the personification of great defense long undercut by inept offense. Through no fault of his own, he had the bad timing to be drafted by Denver in 2016, a handful of weeks after the team won Super Bowl 50.
Despite his best efforts since joining the team, Simmons’ record with the Broncos is 42-64, including an 11-25 record against the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs in the AFC West. Go all the way back to his playing days at Boston College, and Simmons has been stuck on teams that have lost more than 60% of the time for more than a decade.
“It stinks,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t matter how good you can be individually. It matters what you can do as a collective unit.”
If anyone deserves success, it’s Simmons. He’s not only a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, but a wonderful teammate and an even better man. I asked him to name his most memorable victory of the past decade, which includes more than six seasons wearing a Broncos uniform.
“Uh .. We’re talking about like college, the pros? … the last 10 years,” Simmons replied, rubbing his chin, racking his brain for more than 25 seconds, before finding a memory worth mentioning.
Simmons told me he cherishes how Denver overcame a three-touchdown deficit in the third quarter to beat the Chargers 31-30 in November 2020.
Although paid a salary in excess of $15 million, Simmons feels the same pain as any fan so turned off by the Broncos there’s temptation to sell a ticket for a home game during Raiders week.
The root cause for this apathy isn’t hard to determine.
What’s the most memorable victory by the Broncos in the past six years?
And if the question nearly stumped Simmons, it’s no wonder Broncomaniacs are too sick and tired to care.