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Since the Denver Broncos put the finishing touches on a decisive 24–10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, there’s been a distinct afterglow in the city.
At gas stations, cashiers and customers swap smiles and quips about the demolition of Cam Newton, the NFL’s MVP who was reduced to rubble by the Denver D. At elementary schools, kids line up in their blue and orange jerseys, buzzing about the first championship they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes. And at workplaces across the metropolis, bosses begin their weekly meetings with mention of the team’s gridiron feat.
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This is a city that’s not unfamiliar with championships, yet Sunday’s victory had an altogether different feeling to it. This was not simply the franchise’s third Super Bowl title; it was a win that quenched a long-endured thirst, a win to be considered a crossroads of sorts for everyone involved.
For Peyton, it was a final chapter only the football gods could pen. He collected his second Vince Lombardi Trophy and became the first quarterback to win titles with two different teams. He notched career win number 200, passing Brett Favre for first on the all-time list.
Who cares if he had the worst season ever by a Super Bowl-winning QB? Who cares if Denver’s 194 yards of total offense were the fewest by a winning team in Super Bowl history? Peyton’s going to stuff two rings in his ears to tune out the haters and ride into the sunset as one of the greatest signal callers ever—and if we’re lucky, his yet-to-be-announced retirement will open up his schedule for more commercial cameos. (Cue the refrains of “chicken parm you taste so goooood.”)
For the Denver D, the Super Bowl was the exclamation point on an already historical season. Game MVP Von Miller (six tackles, two crucial strip-sacks) and his comrades dominated the game’s every facet, from limiting Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart to 2.4 yards per carry to flustering Newton to the tune of six sacks to making the Carolina receivers virtually irrelevant.
Oh, and the unit was directly or indirectly responsible for 14 of Denver’s 24 points. 1985 Bears who? 2000 Baltimore Ravens who? This defense, as linebacker Brandon Marshall asserted in his post-game press conference, is “the greatest defense to ever do it. Ever.” (According to a USA Today analysis, the Broncos’ D statistically ranks in the top 10 of all-time, but isn’t number one. We’ll let that slide.)
For John Elway, the win further cemented his status as a football immortal, for he is now the first man to ever win Super Bowl titles as a player and as a general manager. He’s also a man who’s now come full circle in Colorado lore—in 1998 it was owner Pat Bowlen declaring, “This one’s for John,” while Sunday it was John returning the favor with “This one’s for Pat.”
For the city of Denver and the rabid Broncos fan base, this was a title a long time coming. Since the last Super Bowl victory it’s been nearly two decades of up-and-down play, sometimes bad, sometimes good, most times maddeningly mediocre. There was the pain of getting to the precipice two years ago against the Seahawks, then taking a nosedive off the Super Bowl cliff. So today, when hundreds of thousands of people pack downtown to dance under confetti and pay homage to the latest Broncos greats, it’ll be a sight for sore eyes.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, this title raises questions on how to repeat the victory. The Broncos must lock up Von Miller, most logically via the franchise tag. And while they’ve got other free-agent defensive priorities such as Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, Denver might need to let one or both of those guys walk in order to secure quarterback Brock Osweiler, who in his seven-game audition this year proved he deserves to take the reins.
For as this city knows well by now, the afterglow of a championship season like this is hard to top—and we sure don’t want 18 years to pass before we can bask in it again.
(Slideshow: Scenes from the Broncos Super Bowl Parade & Rally)