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Ranking the Broncos’ top 10 moments in ‘championship uniform’ era: John Elway, Demaryius Thomas highlight list

It’s the end of an era in Denver. After 27 seasons without a significant change to their uniforms, the Broncos will be sporting a new look for the 2024 season

While aspects of their old uniform remains (including the color/number schemes as well as the logo), the Broncos are parting ways with a uniform that was part of a rich time in the franchise’s history. Denver won each of its three Super Bowls in their former uniform; the Broncos actually won their first Lombardi Trophy during the first season (1997) after going away from the “Orange Crush” jerseys, which are now back in circulation as the team’s new alternates. 

In addition to their three Super Bowl wins, the Broncos won four AFC titles, seven division titles and made the playoffs 10 times from 1997-2023. I’d be remiss not to mention, however, the franchise’s current eight-year drought without a playoff appearance, which perhaps makes this a good time for a new look in Denver. 

The Broncos had no shortage of great moments during the 27 seasons in their former uniforms. Here’s my ranking of Denver’s top 10 greatest moments in their “championship era” uniforms. 

Honorable mention: Manning’s milestone 

Peyton Manning’s record-setting 2013 season started off with a bang. In the season-opener, Manning tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens. Manning would go onto win his record fifth league MVP that year after throwing 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, which are both NFL records.

10. Dethroning the champs 

While other teams had issues with them, the Broncos had no problems with the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots as far as the playoffs were concerned. Denver had a 3-0 postseason record against New England over that span, including a 27-13 upset win in the 2005 divisional round that ended the Patriots’ dreams of a three-peat. 

The game’s signature play was Champ Bailey’s 100-yard pick of Brady that set up a short Mike Anderson touchdown late in the third quarter. 

9. 2,000 for TD 

Despite having home field advantage for the playoffs locked up, there was plenty of drama during the Broncos’ 1998 season finale. Needing 170 rushing yards to reach 2,000 for the season, Terrell Davis rumbled for 178 yards despite playing with an injury. The milestone capped off an MVP season for Davis, who undoubtedly would have broken Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards had he not been pulled early during several Broncos blowout wins during the year. 

8. Elway’s final comeback 

Fittingly, John Elway’s final home game included one of his patented comebacks. Trailing the Jets 10-0 in the AFC Championship game, Elway jump-started the comeback with a 47-yard completion to Ed McCaffrey that set up the Broncos’ first touchdown. Denver then scored on its next three drives to punch its second consecutive ticket to the Super Bowl

7. Upset in Arrowhead 

Included in the 1997 Broncos’ playoff revenge tour was a divisional round showdown against arch rival Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium. In a classic defensive duel, the Broncos prevailed when defensive back Darrien Gordon broke up a pass just short of the end zone on the Chiefs‘ final offensive play. 

Along with the defense, Denver’s 14-10 win was fueled by Davis, who ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. 

6. Manning’s Broncos punch first Super Bowl ticket 

Manning brought his rivalry with the Patriots with him from Indianapolis when he arrived in Denver in 2012. One of his biggest wins over the Patriots took place in the 2013 AFC Championship game. In a game Denver never trailed in, Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 win. His favorite target that day was Thomas, who pulled in seven passes for 134 yards and a score. 

5. Thomas torches Steelers in OT 

No one who watched will ever forget the ending of the Broncos-Steelers 2011 AFC wild card showdown. On the first play of overtime, Demaryius Thomas turned a short pass from Tim Tebow into an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense. 

It was just one of many big plays Thomas made during his glittering, nine-year career with the Broncos that included five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring. 

4. Broncos survive Brady, Patriots’ comeback bid 

The 2015 AFC Championship game is truly one of the most underrated championship games in NFL history. It included a gritty performance from Manning (who threw two early touchdowns), a dominant effort from Von Miller (2.5 sacks and an interception) and a thrilling comeback attempt by Brady in the game’s final moments. 

Down 20-12 with under two minutes to play, Brady and Rob Gronkowski gave the Patriots life when the duo connected on a 40-yard completion. They connected again moments later for touchdown (on a fourth down play) that set the stage for a game-tying, two-point conversion attempt. 

The attempt, however, was picked off by Bradley Roby, giving a Manning a win in his final matchup with Brady. 

3. Back-to-back Broncos 

Everyone expected an epic Super Bowl matchup between the Broncos and the Vikings, who had gone 15-1 during the regular season. But the Vikings were upset in the NFC title game by the Falcons, setting the stage for a lopsided Super Bowl. 

With Atlanta geared up to stop Davis, Elway took center stage en route to an MVP performance in the final game of his Hall of Fame career. Elway threw for 336 yards and a touchdown and even ran for a score in Denver’s 34-19 win. 

2. ‘This one’s for Pat’ 

Similar to Elway, Manning ended his Hall of Fame career on top after helping the Broncos win a Super Bowl. When Manning and the Broncos’ offense doing just enough, Denver’s defense did the rest while shutting down league MVP Cam Newton, who completed less than half of his pass attempts. Miller’s 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles led to him winning Super Bowl MVP. 

After the game, Elway dedicated the win to former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who passed away in 2019. 

1. ‘This one’s for John’ 

Without question, the Broncos’ greatest win to date took place on January 25, 1998. An 11-point underdog entering Super Bowl XXXII, Denver managed to shock Brett Favre and the rest of the defending champion Packers behind an aggressive defense, the running of game MVP Terrell Davis (who ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns despite missing nearly the entire second quarter with a migraine) and the toughness of Elway, whose key third-down conversion on a run late in the third quarter shifted the game’s momentum in Denver’s favor. 

The Broncos’ 31-24 win marked the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. It also snapped the AFC’s 13-year losing streak in the Super Bowl. 

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