By Dustin Davis
The list of things for the Denver Broncos to either improve, repair, or throw away completely this off-season is probably as long as what the 2010 season felt like to the Broncos faithful. However, one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about fixing are the elements of the team that provide leadership. That position is filled, and historically for the Broncos, it typically always has been.
Running Back Floyd Little not only energized his teammates, but his play excited the city of Denver into buying more tickets to games, which kept the Broncos from certain relocation with the expansion of Mile High Stadium. He is known as “The Franchise” for helping save the franchise.
Tom Jackson was the vocal leader of the Broncos during the 1970’s. So much so in fact, he was voted Denver’s Most Inspirational Player six times by his teammates. He and fellow linebacker Randy Gradishar motivated the Broncos’ “Orange Crush Defense” into becoming one of the greatest in NFL history. The next generation of Denver’s leadership was steered by safeties Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith, who led with bone-jarring hits more than jaw-flapping quips.
Legendary quarterback John Elway not only guided the Denver Broncos on the field, but on the sideline as well. His accomplishments in this department are well documented, but none more famous than his clutch performance in the 1987 AFC Championship Game, or what is more commonly known in NFL lore today as “The Drive”. Elway now leads the team in a new way, sporting a suit and tie as the new executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos.
The undisputed emotional leader of the Denver Broncos after the Elway era was Al Wilson. In his eight seasons as a Broncos linebacker, Wilson was the defensive captain for six of them, and he provided the fire and passion that helped drive the team all the way to the AFC Championship game in 2005. The pulse of the team was silenced when Wilson suffered a neck injury against the Seattle Seahawks in 2006, with Wilson having to be carted off the field and immediately taken to a nearby hospital. Wilson was cleared to play and returned the next week, but he was never the same. Denver released Wilson in April of 2007.
After Al Wilson was gone, the Denver Broncos did go through a rough patch where they seemed to have no one to guide them. Veteran receiver Rod Smith and safety John Lynch could have shared the responsibilities, but both Smith’s retirement and Lynch’s release from the team took place in the span of a week.
With veteran leadership gone, the team looked to young quarterback Jay Cutler to take over the role, but he was either unprepared or unwilling to do so. Subsequently the team brought in new head coach Josh McDaniels to help fill the void, but he only made it deeper. They are both gone now.
Although Cutler and McDaniels were not great leaders, they did precede men at their respected positions who are. Quarterback Tim Tebow is the “anti-Cutler” when it comes to expressing emotion, and head coach John Fox brings a much needed mature direction to the franchise. Add to that the experience and raw passion of veteran safety Brian Dawkins on the defensive side, and the immediate future of the team looks to be on the right track.
While emotion and leadership alone within a team won’t win it a championship, it can be the building blocks for something special. The Denver Broncos have that, they just have to put the rest of the pieces in place around it.
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