The city of Denver's championship culture will make or break the Broncos

Broncos QB Russell Wilson (center) seated court-side at 2023 NBA Finals - Game Five
Broncos QB Russell Wilson (center) seated court-side at 2023 NBA Finals - Game Five / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

Championship culture can’t be bought. Rather, it's something that's molded and developed from the ground up. The Denver Broncos, a franchise rooted in generations of winning culture, have struggled to rediscover that spark since their Super Bowl 50 triumph over the Carolina Panthers

Monday night signified an iconic moment in Denver sports lore: the first title in Nuggets history. If Sean Payton and Russell Wilson’s presence courtside was indicative of anything, it’s that championship culture, while at its best when grown organically, is also something that is observed, taught, and ultimately imitated. 

While Payton and Wilson’s pedigrees (two Super Bowl rings between them) are undeniable, they each remain a single cog in a very large machine. However, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that the head coach and quarterback will always take on a disproportionate amount of credit, good or bad, for whatever the outcome may be on a given Sunday.

But Wilson and Payton are also in the midst of a unique existence. While Payton commands respect across the league, the questions about his ability to win post-Drew Brees as well as in a new city will continue to be asked and are probably justified.

Wilson on the other hand is in search of a career resurrection. Entering year 12 coming off a season full of obstacles, most of which we’ll probably never fully understand, no backstop remains. No excuses will be good enough for a city now more invested in its other teams than ever before. 

So with another Stanley Cup added to the Avalanche trophy case last year and a Larry O’Brien trophy set to be showcased through the streets of downtown Denver tomorrow, the question of what’s good enough for the Broncos secures more legitimacy by the day.

Success breeds contempt. As sustained success becomes less a hope and more so than ever, an expectation for Denver teams that don’t start with the letter R, the team that has long been the face of sports in the Mile High City now has two pathways ahead of them. 

They can either raise to the level that those of us who have experienced the best of days always yearn for. Or they can succumb to the brutality that is life as a mediocre NFL franchise, a reality that most of us have made an effort to avoid for the last seven years. 

The harshest slap-in-the-face of it all is that if a light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t start to shine this season, the city of Denver may risk losing one of its proudest traditions at the very least for the youngest of generations: Its existence as a town that is synonymous with the phrase “Broncos Country.”

There is however a sense of optimism that shouldn’t be overlooked. Championship culture isn’t just limited to individual teams. It has a track record of isolating itself to particular cities. The repeated success of Boston sports teams since the turn of the century has surely gotten its fair share of documentation. More recently, the city of Tampa won two Stanley Cups, a Super Bowl, and an AL pennant in a two-year span. 

All of this begs the question, will the Broncos be able to restore balance and cap off Denver’s ascent toward the title of America’s premier sports city? And if they can’t, is it hyperbole to suggest that they are at risk of losing their place at the top of the Denver sports fandom food chain? 

Only time will tell. 

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