How do you think Broncos fans are feeling today? Even though they're almost a week removed from their team's stunning playoff loss last Saturday evening, I'm guessing they're still feeling pretty, well, stunned.
Leading up to the divisional playoff games, the smart money was on both the Broncos and Patriots winning rather handily in the AFC bracket, especially after regular season blow-out victories over their postseason opponents--the Ravens and Texans respectively .
However, Baltimore forgot to stick to the script and not only won, handed the Broncos maybe the most stunning playoff loss in franchise history.
With Denver leading, 35-28, with less than a minute remaining, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hit receiver Jacoby Jones with a 70 yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 31 seconds left. That's not the kind of thing you see happen everyday. In fact, it was pretty much on par with "The Miracle at the Meadowlands" in how a team shouldn't handle things when it has the lead at the end of a football game.
When it comes to the ups and downs of football, I often see things from a fans point of view. If I was a Broncos fan sitting in Sports Authority Stadium or watching the game on television from a bar or the comfort of my own living room when Baltimore had the football at its own 30 yard line with no time outs and precious seconds remaining, I must say, part of me would have been looking ahead to the AFC Championship Game and another Manning vs. Brady showdown for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
To see it all come crashing down before their very eyes had to be crushing, but I can relate, all fans can, because, if you're emotionally invested in a team, you experience it all.
I believe as fans, we're always paying it forward and paying it back.
A year ago, Broncos fans got to engage in an unexpected celebration when Tim Tebow, of all quarterbacks, put up 316 passing yards and led Denver, a team that finished 8-8 in the regular season, to an upset victory over the heavily favored Steelers in a wild card playoff game when he connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 80 yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime.
In the offseason, Tebow was sent packing, and Peyton Manning, the Colts long-time legendary quarterback, was brought in to elevate the Broncos from Cinderella status to that of a bona fide Super Bowl contender.
Mission accomplished as Denver went 13-3 in the regular season and looked poised to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the '98 season.
Everything was served up on a postseason silver platter: Homefield advantage, a legendary quarterback and an opponent the Broncos manhandled in the regular season.
Yet, they didn't come through.
How could it happen?
Hey, it's not easy being a sports fan.
On the other side of the coin, how do you think Ravens fans are feeling today? Sure, they're almost a week removed from the high of their team's victory in Denver, but I'll bet they're still feeling pretty euphoric.
If you're a Pittsburgh fan, you probably hate the Ravens (I know I do), but the way they exited the playoffs the previous two years had to be downright gut-wrenching for their fans.
In 2010, Baltimore lost to the Steelers in the divisional playoffs after leading, 21-7, in the third quarter. Losing to your most hated rival in that fashion? Can't get any lower than that, right? A year later, the Ravens lost the AFC Championship Game in New England after Lee Evans couldn't handle what would have been the AFC-clinching touchdown catch and then Billy Cundiff followed that up by missing a 32 yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
Steelers fans often talk about some of the most devastating losses in team history, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more heartbreaking way to lose a football game.
For Baltimore to respond to that loss by winning in such an epic fashion one year later? Wow.
I don't want to be a Ravens fan, but I sure would like some of that Kool Aid they're drinking this week. I'll bet it's good stuff.
I'll leave you with this bit of irony: In the 1986 AFC Championship Game in Cleveland, the Browns were ahead, 20-13, late in the fourth quarter, when John Elway led Denver on a 98 1/2 yard touchdown drive to tie the score and send the game into overtime. The Broncos eventually won and advanced to Super Bowl XXI. "The Drive" is maybe the most memorable moment in franchise history.
As for the Browns, it was the most devastating moment in team history. Many years and a few more heartbreaks later, the franchise moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. I'm sure the people in Cleveland didn't get any joy out of Saturday's game (probably the complete opposite), but as for Broncos fans?
Like I said, you pay it forward, and then you pay it back. Sometimes, it takes over a quarter of a century to even that emotional score.