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Sundays with Sacco: The schedule is what you make of it

Once the NFL's full schedule comes out, the year seems to fly along, with dates and times and meaning applied to all the empirical and existential work of scouting and preparation.

As defending World Champions (and I love writing that, and though using capital letters even of they don't quite belong by literary style, they belong by football style), the Denver Broncos have a very exciting schedule that fans and the press are all discussing.

Five prime-time nationally televised games, 10 games that are either prime-time or doubleheader games, and it all adds up to another season played in the national fishbowl.

But every time a new schedule comes out, I am reminded of some facts and comments from the past that smack us with a good dose of reality.

Once upon a time, when John Ralston was the Head Coach/General Manager of the Broncos, he responded to a schedule question by saying, "Your schedules are like your kids.  You might as well love them, because they are the only ones you have."

I have not forgotten that in 40 years, so it looks like I will be remembering it for awhile.

When Ralston, also known as "JR", came to Denver in 1972, the Broncos had never had a winning season in team history, but he brought the kind of exuberance and excitement that a Dale Carnegie graduate takes to work, and John was literally a graduate of the Carnegie School of Positive Thinking program.

John had come to Denver from Stanford, where he had posted back-to-back Rose Bowl wins over Ohio State in the days when, for reasons largely associated to media and geography, the Pacific Coast football was just not considered on a par with that of the Big Ten.

He had winning seasons in three of his five years in Denver, compared to the Broncos having gone 0-for-12 before JR, and he drafted the foundation that would become a Super Bowl team under new management the year after he left. His first-round draft choices for Denver were Riley Odoms, Otis Armstrong, Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright, and Tom Glassic, all of whom started on that Super Bowl XII team and two of whom are Ring of Famers.

So you get the idea.

The first winning season was in 1973, and it is very vivid to me because the Broncos started off 1-3-1 with a 14-game schedule. Given the team's previous history of shooting blanks, their forgettable start hardly suggested a winning year.

But the schedule is what you do with it, what you make of it.

To paraphrase my public relations staff advice of "Shut up and type," just "Shut up and play."

In other words, do your job; keep grinding; do not deviate from the goal; don't let outside influences knock you off your mission, and you can do this. Sound familiar? It should to all Bronco fans, because that is exactly the style embodied by Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway and Head Coach Gary Kubiak, and it resulted in a Super Bowl 50 win. Just keep grinding, even when the gears are making a horrific noise pushing against each other.

We had a young staff member here in my first year with the Broncos, and even then he espoused those thoughts. His name was Bill Belichick, and he has done pretty well with the "Do your job" or "Shut up and play" mantras.

Another memorable quote to me about the schedule came from Mike Shanahan when he was our head coach. I was looking at our schedules and asked him what he thought of ours compared to that on another division opponent.

He took them both in his hand, looked them over, and said, "Hm, it looks like we each have eight at home and eight away," and handed them back to me.

The comment was memorable and pithy, easily understood and agreed upon by every coach. Every game on that schedule is an opportunity to win.

Day game, night game, prime-time game or not. Good weather, bad weather, both kinds on the same day, whatever. Home game, road game, moon game. Study, prepare, practice and execute.

Of course, we won consecutive championships under Shanahan, with Kubiak as offensive coordinator and Elway at quarterback. With Elway and Kubiak in charge, it is no surprise that philosophy is alive and a driving force.

So every fan should savor the joy of anticipation regarding the upcoming season, and the media should write and talk a blue streak about it, including a litany of "What if?" and "Oh no, what now?" comments.  After all, that is their job.

But that is not the coaches' job, or the players' job, nor that of the support staff.

That schedule is an opportunity.

As the great Peyton Manning said in a mid-week press conference once leading up to a playoff game, "All this is, is a chance. It is an opportunity, not a guarantee. It does not matter if we are favored or not, at home or not. It is an opportunity."

That is the mindset.

But fans can just enjoy the games, and look forward with the knowledge that all those on the field and in the meeting rooms know that what we have in the schedule, what we always have, is eight at home and eight away.

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