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Way Back When: The Broncos' Thursday-night history


The Denver Broncos have played 23 games on Thursday in their history, going back to a 46-45 loss to the New York Titans on Thanksgiving Day in 1962. Overall, their record in Thursday games — including Thanksgiving-day matchups and NFL Kickoff Games — is 12-11.

But in terms of "Thursday Night Football" broadcasts, Denver has played on that stage 11 times, producing a 7-4 record.

"Thursday Night Football" began as part of an eight-game package in 2006 and 2007, airing from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season. Five games aired on Thursday nights and three on Saturday nights in that original package of games.

Naturally, Pat Bowlen's Broncos were there at the beginning, as our owner always aggressively pursued new television opportunities for his team. He was always willing to showcase his team when possible to bring them to new audiences to grow their popularity.

In the first ever "Thursday Night Football" broadcast, Denver played at Kansas City on Thanksgiving night, 2006, dropping a 19-10 decision to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

But that was not Denver's first appearance on Thursday night, which was actually back in 1979, my second year with the team, when the Broncos fell 13-9 to the Los Angeles Rams at Mile High Stadium.

Since that time, television and the promise of new media spurred the current Thursday night package beginning back in 2006.

In 2011, the NFL expanded its Thursday-night package of games on NFL Network, which increased from eight to 13 games for the 2012 season.

Of course, the Broncos were again part of the schedule in 2012, posting a 26-13 win over the Raiders that season.

Whenever anyone grumbled about playing on a short week due to the Thursday schedule, Mr. B. would say, "Hey, the other guys are playing on Thursday night too!"

In 2014, CBS acquired the rights to broadcast early-season prime-time "Thursday Night Football" games, simulcast by NFL Network, for the 2014 season, with NFL Network retaining exclusive rights to late-season TNF games.

The Broncos by then were a staple on "TNF," appearing in games from the 2014 season to the present, including one of the more memorable ones in recent history, when Bradley Roby returned a fumble for a game-winning touchdown in Kansas City in 2015.

The networks of course have always loved to televise games that included some combination of John Elway, Peyton Manning, the mountains, and the color orange (most recently manifested with the all-orange Color Rush uniform look).

Sometimes all of the above.

In 2016, the NFL announced expansion of "Thursday Night Football" for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, continuing its partnership with CBS while also adding NBC as a partner. Both CBS and NBC were to broadcast five "TNF" games, growing the package once again, this time to 10 broadcast games.

But the exposure of the Broncos and "TNF" was as much about the future of new media as anything else, and in 2017 the NFL reached an agreement with Amazon Prime as its exclusive partner to deliver a live digital stream of "TNF" to a global audience across devices during the 2017 season.

Amazon Prime Video streamed the 10 "TNF" games broadcast by NBC and CBS, which also have been simulcast on NFL Network, once again securing the league's "Tri-Cast" model of broadcast (NBC/CBS), cable (NFL Network), and digital (Amazon Prime Video) distribution.

The Broncos again were one of the teams included in this package, winning a 25-13 game over the Colts in Indianapolis last year.

Denver's combination of great ownership, players and winning history have made the Broncos must-see TV for all the NFL's broadcast partners over the last four decades.

Most recently, this year the NFL reached an agreement with FOX Sports to broadcast the next five seasons of "TNF," beginning with the 2018 season. The agreement awards FOX Sports with a five-year deal that includes 11 games between weeks 4-15 (excluding Thanksgiving night) to be broadcast on FOX, simulcast on NFL Network, and distributed in Spanish on FOX Deportes.

The NFL also renewed its exclusive partnership with Amazon Prime Video to deliver a live OTT (over the top) digital stream of "TNF" to a global audience across devices during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

And that brings us to where we are this week, in terms both of the Broncos' schedule and the marriage of that schedule to both television and new media.

The Broncos have a 7-4 record when they play on "Thursday Night Football," but it has never been just about the football. It is also about the brand and expanding Broncos Country exponentially, just as Mr. B. has always wanted.

He famously said, "I want us to be number one in everything," and that certainly includes a prime presence on "Thursday Night Football."

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