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Way Back When: The bye week


The Denver Broncos are among the teams enjoying a bye week right now.

No game this week! A chance to rest those weary bones before the rest of the season commences.

Many fans do not realize the 24/7/365 nature of pro football, but I can vouch for the fact that team executives are mentally weary and also relish the fact that there is no game this week.

But what the heck is a bye, and how did it start?

Without going into every nuance of the NFL schedule, we will briefly note that from 1935 through 1960 there were either 10, 11 or 12 games in a season.

But then along came the American Football League in 1960, with the Broncos as charter members, helping create one of the more trivial all-time stats in which the Broncos lead pro football. More on that a bit later.

When the AFL began play in 1960 it introduced a balanced schedule of 14 games per team, but over a 15-week season, meaning that each club had a "bye" week.

Competition from the newly created AFL caused the NFL to expand and follow suit with a 14-game schedule in 1961. But the NFL did not have a bye week for this format, save for the 1966 season.

After a lot of different forms of scheduling in the NFL, at one time including games that conflicted with high school and college football, the NFL settled into the schedule we have today.

In 1990, the bye week returned as the NFL began utilizing a 17-week season — a format that became the norm for most of the three decades that followed. Two exemptions followed: one in 1993 (two bye weeks instead of one for an 18-week season), and one in 2001 after the September 11th attacks. The league postponed Week 2 games at the suggestions of many (myself included), leading to another 18-week season.

The 18-week season is now the norm, of course, as the NFL went to a 17-game schedule in 2021. Naturally, more games mean more needed rest for the players, which certainly marks the importance of a bye week.

Further, the incredible popularity of football on television means that the NFL and the network partners wish to extend the season as much as possible, and extending the number of weeks of play by the bye is a vital component of that.

So, since the Broncos had been members of the AFL (with a bye) from 1960-69, and members of the NFL since then, the Broncos are tied with the other original AFL teams for the most bye weeks in NFL history. And since the Broncos will always be playing the same number of games as all the other teams in the NFL, and the past is already accounted for, Broncos fans can await next week's game at Tennessee with the knowledge that no franchise has had more bye weeks than Denver.

And for much of that time, the other franchises were grateful for any situation in which they did not have to prepare for the Denver Broncos, a time and feeling that is right around the corner once again.

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