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Way Back When: The great quarterbacks of the Broncos-Chiefs rivalry through the years


The columns I write are nostalgic in nature, hopefully tying the past to the present but largely looking at great historical times gone by.

So they are not for everybody, but any current fans of the Denver Broncos also have to appreciate and give dignity to our opponents. Without someone else to play who wants to win just as much as we do, we are just reduced to playing scrimmages against ourselves, a concept that defies the nature of the game. And in all of Broncos history we have had no rivals like those in the AFC West, with the Kansas City Chiefs at the very top.

When the Broncos began, back in 1960, we owed our very existence to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Lamar Hunt, owner of the Dallas Texans and founder of the American Football League. His teams played as the Texans for three seasons before moving to Kansas City, where they took the nickname "Chiefs" as an homage to the mayor of Kansas City, Harold Bartle, known locally as "The Chief" and the single political individual who made things accommodating for Hunt and his young pro football team.

That was back in late winter of 1963.

From the 1960s until today, the Broncos and Chiefs have always faced off twice a year. And then as now, this series has always been about the quarterbacks.

In the '60s the Broncos went from rags to ... more rags, as the doormats on the Western Division.

The Chiefs? They had the wealthiest and most farsighted owner and the best team in the league for the entire decade. They won the most games and the most AFL titles.

And a lot of it was about Len Dawson, the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Once upon a time KC head coach Hank Stram told Dawson, "Leonard, make sure that you never let them see you sweat."

And Dawson replied, "Coach, quarterbacks don't sweat. Quarterbacks perspire."

Lenny never did much of either against the Broncos, as the Chiefs went 19-1 against Denver in that decade. A Hall of Fame quarterback can do that for a team.

Of course, time moved on and the Broncos' fortunates changed as they found successful quarterbacks. Ring of Famer Charley Johnson became the first QB to lead Denver to multiple wins over the Chiefs, and Craig Morton would put a dent in the series deficit with a 7-3 record against Kansas City.

Then John Elway came to Denver, and that was that, for the entire period from 1983-98, and as we now know, beyond. The Broncos went to the Super Bowl five times with Elway at quarterback, becoming one of the select franchises to post back-to-back world championships in 1997 and 1998, at one point going nearly an entire calendar year without a defeat. Against the Chiefs, he won more often than he lost, earning an 18-12 record in the 30 regular-season and postgame games he started against Kansas City.

Elway was the king of the fourth-quarter comebacks, a statistic that I am proud to have researched and used well before anyone else, and he had five of those comebacks at our Mile High Stadium against the Chiefs.

I can recall so many of those comebacks, and how they drove Kansas City personnel crazy. I remember the "Monday Night Football" game when we trailed the Chiefs, with their public relations guys naturally euphoric about the upcoming Kansas City win. In Elway's last drive of the game, he began with three straight incomplete passes, and facing a fourth-and-10 in Denver territory, he did not simply go for the first down.

"I just had to catch that," Vance told me. "John chose me and put the entire game on the line. I had to make that catch."

He did, we kicked a field goal to win, and the frustration on the faces of the Kansas City personnel was deep and searing.

Eventually, Elway retired — a happy day for everyone else in the AFC West.

And things kind of moved back and forth for a few years.

But then Elway came back.

And he had a large role in the greatest free agent acquisition of all time, signing the only contract ever with a Hall of Fame signature (his) and the signature of a future Hall of Famer (Peyton Manning).

The Chiefs beat us just once during the four-year Manning era, and they had to endure not only seven consecutive losses to Denver, but also watch us go to two more Super Bowls and win Super Bowl 50.

The series has been all about the quarterback, and for 20 years we had either Elway or Manning calling our signals.

Now, of course, we are in the Patrick Mahomes era, which Broncos fans hope may also become known as the Drew Lock era. But for now, the Chiefs have won nine straight against us and are themselves the defending world champions.

Mahomes already has a Super Bowl ring and an NFL MVP award. He is most deserving of all accolades.

This rivalry is a great one, marked by superior quarterback play, but what has not yet happened is the future.

The past has happened, and the present is taking place right now.

But the future is yet to be.

And as one of our staff members told me back in the day when we had uncertainty at the signal caller position, "I trust our quarterback."

I said, "You mean 'so and so?' (to be generous, I am not using his name).

"No," he replied. "I mean Elway."

Elway is still here, and he still casts a gigantic shadow over Broncos Country and the quarterback position for the Broncos, both with his incredible passion and his desire to win, now and always.

So we shall see.

The Broncos-Chiefs future is yet to be written, but the past tells us that the quarterback position will have a lot to say about the future chapters in that book.

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