The year when everything went wrong

“Can the Broncos snap out of their Super Bowl stupor?” read the headline in Sports Illustrated’s August 13, 1990, edition.

After the Broncos’ first two Super Bowl defeats, they rebounded with vigor, winning the AFC West in 1978 and the conference in 1987. The third Super Bowl loss was followed by an 8-8 finish in which they missed the playoffs by just one game, but didn’t quit. In fact, their motivation was so strong in Week 16 that they knocked the New England Patriots out of the postseason with a season-ending win.

But 1990 was different.

After a 2-1 start, the Broncos lost two consecutive one-point games, at Buffalo and at home to the Browns, who claimed a tiny measure of revenge for the Broncos’ three AFC Championship Game wins in the previous four seasons. Denver went 2-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including 0-for-their-last-6 in tight games.

It was a year that was so exasperating that in November, local radio sportscaster Rich “G-Man” Goins promised to live on a Colfax Avenue billboard until the Broncos won, staying up there until the Broncos snapped a six-game skid.

Only two wins in the last three games ended a 1-9 run and saved the Broncos from further embarrassment.

But the decline was short-lived. A year later, the Broncos were back atop the AFC West — with another memorable playoff win in their back pocket.

1990 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/9 at los angeles raiders 9-14
9/17 kansas city chiefs 24-23
9/23 seattle seahawks 34-31
9/30 at buffalo bills 28-29
10/8 cleveland browns 29-30
10/14 pittsburgh steelers 17-34
10/21 at indianapolis colts 27-17
11/4 at minnesota vikings 22-27
11/11 at san diego chargers 7-19
11/18 chicago bears 13-16
11/22 at detroit lions 27-40
12/2 los angeles raiders 20-23
12/9 at kansas city chiefs 20-31
12/16 san diego chargers 20-10
12/23 at seattle seahawks 12-17
12/30 green bay packers 22-13

1990 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb john elway 16
rb bobby humphrey 14
rb sammy winder 2
fb melvin bratton 3
fb kerry porter 3
fb steve sewell 1
wr mark jackson 15
wr vance johnson 13
wr ricky nattiel 3
wr shannon sharpe 2
wr michael young 1
te clarence kay 14
te orson mobley 8
te chris verhulst 1
c keith kartz 16
t darrell hamilton 8
t ken lanier 16
t gerald perry 8
g jim juriga 11
g dave widell 5
g doug widell 16

1990 defense

Pos Player Starts
de ron holmes 10
de warren powers 16
de jim szymanski 6
nt greg kragen 16
lb michael brooks 16
lb scott curtis 1
lb simon fletcher 16
lb tim lucas 5
lb karl mecklenburg 16
lb marc munford 10
cb tyrone braxton 2
cb wymon henderson 15
cb alton montgomery 4
cb randy robbins 9
cb elliot smith 3
s steve atwater 15
s kip corrington 1
s dennis smith 15

Record: 5-11

fifth place, afc west