Off the field, the Broncos saw John Elway become the first player to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a Bronco. Elway ended his speech with a salute to the thousands of fans who trekked all the way to Canton, Ohio.

On the field, the Broncos’ record in 2004 and their playoff fate were exactly the same as the previous year: They went 10-6 and lost in a wild-card blowout at Indianapolis.

How they got there, however, was completely different.

It started with the biggest Broncos trade since they acquired John Elway. Denver made a blockbuster deal for Champ Bailey that sent Clinton Portis to Washington in exchange for the All-Pro cornerback.

The Broncos needed secondary help. They were confident in their ability to develop running backs, and that was justified; in the next three seasons, three different runners broke 1,000 yards: Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell, taken with the second-round pick the Broncos got as part of the Bailey-for-Portis swap.

It was the rare trade that pleased both sides. Portis was effective and often dominant in Washington. But like many running backs, the collection of hits caused attrition, and he carried the football for the last time in 2010.

Bailey, meanwhile, was a perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowler. He played all the way until Super Bowl XLVIII, by which time his fellow 2004 offseason acquisition, safety John Lynch, had been retired for six seasons.

As Bailey and Lynch solidified the secondary, Jake Plummer continued to start at quarterback. He set what was then a Broncos single-season record for passing yardage, but also threw 20 interceptions, mostly in comeback situations, as the offense adjusted in the wake of the retirements of wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and tight end Shannon Sharpe.

But despite Plummer’s willingness to push the ball downfield and Bailey and Lynch’s work in the secondary, the season ended with a 49-24 wild-card throttling at Indianapolis. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning picked on rookie Roc Alexander, barely throwing in the directions of Lynch or Bailey, and the Broncos’ express derailed from there.

The Broncos are represented in the annual AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in Honolulu by center Tom Nalen, running back Clinton Portis and linebacker Al Wilson

2004 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/12 Kansas City Chiefs 34-24
9/19 at Jacksonville Jaguars 6-7
9/26 San Diego Chargers 23-13
10/3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-13
10/10 Carolina Panthers 20-17
10/17 at Oakland Raiders 31-3
10/25 at Cincinnati Bengals 10-23
10/31 Atlanta Falcons 28-41
11/7 Houston Texans 31-13
11/21 at New Orleans Saints 34-13
11/28 Oakland Raiders 24-25
12/5 at San Diego Chargers 17-20
12/12 Miami Dolphins 20-17
12/19 at Kansas City Chiefs 17-45
12/25 at Tennessee Titans 37-16
1/2 Indianapolis Colts 33-14
1/9 at Indianapolis Colts (AFC WILD CARD) 24-49

The Broncos conclude season ticket renewals and waiting list additions for 2004, leading to an anticipated 35th consecutive season of home sellouts.

The $4 million renovation and expansion of the team’s permanent training facility is completed in time for the opening of training camp.

2004 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb jake plummer 16
rb reuben droughns 15
rb quentin griffin 4
fb kyle johnson 3
wr ashley lelie 16
wr rod smith 16
wr darius watts 2
te dwayne carswell 14
te patrick hape 5
te jeb putzier 5
c tom nalen 16
t george foster 16
t matt lepsis 16
g dan neil 12
g ben hamilton 16
g cooper carlisle 3

Rod Smith passes Shannon Sharpe to become the franchise leader in receptions and touchdown receptions

Kicker Jason Elam, in his 184th outing, against San Diego becomes the fastest NFL player to eclipse the 1,400-point plateau

Record: 10-6
Second Place, AFC West

2004 defense

Pos Player Starts
de marco coleman 16
de reggie hayward 15
de raylee johnson 1
de trevor pryce 1
dt mario fatafehi 16
dt monsanto pope 15
lb donnie spragan 14
lb d.j. williams 14
lb al wilson 16
cb roc alexander 1
cb champ bailey 16
cb kelly herndon 16
cb willie middlebrooks 2
cb lenny walls 1
s nick ferguson 1
s kenoy kennedy 16
s john lynch 15