Saturday, December 20, 2008


Thursday night's Indy-Jacksonville game marked the beginning of Week 16 of the NFL season. It's certainly crunch time, as few playoff spots have been decided and numerous teams still entertain January dreams.

Say what you will about the wretched AFC West and the decidedly un-first-place scent coming from its current leader. These are the facts: The Denver Broncos are 8-6 and hold a two-game edge over the Chargers with two games to play. On its face, that data ought to make a Broncos fan like me feel pretty darn chipper. Alls my club has to do is win one of its remaining games, or else witness a single loss from San Diego over that span, and we're in. Simple, right?

Um, no. These were the exact same circumstances the Broncos faced last weekend, only it was a three-game lead with three to play. For fifty-nine plus minutes Kansas City led San Diego at Arrowhead, and had that margin held the remainder of the regular season would have been moot. In a grand feat of treachery, however, the Mighty Braves of the Missouri River Valley buttfucked the playoff hopes of the Broncos with a collapse so incredible it caused GM Carl Peterson to self-immolate.

And then Denver itself drew a loaded pistol in Carolina, took dead aim at its own foot, and fired with impressive accuracy. So now the lead is two games, two weeks to play. What possibly could go wrong?

I'll tell you what, asshole. The Broncos could lose a game they should win (a skill they've displayed quite a bit this season) at home against Buffalo. The Chargers could win at Tampa. Then we could take it all up again next Sunday at Qualcomm and watch San Diego emerge victorious. Those are the three things that need to happen for the Denver Broncos to blow this seemingly unblowable lead. Any one of them in isolation is possible. All three in sequence is far-fetched but eminently imaginable.

I researched for at least six, maybe nine hard minutes to find the biggest collapses in NFL history. I found lots of single-game examples--the Oilers blowing a 35-3 halftime lead against the Bills in the 1992 AFC Playoffs, as well as Herm's masterpiece last week. I found teams that started hot, like the '87 Chargers beginning 8-1 then losing their last six to miss the playoffs. Or the '78 Redskins, who started 6-0 but lost their last five and missed as well. But I was not able to find the example I was looking for: An NFL team leading its division by three games with three weeks to play and coming up empty-handed. It may, in fact, be unprecedented.

Due to the sheer number of games, this phenomenon is much more prevalent in baseball. The list of teams that have blown big leads late is long and memorable: the '78 Red Sox, the '51 Dodgers, the '64 Phillies, the '95 Angels, both the '07 and '08 Mets, and my personal favorite, the 1987 Blue Jays. Toronto led the AL East by 3 1/2 games with seven to play, and they lost every single one of those games. Ouch.

I also can't let slide a few memorable choke jobs in playoff series, such as the 1982 and 1986 Angels (managed, like the '64 Phils, by Gene Mauch). There was also a team that wears pinstripes that fell apart one year, maybe '04?

And let's not forget the Portland Trail Blazers blowing a 15-point fourth quarter lead over the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Or the 1942 Red Wings and 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins joining the Yankees as the only teams in any sport ever to blow 3-0 leads in best-of-7 series. Or Jean Van de Velde gagging the 1999 British Open in spectacular style, making Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia look clutch.

In my humble opinion, that's the company these Broncos risk joining should they fail to close this deal. At least, at the very least, they get to tussle with Buffalo on Sunday instead of a real NFL franchise.

And why is it that every team in Buffalo has to align itself with the mighty land mammal itself? The NFL team is the Bills, nice pun, and it uses a buffalo as its mascot. The hockey team is the Sabres, yet as prominent as the sword on the sweater is the buffalo (or banana slug, if you prefer new school). The University of Buffalo uses the Bulls, and the new Triple-A affiliate of the Mets has adopted Buffalo Bisons as their nicknames nickname. This is completely retarded--the plural of Bison is Bison. Perhaps the genius in charge of that name matriculated at the University of Colorado (which ought to be UC but goes by CU), home of the Buffaloes (when the plural of Buffalo is, um, Buffalo).

Hopefully this sort of backwards logic, combined Buffalo's crippling proximity to Canada and affiliation with the chokin' Mets, will trump the Denver Broncos' dance with collapsing history Sunday.