For months, this has been the dominating, invigorating question on sports radio and at dining tables and bars and among friends and enemies:
When will Vance Joseph be fired?
He was walking an ultra-long tightrope in 80-mile-per-hour wind over the Grand Canyon. Or maybe Niagara Falls. Didn’t matter. He was going to get blown off, and soon.
Please understand, this is not one of those “I-told-you-so” columns. I joined the massive gang of Bronco observers certain Joseph had no future. He looked befuddled and burdened with a knack to turn victories to losses. The man was doomed.
But, out of nowhere, Joseph is crafting an inspiring, uplifting, dazzling, shocking comeback story. The Broncos have won three straight, including wins over the Chargers and Steelers, and the road to the playoffs is covered with tomato-can opponents.
If the Chargers ride into Mile High on Dec. 30 already carrying a playoff berth, the Broncos boast a strong chance to finish 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs. The next three opponents — 49ers, Browns and Raiders — stumble along with a combined 8-27-1 record. (If the Chargers need that Dec. 30 victory, forget it. No way the Broncos again conquer Philip Rivers.)
But here’s the strange thing:
I have yet to meet a staunch Vance Joseph supporter. I’ve met a few apologists who astutely note his rookie season was burdened and polluted by inherited quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
Never, though, have I met a supporter. Never talked with a Bronco fan who raised her/his voice in anger to back an embattled coach.
I know, like many of you, dozens and dozens of Bronco obsessives, women and men who base their autumn happiness on wins and losses of a team they love so (too?) much. I know a few fans who still defend Josh McDaniels. I know a couple of fans who believe Kyle Orton could really play some quarterback. Yes, I know some strange people, but Bronco fans take up some strange crusades.
Joseph has converted nobody, or at least nobody I know. There’s no Vance cult, no Vance crusaders. The man was given no honeymoon by Colorado fans, impatient and spoiled after the absurdly and wonderfully grand times of the Peyton Manning era.
John Elway left Joseph dangling after the last game of the 2017 season, forcing his coach to spend a Sunday night wondering if he would return for 2018.
The chorus grew louder and louder. When will Vance get axed? When I talked over the summer and fall on sports radio in Denver and the Springs, all hosts were convinced of Joseph’s imminent demise. And, yes, he looked mega-doomed when he followed a Broncos loss to the Texans with a press conference worthy of Troy Calhoun. He was 3-6, about to fall off that tightrope.
The Joseph revival remains shaky. The Broncos have been horrid on the road during The Joseph Era, which means trips to the Bay Area to play the 49ers and Raiders could transform to disasters. Browns rookie Baker Mayfield could imitate Jets rookie Sam Darnold and terrorize Bronco defenders. Wednesday’s injury to Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos’ most valuable offensive player, could wreck a fragile offense.
But a more likely scenario is continued surge. If Joseph lands at nine wins, I can’t see him being banished from the Broncos. And I believe he will arrive at nine.
Quarterback Case Keenum is solid, if not spectacular. The running game is muscular and consistent. And Bradley Chubb and Von Miller form the most frightening tag team since the magnificent wrestling days of the Vachon brothers, “Mad Dog” and “Butcher.”
If Joseph wins nine games, a new question will hover over our state’s most beloved and obsessed-over franchise:
When will Bronco fans finally respect and embrace a once-doomed coach?