Josh McDaniels may be gone, but his hangover lingers on in Denver.
McDaniels was the biggest disaster to hit Broncos football since they wore those vertically striped brown and yellow socks that ended up being burned in a pile. Many Broncos fans wanted to do the same to McDaniels' effigy by the time he was sacked after two arrogantly incompetent seasons. Unfortunately, his disastrous legacy remains behind in the presence of two quarterbacks who have split the fandom and are threatening to split the team — Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
One of McDaniels' first acts was to trade Jay Cutler after a personality clash, sending him to Chicago in exchange for Orton and draft picks. Since he left, Cutler is 19-16 as the Bears' quarterback and last year led them to the NFC championship game. Orton is 11-18 in Denver; the team is 12-21.
That record and his $8.8 million contract would be bad enough, but Orton is now trapped in a controversy with Tebow, McDaniels' first-round pick in 2010.
The second-year pro was beaten out this summer by not only Orton but also backup Brady Quinn. Despite that fact, one week into the regular season, a vocal group of Broncos fans, armed with the power of the Internet and the sound of their own voices, launched a campaign that will include a $10,000 billboard in downtown Denver demanding Tebow start.
"I've seen a lot of billboards and can't remember one that really influenced me,'' new head coach John Fox insisted as the pressure mounts around him.
Denver fans who began hollering "Teee-Booow, Teee-Booow'' during an opening-game loss to the Raiders refuse to accept that football coaches are a selfish lot. They would bench their grandmother to win a game. Who plays is not a popularity contest with them.
The fact is no one in Denver's organization, including chief cook and bottle washer and Hall of Fame QB John Elway, believes Tebow is the answer. Sports are about competition, so what is Fox to do if Tebow wins a popularity contest but not the starting job?
Yet, as much as McDaniels is at fault for the mess he left behind, the Broncos share in the blame. Who hired that Bill Belichick wannabe anyway? It was also those who remain in authority after McDaniels' dismissal who fueled a fire that may consume their season, when they tried to unload Orton before training camp while using Tebow's image in a marketing plan designed to garner season-ticket renewals. Now they are reaping what they sowed.
"Orton's our guy for sure,'' said probably-quite-unsure Broncos OLT Ryan Clady. Maybe he is or maybe he isn't, but certainly he's Fox's guy (for the moment) and Elway's guy (for now). But how much longer can this situation exist before the whole thing implodes around Orton? Not long if the Broncos don't start winning.
Yet, the fact remains that being a role model with a very public faith doesn't make you an NFL quarterback. Neither does winning the Heisman Trophy. If you think it does, ask Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Jason White, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Danny Wuerffel, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer, Andre Ward, Pat Sullivan, Steve Spurrier and Terry Baker.
That's a dozen Heisman-winning quarterbacks who once had a lot of fans believing they should be starting in the NFL, too. A lot of coaches lost their jobs because they couldn't.