ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since John Elway threw his last pass as the Denver Broncos quarterback during Super Bowl XXXIII in January 1999, six different quarterbacks have started the team’s season openers that have followed.
As the guy whom Elway the general manager has selected to repair the Broncos’ quarterback troubles, Case Keenum will be the seventh on Sunday as the Broncos open the 2018 season at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Case, he’s been the guy everybody hoped he was," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “He’s been in charge, you can tell, that leader. He knows what to do and how to do it. He's ready for playing here."
While Peyton Manning signing as a free agent as a Pro Football Hall of Famer-in-waiting might always be the gold standard of arrivals in the post-Elway era for the Broncos, the expectations swirling around Keenum aren’t all that far behind what they were for Manning. And some of it is might simply be the situation Keenum now finds himself in.
He was selected, after all, by Elway, chosen as the quarterback of the (near) future after the Broncos suffered through the misery of a 5-11 season in 2017 that included an eight-game losing streak. And losing seasons are not something the team’s faithful have had to deal with that much -- or have much patience about, for that matter.
The Broncos have been to more Super Bowls during Pat Bowlen’s tenure as the owner than they have had losing seasons, and they haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-1972.
“You know when you get here what kind of history, what kind of tradition the team has," Keenum said. “Everybody knows I wore [Elway’s] jersey when I was a kid, had his pictures on my wall. But you walk through the building and you know, right away, what’s expected, and that’s exactly the kind of situation I want to be in."
The inaugural voyages have gone pretty well for the post-Elway starters. Of the six quarterbacks to have started the combined 19 season openers since Elway’s retirement, only Brian Griese didn’t win his first opening day start with the team.
However, Griese, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 38-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins to start the 1999 season, might have actually had the best day as a passer in those games. But Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Manning and Trevor Siemian won their first opening day starts with the Broncos.
And Plummer, Orton and Manning all had arrived to the team as the "new" guy, like Keenum, either by trade (Orton) or free agency (Plummer and Manning).
“You just want to come in and show guys you’re ready to work, you’re ready to fight for them, no matter what," Plummer said. "You get to know guys as time goes on, but right away, you want them to know you’ll work your ass off and that no matter what you’ll compete as hard as you can, even when it doesn’t go right. I think Case is that kind of player."
Both Elway and head coach Vance Joseph have said Keenum’s bumpy ride in the NFL, to go with his experience in the playoffs, was what appealed to them as the Broncos starter.
Keenum has been waived three times in his career, been traded and waited until now, his sixth NFL season, to be a team’s unquestioned starter in a season opener. He is coming off his best season as a professional, when he threw for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns in 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings in relief of the injured Sam Bradford.
“He’s just been through some things," Joseph said. “He knows the job comes with tough things, and you have to have the mentality to recover from tough things."
Keenum offered his take.
“It has shaped me," Keenum said. “You work, you study, you just keep competing, trying to get better. You believe in yourself and no matter what you keep competing. That’s the job, beyond moving the chains and scoring points: You work, you compete and you want to be a part of winning."