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Book Review – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Denver Broncos History by Adrian Dater

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The typical sports book reads like a printed version of a pep rally or victory parade. Page after page is filled with tales of how the team’s mighty warriors overcame adversity, several plucky opponents, and their asshole coach to win the big game. Sprinkle in personal stories about a few players who dealt with tragedy in their private lives, were dumped by their previous team, or went undrafted, and you’ve got yourself a heartwarming book that the team’s fans will gobble up in droves in the days and weeks after the big championship win. 

Despite its absurdly long title, the general lack of these clichés is what separates Adrian Dater’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Denver Broncos History from the typical sports book. Dater, a journalist for The Denver Post since 1991, takes an unconventional approach in presenting the highlights and low points of the Broncos’ history. Instead of focusing only on the warm fuzzies, Dater also presents the crushing defeats, lousy players, and off the field (read: criminal, drunken, or just downright stupid) antics.

To be sure, Dater’s book does have some pep rally qualities to it. Quarterback John Elway is of course glorified and spoken of in religious tones. Other fan favorites, including Terrell Davis and his bionic knees, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Tom Jackson, and Randy Gradishar, are similarly given such treatment. The Broncos’ greatest moments, particularly the Super Bowl wins in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, are described in near-epic terms. The team’s fans will no doubt like this approach; football fans who are more interested in an objective history of the team’s big victories may want to look elsewhere.

One of the book’s greatest strengths, perversely enough, is that it presents the lowlights of the team’s history, an approach that makes it more than just another book of Broncos propaganda. Horrible losses, such as the 55-10 Super Bowl collapse to San Francisco and the 1996 playoff failure to Jacksonville, are presented objectively, and no excuses are given. Other low points are similarly described, including the fugly uniforms worn by the team in 1960 and 1961, bonehead injuries involving the immortal Brian Griese, and, tragically, the still-unsolved murder of Darrent Williams on New Year’s Eve 2006.

The book is rounded out by a series of articles about a variety of Broncos-related topics, including the talented/obnoxious Shannon Sharpe, the tragic story of Lyle Alzado, and the pharmaceutical life of Bill Romanowski. Some of the major power players in the Broncos’ story are also presented, including owner Pat Bowlen, 1980s coach and Elway nemesis Dan Reeves, and current coach Mike Shanahan. Although Dater gives a nice, sometimes critical, overview of these figures, Shanahan for whatever reason is given the kids gloves treatment.  There are some gaps in Dater’s book; major players and fan favorites like Simon Fletcher, Dennis Smith, Karl Mecklenburg, and Steve Atwater are either mentioned only briefly or not at all. In addition, a write-up of Kenny Walker, who played in the NFL despite being deaf, would have also been welcome.

Despite these shortcomings, Dater’s book does an admirable job in giving a concise overview of the massive highs and crushing lows in the Broncos’ story, with enough anecdotes, interesting facts, and bits of trivia to make it a worthwhile read for both fans of the Broncos and fans of NFL history.

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