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For the Chiefs and Broncos, the tables have turned

Could we have forseen that the relationship between Kansas City and Denver could have changed so much?

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

NFL fans think of 1983 NFL Draft as “the Year of the Quarterback.”

The quarterback talent pool that year was very deep. In a draft that included Dan Marino of Pittsburgh, Jim Kelly of Miami, Ken O’Brien of UC-Davis and Todd Blackledge of Penn State, it was widely believed that Stanford product John Elway would be the first overall selection.

Before the draft, Elway (and his father) had made it clear that he would never play for the then-Baltimore Colts, which held that first pick. But the Colts selected Elway anyway — and then traded him to the Denver Broncos for reserve quarterback Mark Herrmann, offensive lineman Chris Hinton (whom the Broncos had taken with the fourth overall pick) and their first-round pick in 1984.

A total of six quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Three of them — Marino, Kelly and Elway — would have Hall of Fame careers. But the Chiefs took the next one. With the seventh overall selection, they selected Blackledge.

It would be 34 years before Kansas City selected another quarterback in the first round.

Taking Blackledge over Kelly and Marino (or even O’Brien, who made the Pro Bowl twice in seven years as a starter) became a dark cloud that hung over the organization for more than a generation. Blackledge spent five years with the Chiefs (starting just 24 games) and two with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He finished his career 15-14, completing 49.1% of his passes for 5,286 yards, 29 touchdowns and 38 interceptions.

What made it worse was that Chiefs fans spent the next 16 years watching Elway’s Broncos make five Super Bowls — and win two of them. But by far, the hardest part was Elway’s ability to rip the hearts out of Kansas City’s fans. For his career, he was 17-12 against the Chiefs — but to Chiefs fans, it felt a lot worse.

Denver fans, of course, couldn’t get enough of it. They were always swift to remind Chiefs fans what they had — and what Kansas City fans didn’t have.

Elway retired after the 1998 season, in which the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII. Elway was named the game’s MVP. He went out on top.

But that did not end the misery. After trying a bevy of journeyman and second-tier quarterbacks over more than a dozen years, the Broncos signed four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning — who had gone 7-1 against the Chiefs while with the Indianapolis Colts, including 2003’s infamous no-punt playoff loss. Manning would spend four years in Denver, compiling a 42-15 record. That included eight straight wins against the Chiefs.

But on November 15, 2015, Manning played his last game against Kansas City. He completed just five of 20 passes and was intercepted four times before the Broncos replaced him with backup Brock Osweiler in the third quarter. The Chiefs emerged with a 29-13 victory — the first win in a streak that was extended to 14 games with Kansas City’s 34-28 victory over the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.

Things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Chiefs fans might have thought their time would never come — but thanks to Andy Reid (and 2017 first-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes, whose first NFL start was the team’s fifth win of its streak against Denver), the shoe is now squarely on the other foot.

Even in our wildest imaginations, we could not have conceived of the tables being turned as they have been. Now it is the Chiefs who are perennial Super Bowl contenders — while the Broncos look more lost and hopeless than ever. Because of how terribly Denver has been playing, the league chose to flex last Sunday’s game out of primetime. Apparently, the NFL believed that even a game with Mahomes and the Chiefs — normally a sure-fire ratings bonanza — wasn’t enough to keep viewers interested.

And there is no light at the end of this tunnel.

The Broncos were convinced that the way to beat the Chiefs was to bring another top-tier quarterback into Denver. So in March, they made a huge deal with the Seattle Seahawks, trading quarterback Drew Lock, defensive end Shelby Harris, tight end Noah Fant and five draft picks (including two first-rounders) for quarterback Russell Wilson. They not only gave up a king’s ransom to get Wilson, but then made what now looks like a colossal mistake by giving him a five-year, $245 million albatross of a contract extension. It may be years before Wilson’s deal no longer haunts the team.

Chiefs fans have waited a very long time for this. And to quote a one-time Kansas City radio personality, “How does it taste, Denver? How does it taste?”

If you are tempted to have sympathy for Denver fans, remember the years that they gleefully rejoiced at Kansas City’s constant misfortune. As my son has become very fond of saying, “Their tears are delicious.”

I could not agree more.

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