1960–1969: AFL era
The Denver Broncos were founded on August 14, 1959, when Minor League Baseball owner Bob Howsam was awarded an (AFL) charter franchise. The Broncos won the first-ever AFL game over the Boston Patriots 13–10, on September 9, 1960. On August 5, 1967, they became the first-ever AFL team to defeat an team, with a 13–7 win over the Detroit Lions in a preseason game. However, the Broncos were not successful in the 1960s, compiling a record of 39–97–4 in the league.
Denver came close to losing its franchise in 1965, until a local ownership group took control and rebuilt the team. The team's first superstar, "Franchise" Floyd Little, was instrumental in keeping the team in Denver, due to his signing in 1967 as well as his Pro Bowl efforts on and off the field. The Broncos were the only original AFL team that never played in the title game, as well as the only original AFL team never to have a winning season while a member of the AFL during the upstart league's 10-year history.
In 1972, the Broncos hired former coach John Ralston as their head coach. In 1973, he was the UPI's Coach of the Year, after Denver achieved its first winning season at 7–5–2. In five seasons with the Broncos, Ralston guided the team to winning seasons three times. Though Ralston finished the 1976 season with a 9–5 record, the team, as was the case in Ralston's previous winning seasons, still missed the playoffs. Following the season, several prominent players publicly voiced their discontent with Ralston, which soon led to his resignation.
The Broncos defeated the Raiders in the 1977–78
AFC Championship Game to earn their first trip to the Super Bowl.
Red Miller, a long-time assistant coach was hired and along with the Orange Crush Defense (a nickname originating in the early 1970s, also the brand of the popular orange-flavored soft drink) and aging quarterback Craig Morton, took the Broncos to what was then a record-setting 12–2 regular season record and their first playoff appearance in 1977, and ultimately first Super Bowl, in which they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys (Morton's former team), 27–10.
In 1981, Broncos' owner Gerald Phipps, who had purchased the team in May 1961 from the original owner Bob Howsam, sold the team to Canadian financier Edgar Kaiser Jr., grandson of shipbuilding industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. In 1984, the team was purchased by Pat Bowlen, who placed team ownership into a family trust sometime before 2004 and remained in day-to-day control until his battle with Alzheimer's disease forced him to cede the team to Joe Ellis in 2014.
1983–1998: John Elway era
Dan Reeves became the youngest head coach in the when he joined the Broncos in 1981 as vice president and head coach. Quarterback John Elway, who played college football at , arrived in 1983 via a trade. Originally drafted by the Baltimore Colts as the first pick of the draft, Elway proclaimed that he would shun football in favor of baseball (he was drafted by the New York Yankees to play center field and was also a pitching prospect), unless he was traded to a selected list of other teams, which included the Broncos. Prior to Elway, the Broncos had over 24 different starting quarterbacks in its 23 seasons to that point.
Reeves and Elway guided the Broncos to six post-season appearances, five AFC West divisional titles, three championships and three Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowl XXI, XXII and XXIV) during their 12-year span together. The Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants, 39–20; Super Bowl XXII to the Washington Redskins, 42–10; and Super Bowl XXIV to the San Francisco 49ers, 55–10; the latter score remains the most lopsided scoring differential in Super Bowl history. The last year of the Reeves-Elway era were marked by feuding, due to Reeves taking on play-calling duties after ousting Elway's favorite offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan after the 1991 season, as well as Reeves drafting quarterback Tommy Maddox out of instead of going with a wide receiver to help Elway. Reeves was fired after the 1992 season and replaced by his protégé and friend Wade Phillips, who had been serving as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. Phillips was fired after a mediocre 1994 season, in which management felt he lost control of the team.
In 1995, Mike Shanahan, who had formerly served under Reeves as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, returned as head coach. Shanahan drafted rookie running back Terrell Davis. In 1996, the Broncos were the top seed in the AFC with a 13–3 record, dominating most of the teams that year. The fifth-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars, however, upset the Broncos 30–27 in the divisional round of the playoffs, ending the Broncos' 1996 run.
1997–1998: Back-to-Back Super Bowl Champions
During the 1997 season, Elway and Davis helped guide the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory, a 31–24 win over the defending champion Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Though Elway completed only 13 of 22 passes, throwing one interception and no touchdowns (he did, however, have a rushing touchdown), Davis rushed for 157 yards and a Super Bowl–record three touchdowns to earn the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award—this while overcoming a severe migraine headache that caused him blurred vision. The Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champions the following season, defeating the Atlanta Falcons (led by Elway's longtime head coach Dan Reeves) in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34–19. Elway was named Super Bowl MVP, completing 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards, with an 80-yard touchdown to wide receiver Rod Smith and one interception.
1999–2011: Post-Elway era
John Elway retired following the 1998 season, and Brian Griese started at quarterback for the next four seasons. After a 6–10 record in 1999, the Broncos recovered in 2000, earning a Wild Card playoff berth, but losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. After missing the playoffs the following two seasons, former Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Jake Plummer replaced Griese in 2003, and led the Broncos to two straight 10–6 seasons, earning Wild Card playoff berths both years. However, the Broncos went on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts in back-to-back seasons and were blown out by more than 20 points in each game, allowing a combined 90 points.
Plummer led the Broncos to a 13–3 record in 2005 and their first AFC West division title since 1998. After a first-round bye, the Broncos defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 27–13, denying New England from becoming the first team ever to win three consecutive Super Bowl championships. The Broncos' playoff run came to an end next week, after losing at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, 34–17. The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL.
The Broncos' defense began the first five games of the 2006 season allowing only one touchdown—an NFL record, but struggled down the season stretch. Plummer led the team to a 7–2 record, only to struggle and be replaced by rookie quarterback . Cutler went 2–3 as a starter, and the Broncos finished with a 9–7 record, losing the tiebreaker to the Kansas City Chiefs for the final playoff spot. Cutler's first full season as a starter in 2007 became the Broncos' first losing season since 1999, with a 7–9 record.
The 2008 season ended in a 52–21 loss at the San Diego Chargers, giving the Broncos an 8–8 record and their third straight season out of the playoffs. Mike Shanahan, the longest-tenured and most successful head coach in Broncos' franchise history, was fired after 14 seasons.
On January 11, 2009, two weeks after Shanahan was fired, the Broncos hired former New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the team's new head coach. Three months later, the team acquired quarterback Kyle Orton as part of a trade that sent Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears.
Under McDaniels and Orton, the Broncos jumped out to a surprising 6–0 start in 2009. However, the team lost eight of their next ten games, finishing 8–8 for a second consecutive season and missing the playoffs. The next season (2010), the Broncos set a new franchise record for losses in a single season, with a 4–12 record. McDaniels was fired before the end of the 2010 season following a combination of the team's poor record and the fallout from a highly publicized videotaping scandal. Running backs coach Eric Studesville was named interim coach for the final four games of the 2010 season. He chose to start rookie first-round draft choice Tim Tebow at quarterback for the final three games.
Following the 2010 season, Joe Ellis was promoted from Chief Operating Officer to team president, while John Elway returned to the organization as the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations. In addition, the Broncos hired as the team's 14th head coach. Fox previously served as the Carolina Panthers' head coach from 2002 to 2010.
Following a 1–4 start to the 2011 season, Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton as the Broncos' starting quarterback, and led the Broncos to an 8–8 record and the team's first playoff berth and division title since 2005. The Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round on a memorable 80-yard touchdown pass from Tebow to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, setting a record for the fastest overtime in history. However, the Broncos were blown out by the New England Patriots in the Divisional round.
2012–2015: Peyton Manning era
In March 2012, the Broncos reached an agreement on a five-year, $96 million contract with former longtime Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning, who had recently missed the entire 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries. This resulted in the Broncos subsequently trading incumbent quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets. The Broncos finished with a 13–3 record and the 's No. 1 seed in the 2012 playoffs, but were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional round.
Like 2012, the Broncos finished with a 13–3 record and the AFC's No. 1 seed in 2013. In the 2013 playoffs, the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers in the Divisional round and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. However, the Broncos were soundly defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII by a score of 43–8, the Broncos' first Super Bowl berth since winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.
Prior to the start of the 2014 season, the Broncos announced that Pat Bowlen, the team's owner since 1984, relinquished control of the team due to his battle with Alzheimer's disease, resulting in team president Joe Ellis and general manager John Elway assuming control of the team. The Broncos finished the 2014 season with a 12–4 record and the AFC's No. 2 seed. However, the Broncos were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round of the 2014 playoffs, marking the third time in four seasons that the Broncos lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Quarterback Peyton Manning had been playing with strained quadriceps for the final month of the 2014 season.
2015: Super Bowl 50 Champions and Manning's Final Season
On January 12, 2015, one day after the aforementioned Divisional playoff loss to the Colts, the Broncos and head coach mutually agreed to part ways. Fox left the Broncos with a .719 winning percentage in his four seasons as the Broncos' head coach—the highest in franchise history. One week later, the Broncos hired Gary Kubiak as the team's 15th head coach. Kubiak served as a backup quarterback to executive vice president/general manager John Elway from 1983 to 1991, as well as the Broncos' offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2005. Shortly after Kubiak became head coach, the Broncos underwent numerous changes to their coaching staff, including the hiring of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, under whom the Broncos' defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the 2015 season. The Broncos finished with a 12–4 record and the AFC's No. 1 seed, despite Peyton Manning having his worst statistical season since his rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler filling in for Manning during the second half of the regular season due to Manning suffering from a foot injury. In the playoffs, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23–16 in the Divisional Round, the New England Patriots 20–18 in the AFC Championship, and defeated the Carolina Panthers 24–10 in Super Bowl 50—the Broncos' third Super Bowl title.
2016–present: Post-Peyton era
On March 7, 2016, quarterback Peyton Manning retired after 18 NFL seasons during a press conference at the team's Dove Valley headquarters. Following Manning's retirement, the Broncos have undergone changes at the quarterback position, including the free agent departure of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans, the trade acquisition of Mark Sanchez from the Philadelphia Eagles and the selection of Paxton Lynch during the 2016 draft. Sanchez, Lynch and second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian competed for the starting quarterback spot during the off-season and preseason; however, Sanchez was released and Siemian was named the starter prior to the start of the season. The Broncos finished the season 9–7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. On January 2, 2017, coach Gary Kubiak announced his retirement, citing health as the main reason for retiring. The Broncos later hired Vance Joseph as head coach on January 11, 2017. The Broncos have since entered the era of their dominant defense consisting of the
Ground Control, and the No Fly Zone. The Broncos finished 5–11 in 2017 due to a poor offense, and signed quarterback Case Keenum in 2018.