Woody Paige: Rest in peace AFC West, a changed division

DENVER — The AFC West, as we know it, is dead.

The division today includes the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Carson Chargers and the Lame Duck Raiders.

Ugh.

At the NFL meetings at the swank Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, the owners voted 31-1 to allow The Son of Al to move the Raiders to Las Vegas.  The one dissenting vote was from the Dolphins, who apparently wanted to remain as the No. 1 party city for athletes and visitors (although it should be noted that the franchise doesn’t play on Miami Beach, but, rather, in Miami Gardens, Fla., which basically is located smack in the middle of nowhere).

Here’s something nobody has mentioned:

The Broncos will open the 2017 season as the only franchise of the division’s four to have remained in the same city since the inception of the American Football League in 1960.

The Chiefs began life as the Dallas Texans. The Chargers originally were the Los Angeles Chargers, and will be again. The Raiders have been in Oakland for most of their existence, but did spend more than a decade Los Angeles.

Oddly enough, it would have seemed, at the outset that Denver was the most likely city to be abandoned. The original Broncos played in horizontally-striped socks in a baseball park built on the city dump, and were under-funded and totally un-appreciated by the masses in Colorado. And they were underwhelming on the field.

To be completely frank, in the early seasons, the Broncos couldn’t even play at Bears Stadium in their home openers.

The minor-league team’s schedule took precedence over the AFL team, and the Broncos either played the early games on the road (1960, 1961, 1964) or at the University of Denver Stadium (1962 and 1963 opening games). The DU stadium mercifully was torn down long ago, and the bare bones of Bears Stadium ceased to exist.

The Broncos tried to get the public to support a football-only stadium in 1967, but were turned down. Interestingly, the plans for the stadium were sold to San Diego, which used the architectural renderings for what the Chargers have been playing in for decades.

As a result, in the 1960s, the Broncos seemed headed to Atlanta or Phoenix.  Deals seemed in place for both transfers, but the wealthy Colorado-native Phipps Brothers – Gerald and Allan – took over majority ownership (because of a debt owed the family construction business) and decided to keep the Broncos in Denver – and became team saviors.

The edifice west of downtown Denver was renamed Mile High Stadium after being expanded several times (finally reaching a capacity of 76,098) until it was literally about to fall down. (Engineers’ studies proved that the metal, similar to that in a battleship, had deteriorated badly and could be dangerous). The new Mile High was approved by voters in 1998, and the stadium opened in 2001 (with an Eagles concert, then, officially, a Monday night game on Sept. 10, 2001 (yes, the night before 9/11).

The Broncos advanced from drawing intimate gatherings such as 5,861 and 7,645 the first couple of years and as few as 14,431 in their fourth season in Denver,  to selling out in 1970 and to this day, a steak that is the second longest in the NFL.

There is no danger the Denver Broncos will become the Boise Broncos.

The Dallas Texans found a new home under owner Lamar Hunt in Kansas City, and the franchise never gave a thought to moving after the football-baseball stadium complex was  (designed by a Denver architect) was finished.

The Chargers moved to San Diego in their second season.

The Raiders moved from Oakland Coliseum to the Los Angeles Coliseum, over the protests of the NFL, in the 1982 strike season. Owner Al Davis expected a new stadium in L.A. No new stadium was ever accomplished, so Davis crawled back to the old Oakland Coliseum, which added thousands of more seats (which rarely were ever utilized), in 1995.

Now, the Chargers are back in Los Angeles with the Rams (who moved from Cleveland to L.A. to St. Louis back to Los Angeles – in the old Coliseum), and the Mark Davis-led Raiders will be in Oakland for another two seasons (weird) before jumping into a new stadium in Las Vegas.

What are Broncos’ fans to do?  They’ve nearly sold out Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for years because that was their annual road trek, and others would go to Oakland – and stay in San Francisco.

So, most will miss San Diego, but only a scattering are upset the Raiders are leaving Oakland.

Because, forthcoming, tens of thousands of Broncos loyalists can spend a weekend in Vegas, where whatever happen stays, or they can go to La-La Land for a game.

In 2017 Broncos fans can travel to the soccer stadium in Carson, Oakland for a farewell, Miami for the Dolphins game, or, ye gads, Buffalo, Philadelphia or D.C.

In the meantime, with the recent announcement of the Chargers to Carson, and, now, the Raiders headed to Las Vegas:

AFC West, R.I.P.

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