Growing up in Colorado, we used to always joke that the best time to go grocery shopping, or get anything done, was during the Broncos game. With the news that Los Angeles will soon see the return of the Rams and perhaps the San Diego Chargers as well, it’s been somewhat difficult for me to imagine LA as a booming football town. To be fair, I wasn’t here during the LA Rams’ heyday. But even though this town has a lot to offer in the way of sports: two basketball teams, one recently very good team in the Clippers and one former dynasty in the Lakers; two baseball teams, the beloved Dodgers and their freeway rival Angels; and two hockey teams in the recent Stanley Cup champion Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, I’ve never seen the city collectively shut down to watch a sporting event the way I remember Sundays in Broncos Country.
Colorado isn’t lacking for sports either, although the disparity in quality is quite evident. The Nuggets have been mostly mediocre with blips of good in between. The Rockies have also done their share of basement dwelling while delighting their long-suffering fans with great runs in 2007 and 2008 before the annual star player dispersal returned. Then there is the Avalanche, who probably captured the state’s attention out of all of these with two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic for many years were household names, but again nothing could compare to the frenzy that surrounds the blue and orange. Denver sports fans know that any excitement around the Rockies in the first part of the year is usually replaced by their return to earth by the All Star break, but by then the countdown to football season has begun.
I was brought up in an NFL crazy family, but I wasn’t raised a Broncos fan. Instead, I was given the non-negotiable option to join the ranks of the Miami Dolphins fans, and I can tell you, it’s been a mostly miserable existence. I was aware of two facts right off the bat: the 1972 Dolphins were the perfect team, and secondly, Dan Marino was the greatest quarterback to not win a Super Bowl ring. While I loved Marino, I couldn’t help also being smitten with the man who was taken number 1 in the same draft class. See, John Elway also carried around that distinction of being a great quarterback with no championship rings. He had taken them to the Super Bowl thrice before and lost, and was settling into the back half of his career when the Broncos finally returned to the promised land in 1997. They beat the Packers that year, and returned the following year to win another championship, this time over the Falcons. It was Elway and Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe and Mike Shanahan. Mile High football at its best. Elway retired at the top of his game, now a legend.
As when Marino retired, the Broncos faced the situation of filling huge shoes. Quarterback after quarterback came through Denver with the impossible standard to live up to. Finally, Peyton Manning, a living legend in his own right, came to Denver to play out the rest of his career. I didn’t get to watch that Super Bowl two years ago, when the Broncos’ powerful offense was negated by Seattle’s completely overpowering gameplan. But now they’re back for another chance.
This team is different. Who would have thought Peyton Manning, once the gamechanger, the next evolution of quarterbacks, would be asked to just be safe with the ball? But time has caught up suddenly with Manning, as it often does in sports. However, this Broncos team isn’t built on its offensive prowess. It’s a stifling and relentless defense that is the calling card of this team, and as the saying goes, “defense wins championships.” It’s also not Manning’s strong arm any more that anchors this team’s offense, but his ability to call a game that still makes him one of the best.
So I’ll be rooting for my hometown team in two weeks on that Sunday that America views as a national holiday. LA will be more quiet, just because it’s the most watched game of the year. But that will just remind me of Sundays at home during football season, when all are united in orange for a few hours. And maybe, PFM will get to go out the same way Number 7 did all those years ago.