I sent out an email to one of our more decorated Broncomaniacs here at Mile High Report in the hopes of capturing some of the emotion and intrigue of our earlier years in the league.
We are fortunate to have members here like firstfan, TrinidadJack, Broncosfanstuckinsd, and others who are able to give us youngsters a glimpse into the past. A glimpse of what it was like to be a Bronco fan when the team struggled to win more than four games in a season. A glimpse of the pride and love the fans had for this team.
This is my first real interview of someone since the ninth grade, so be kind!
When did Broncomania really start to take hold? What was it like?
I think the first real out picturing of Broncomania was in ’65 when season ticket sales went from under eight thousand to over twenty three thousand just to support Gerald Phipps for saving the franchise. Broncomania was displayed in many different ways. Several people painted their cars orange. People dyed their hair orange. One guy painted his entire HOUSE Bronco orange. From August until December the talk around every coffee pot and water cooler was the Broncos. But Broncomania was more than that. It was an attitude of pride, not that we had a great or even good team, but that we had a team. Broncomania was not restricted to the City of Denver. It encompassed the entire Rocky Mountain Region. But it was more than any of that. The more words I say to describe Broncomania the more I realize I am coming up short. Broncomania was a feeling.
The best way I can describe it is to give an example. We all know and love Hoosierteacher. He is our resident X’s and O’s expert who is the envy of every other sports blog on the planet. I think he must be a stodgy English Professor type. I picture him wearing a herringbone tweed sports jacket and reading Gentleman’s Quarterly. His hobbies are classical music and cooking. Now, take this conservative gentleman and paint his face orange and blue, put an orange cape on him and watch as he carries patrons of a bar in Pueblo around the bar. I introduce Captain Broncomaniac!
That’s what Broncomania did to rational people.
What did it mean to you to call yourself a Broncomaniac?
I never really considered myself as a true Broncomaniac. I am still hoping to reach that level of fandom.
How did Floyd Little change this franchise?
Much has been written about how John Elway had such an impact on the franchise. This was because fans knew the game was never over as long as John Elway was in the game. "The Drive" simply gave national recognition to phenomena that the Denver fans were already familiar with. They were introduced to this phenomenon by Floyd Little. Floyd was not able to single handedly bring the team back like Elway was, but he brought that same excitement every time he touched the ball. Fans went to see Floyd Little play football. Simply stated, he was electrifying.
How instrumental was Lou Saban to turning around the 60's Broncos?
Lou was responsible for turning the team around and for laying the foundation for the success of the mid and late seventies. The tenure of Lou Saban was a double-edged sword. Lou had started with the inception of the AFL as the coach of the Boston Patriots. He was lured to Buffalo in ‘63 and led Buffalo to consecutive championships in ’64 and ’65. He did indeed do all of the things I mentioned, but his inability to make the Broncos a winning team gave fuel to the east coast media fire that not even the great Lou Saban could make a winner out of those Denver jackasses. There is no doubt that there would never have been the ‘77/’78 Superbowl appearance without Lou Saban, but the east cost bias was validated.
Why were the Broncos so important to the city of Denver back then?
There were many reasons but I will cite two. First was economic. The Broncos were the first regional team. We drew fans from Salt Lake City to Dodge and from Great Falls to Albuquerque. Fans came to Denver and stayed in hotels and spent money. Second, they were a great unifier. Race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and political affiliation were all thrown out the window. The only consideration was “Are you a Bronco fan?” This was another big part of Broncomania.
Why do you think the fans in the 60's and early 70's loved the Broncos so much even though the team had never had a winning record?
First of all you must remember there was no Avalanche, Rockies, or Nuggets. The Broncos were front and center stage. Also, I think there was sort of a mass self-consciousness. We didn’t have the culture of a Boston or the rugged western character of a Dallas or the bad-boy image of oakland. We were just a dusty old cow town with no character and no pedigree. The Broncos may have been bums, but they were our bums and we loved them.
What was it like in the South Stands in the 60's and 70's?
The old South Stands have been romanticized and rightfully so. There was a camaraderie or spirit-de-corps to being a south stander. There were indeed “neighborhoods”. I remember using my father-in-law’s tickets and the adjacent fans saying “Oh you must be Don’s son-in-law from Alaska. We’ve heard of you. How are you doing?” I just felt like I was part of the gang. But it wasn’t all rosy either. I remember fans arriving totally intoxicated. This is before opening kick-off! Then there was the guy who would get so drunk that he would get sick. Thank God he was a row or two in front of us. Once or twice a year he would blow lunch all over the place and I don’t mean getting a little sick. This character had projectile vomiting that would probably rank in Guinness’ records if they kept such a thing. In short, the old South Stands were great, but they had a dark side too.
Tell us some of your best memories as a fan.
The Hill and the Hug were some great memories. Bears Stadium was built on the site of the old Denver Landfill. The terrain slopped down toward the Platte River which was to the east. There was a small hill just west of the right field foul pole. I couldn’t afford a ticket but I knew that hill was there and one Sunday I went down and sure enough, you could stand on that hill and see about half of the field and you could hear the stadium announcer. I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few people there. One guy had a transistor radio and he turned it to KOA and we listened together. We started meeting there every home game and got to know one another. One thing was kind of funny. There was a slight delay from the action on the field to the radio broadcast. It wasn’t a long delay like today but just a slight one. When a Bronco made a big play there would be a big roar from the crowd followed by a little echo from the Hill.
One Sunday my Dad took me to the game and we had seats and everything. And they were good seats too, just to the outfield of the dugout down the first base side. Whenever I get on a plane I get stuck between two guys the size of Marcus Thomas and Dewayne Robertson. That is because I used up all my good luck that day, I was seated next to a gorgeous woman. She was an older woman, probably 22 or 23. I can’t even tell you who we played that day but I know we scored late to win the game. I don’t think the high five had been invented then and fans were cheering and hugging one another. This gorgeous woman, a total stranger, turned and gave me the biggest hug ever. I think I had stars in my eyes for weeks.
Years later I met another beautiful woman and fell in love. We have been married for thirty nine years now, but that deal was sealed when I met her father. He was a certified Broncomaniac. He used to stand on The Hill, and now had season tickets in the South Stands! On one of my last visits to old Mile High I got seats in the South Stands. I was headed back to my seat and was going up the west aisle when we sacked the opposing quarterback. A huge roar erupted from the crowd and as it faded I heard a little echo. I looked over the rail, and there they were, the fans on The Hill.
Besides the 1972 Broncos-Vikings game, what is your most memorable Bronco game?
This is another question I have thought long and hard about. I will not count the Super Bowl victories as I think these are in the front of most Bronco fan’s minds. If I had to pick a most favorite play, I would say the John Elway helicopter.
I have two favorite games other than the Super Bowls. The first is the victory over the Detroit Lions on August 5, 1967. This was only a pre-season game. One of the leaders of the Lions was Alex Karras. Denver was such a laughing stock to the east cost that prior to the game Karras stated that “If Denver beats us I will walk back to Detroit.” Denver notched the very first ever victory by an AFL team over an NFL team when they defeated Karras and the Lions 13-7. Denver Diehard has Karras’ quote as his signature and I think that is the best sig on the site!
The second is the ’77 AFC Championship game versus the raiders. The raiders were the defending Super Bowl Champions. In week five we played them in oakland. They jumped to a 0-7 lead. Our boys didn’t quit and ran off the next 30 points unanswered. The game was still pretty close and oakland stopped us in the red zone. Our kicker was Jim Turner and just about as automatic as Elam. Instead our back-up QB Norris Weese who was the holder stood up with the ball to pass. The raiders saw the fake and covered all of the receivers but they forgot about old Jim Turner who caught the pass and rumbled in for a TD.
We ended up with six or seven interceptions of Kenny Stabler that day. We met two weeks later at Mile High and the story was different. Stabler lit us up for 24 points and our fourth quarter comeback try fell short. We only allowed 148 points TOTAL that year and that game was 24 of them! The rubber match was the AFC Championship game. The very first play of the game was a 74 yard bomb from Morton to Moses and Denver went up 7-0. The game went back and forth but Denver held on for a 20-17 victory over Madden and the raiders.
Where were you when the Broncos made their first Super Bowl appearance? What was it like?
Oh boy! You touch a nerve on this one! That Super Bowl was the first ever live broadcast of anything in Anchorage! I was glued to the TV along with every other resident of Anchorage. We kicked off and the Cowboy return man muffed the kickoff. We nearly recovered at the Cowboy 1, but they got the ball. I think if we would have got that fumble we would have won the game. Instead, we could never get on track and committed something like seven or eight turnovers and Dallas killed us.
Who is your all-time favorite Bronco?
This is perhaps the toughest question you have asked. Most of you know how much I admire and respect Floyd Little. That can never change. But my favorite Bronco of all time is Rod Smith. Rod was never the glory boy. He worked his way up from the practice squad as an undrafted free agent. Rod epitomized hard work and team first attitude. In my humble opinion, if we had 53 players on our 2008 roster with Rod Smith’s heart, desire, and commitment we would win back to back to back Super Bowls over and over again. I absolutely love my daughter-in-law. I was stumped at Christmas for a gift. The highest expression I could think of was a # 80 Smith Bronco jersey.
Who is your current favorite active Bronco?
That is another tough question. For now I am going to say Chris Kuper.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Several people have asked if that is really my picture on my avatar. Yep, that is me. The missus took my picture and we put it there for all to see. I will note that I am not normally that soft. I am generally a nasty old bastard which is not reflected in that picture. ~firstfan