With every day that passes since the Broncos’ glorious Super Bowl win Feb. 7 - and the excitement for a chance to defend that title builds - the euphoria from that game fades a little for fans.
Just a little.
But not for Shelly Gibbons.
Because that game will always remind the 45-year-old mother and Broncos super fan that she beat cancer. The fact that she was able to go to the game and that the Broncos became world champs was just a bonus.
Thanks to the Giuliana Rancic Fab-U-Wish Program and The Pink Agenda, Gibbons was given two tickets to go to the Super Bowl and witness in person her favorite team since childhood do the same thing she had done – win despite incredible odds.
“Oh my God, I get goose bumps just talking about it still,” says the Delaware native who grew up a fan of the team from Mile High.
The Broncos’ Super Bowl victory is quite the metaphor for her own struggle to overcome odds. Then again, the Broncos’ road to Super Bowl 50 via disappointment in Super Bowl 48 paralleled Gibbons’ own fight to win.
In the fall of 2013 just as Peyton Manning was offering a clinic in offensive passing dominance, Gibbons was at a clinic learning she had Stage IV breast cancer.
As much as that news derailed her everyday life, the Broncos’ quest for the Super Bowl helped keep her sane.
In fact, her favorite “chemo outfit” was her old school No. 7 John Elway jersey that she wore every time to help remind her not to give up.
Ironically, some of her darkest days came in February and March – same time the Broncos were reeling from their devastating loss to the Seahawks in February 2014.
But the two – Gibbons and her Broncos – bravely fought back throughout the offseason, vowing the next year would be better.
As if on the same course, there were good days and bad for Gibbons, good games and bad for the Broncos.
And even though the following season ended in disappointment for the Broncos, and Gibbons’ battle with cancer had several twists and turns, hope remained for the new season.
For the Broncos, a new head coach, a new approach and a new attitude helped make the 2015-16 season a huge success.
For Gibbons, a successful surgery and a reinvigorated fighter attitude put the “Ninja Mom” (as she likes to call herself) on a path to recovery.
While the Broncos scratched and clawed to a Super Bowl victory in February, Gibbons scratched and clawed at virtually the same time to the ultimate victory – life!
Being at the Super Bowl and witnessing the Broncos do what she absolutely knew they could was a dream-come-true for Gibbons.
Sharing that game with her 6-year-old son – and celebrating being alive for it – was beautiful.
Gibbons hadn’t actually shared with Chase that she had had breast cancer. But when the cancer survivor was given the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl because of it, and her husband suggested she bring Chase instead of him, she knew she had also been given a gift - the opportunity to tell her son about her battle with cancer.
“I went through this whole thing and had it all planned what to say, and it took me like 20 minutes, and when I was done, he sat there a minute and then said, ‘so you said you had cancer? Meaning you don’t have it anymore?”
Gibbons could only smile and hug her son. “That’s right.”
So in the post-Super Bowl madness when Levi Stadium was practically abandoned, Gibbons and Chase sat in silence “taking it all in.”
“After the game, and after all the celebration on the field and everyone was practically gone, I just said to Chase, ‘let’s just sit here for a minute.’ I just wanted to soak it all in.”
While the magnitude of that particular moment was likely lost on Chase, for Gibbons it wasn’t just a moment to cherish her own life but also that of her late father, who died of cancer several years before. It was thanks to him after all that she was a Broncos fan.
Growing up in Delaware in the 70s and 80s, Gibbons’ dad told his kids to pick a team and follow it. He was partial to the Orange Crush defense and that influenced Shelley’s fandom toward the Broncos. But it was John Elway that made her a diehard. Like all of us, she suffered through those early Super Bowl trouncings, and like all of us, felt total vindication in Super Bowl XXXII.
“I told my dad we were going to win that one,” Gibbons recalled. “I just had a feeling.”
She had those same feelings at Levi Stadium in February. Having flown out with her son to take in all of the NFL Experience and Super Bowl 50 events, she had the same nervous anticipation we all had that day – knowing our team could do it but not wanting to be overly confident after having fallen so hard in Super Bowl 48.
But as soon as Peyton Manning settled in to a decent first drive, she felt good. And once Von Miller strip-sacked Cam Newton, she knew it was beyond good.
For average sports fans, the moment when it becomes clear their team is going to do it, is going to be the champion – it is glorious.
But for fans who look at sporting events like a microcosm of life, comparing every setback in the game to every struggle they’ve ever had and using it to gain strength in their own fights, the win is much more.
It’s proof that fighting is worth it.
That’s what Shelley Gibbons felt Feb. 7.
Her personal win wasn’t so public and didn’t have a ticker-tape parade.
But it was far more courageous and far more rewarding.
It may seem melodramatic to some to say that the Broncos saved Shelley Gibbons.
But not to her.
For Gibbons, watching her favorite team fight back from the 2014 abomination to go back to the Super Bowl was inspiration.
And two years later when her fight against cancer paid off, all the pain and anguish was justification.
Justification for staring down the odds and kicking their ass.
Exactly as it had been for the Broncos.