“He was consious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
Bah! Humbug! As Christmas approaches, Denver Broncos fans have plenty of reasons to feel like Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
With the playoff picture looking increasingly improbable, we might feel like that mean-spirited, miserly old man who wanted only to see the darkness in the world.
“Go Broncos!” one fan might exclaim, only to have another say “Whatever. On to 2017.” “Trevor Siemian is the future,” one fan will opine, while another might say “Let’s see what Paxton Lynch brings.”
Throw in some curse words and name-calling here and there, and plenty of grumbling.
All of this mean-spiritedness would make Scrooge proud.
I admit I’ve had a tough time keeping the crotchety side of myself under control when it comes to this team, this season and its current quarterback situation, as some of you have noted in the comments section. I’m passionate about this team and have sky-high expectations - and am disconcerted by the current state of the Broncos.
But my mind recently peered through the cobwebs of my past, to a special young man I first met in 2011.
This ghost from my past reminds me there isn’t a wrong or right side in any debate when it involves this team; there’s one commonality. That, of course, is a love of the Broncos. Above all else, that is what binds us together.
Let’s take a short journey back to the past …
Isaac Salas never got to see his favorite team win the Super Bowl.
The 16-year-old who brought together the community of Cheyenne, Wyo., never got to see Peyton Manning play in orange or hear John Elway say those four magical words: “This one’s for Pat.”
Over the last five years, I often find myself thinking about his infectious smile, crude sense of humor and rare ability to make you quickly feel a wide array of emotions - anguish, bewilderment, humor, solace, warmth and heartache.
I was tasked with writing a story about a kid who was fighting to turn his life around only to end up fighting for his life. There were times he wanted to give up, but Isaac fought through it. He fought through the broken neck that paralyzed him at wrestling practice. He fought through depression. He fought through acceptance of what happened to him and prepared the best he could for the challenges that awaited. He was fighting for a new normal.
Yet even in the darkness there was always one bright spot for Isaac: The Broncos. I still see the Broncos flag proudly attached to his wheelchair as it flapped in the wind while he innocently cruised for chicks in the park west of Denver. I vividly remember the Broncos memorabilia and family photos plastered all over his room at Craig Hospital that he called home for 10 months, including images on the ceiling that he spent so much time staring at from his bed.
Then a more haunting image: Tim Tebow’s jersey hung over Isaac’s empty wheelchair at the dining room table on Thanksgiving night, not long after he lost his fight on Sept. 3, 2011.
He was a month away from turning 17.
It was five years ago this weekend the story of Isaac Salas printed in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
The only thing that came close to matching Isaac’s love for the Broncos was his love for girls. He was a 16-year-old boy, after all. No matter how bad the team was, he was convinced it was on the right path.
As you probably gathered, Isaac’s favorite player was Tebow, and before his death I’d hoped I could facilitate the meeting of his hero. The 80-yard touchdown in that playoff overtime game against the Pittsburgh Steelers would have sent him over the moon.
He would have been in disbelief Manning became Denver’s quarterback and may have hated it at first, but would have come around to enjoy it immensely. It’s safe to say most of Broncos Country is still in disbelief but also savor those four seasons tremendously.
I’ve also thought how much of a fan Isaac would have been of Siemian and his underdog story. We would have had passionate debates, as we often did about the Broncos. But we would have respected the other’s opinion. We would have respected each other.
That seems to have been lost this season, for whatever reason.
What makes Broncos Country so special - and maddening at times - is that everyone believes they’re right. But the common foundation is the passion for the Broncos. That’s what brings us all together. That’s why we get so emotional.
The goal is the same from fan to fan, but the path to get there often takes a different course.
Five years after his death, and as tears fill my eyes as I write this, Isaac still guides me in the right direction. A punk 16 year old kid still teaches me lessons. This unforgettable, special spirit from my past still impacts me and slaps me back to reality.
A week before Christmas, perhaps the ghosts from your Christmas past can also help you find a little unity and help us all find that commonality once again after this cantankerous football season, just as Isaac has for me.
Merry Christmas, Broncos Country.