Growing up in a soccer-crazed town in Western Germany during the 1990s, it wasn’t very easy to fall in love with the Broncos or let alone learn about the game people here call "American Football".
In retrospect, people today consider those times the hey-days of "American Football" in Germany – with the World League (and later on the NFL Europe) getting a respectful number of people interested in the game from across the pond. As a teen or teenager in a soccer town and years away from names like Google, Facebook or Twitter even making sense, however, it was hard to even find out about the hype and teams like the Rhein Fire of Düsseldorf or the Frankfurt Galaxy.
I became a football fan long before I actually watched my first game of football
Back in the day, I had a subscription for a then new sports magazine oriented at a teenage readership. The magazine has long been out of print now, but the impact a few of its articles had on me are everlasting.
One of their 1997 issues had Brett Favre hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on its cover. Reading about the Packers Super Bowl triumph was the first time I ever got in touch with the game of football. I wasn’t crazy about the Packers, but the article got me interested in finding out more about the sport. I don’t recall for sure what it was that got me "hooked", but I like to think that it was learning about how football was a true team sport where people of different sizes and different abilities came together, respected each other and profited of one another; in simple words, unlike in soccer (where an own goal in front of a somewhat large home town crowd including my embarrassed father was the highlight of my short-lived "career"), in football, fat kids like me weren’t just afterthoughts or guys people just "tolerated" until things weren’t going the right way on the pitch, which turned them into the first targets of criticism – deserved or not. Instead, what the big kids brought to the table was more than appreciated, because if a QB didn’t have a brick wall of linemen in front of him he couldn’t do anything.
So I bought books about the game, absorbed articles about the NFL or NFL Europe whenever I found them and followed the NFL scores of the 1997-98 season by reading the small-lettered scoring section of our local newspaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
I was hooked.
The game that I never actually "watched", or: you can't exactly call it love at first "sight"
From all I knew, the Packers made it to the big game again and being last year’s winner they were favorites to win again. The few articles I had read over the last few months left on me the impression that Brett Favre was a pretty darn good football player and this game against the team from the city where one of my Mom’s favorite TV shows "Denver Clan" took place was supposed to be a pretty good one.
So without my Mom noticing, I stayed up late one Sunday night in January of 1998 and turned on my TV to a channel called "Premiere" in order to "watch" the game. Why I’m putting this into citation marks, you ask? Well, Premiere was a pay-TV channel and we did not have a subscription at the time. So, while I was able to hear what was going on in rather good audio quality, all I was able to see was a bunch of black and white pixels looking like ants running wild on my TV screen.
I didn’t expect this experience to leave a lasting impression on me. Heck, I could barely keep my eyes open, school was going to start less than eight hours from now and the game that I couldn’t see had not even started. The only thing I expected was for me to fall asleep sooner rather than later.
Fighting sleep never felt so easy
Fall asleep, I did not. I made it past the national anthem and heard the Packers go ahead early, leading me to believe that this was going to be a blowout win for last year’s winner.
I could have easily called it a night, but the announcer's continued praise for a guy called John Elway and especially his praise for this young running back called Terrell Davis, let me re-consider. After all, this German announcer whose name I no longer remember, must have known what he was talking about and he was pretty darn serious in his belief that this game was far from over. So I stayed awake and continued to listen.
I learned about how often this guy John Elway had made it to the Super Bowl but had always fallen short of winning the championship. How he was a larger than life athlete, who just happened to never be fortunate enough to win it all thus far. And moreover, I learned about this young kid everyone just called T.D., who had made himself a name as one of the better players in the league after having been drafted rather late a few years back (I didn’t understand this whole "draft" thing back then). I found out that he was playing the big game in his hometown that night – a dream come true. But most of all, I heard that all of that wasn’t just talk, as I saw but not "saw" him pick up yard after yard and TD after TD on his way to an upset win, MVP-honors for an unlike performance after having spent the better part of a quarter on the sideline with an injury, and John Elway’s first, long-awaited and well-deserved championship.
By the end of the game, I was wide awake, didn’t care that school was just about to start a few hours from now, and – most importantly – I was a Broncos fan. How could I not have been one after that game and all those story lines?
Someone else didn't see what was going on either
It was a while after the Broncos’ Super Bowl win over the Packers that I learned of the seriousness of T.D.’s injury. A migraine headache was no piece-of-cake after all and stepping out on the field with one, knowing that a group of big defensive linemen whose only goal was to tackle whoever had the ball in his hands to the ground, was waiting just across from him, seemed like a suicide mission.
But T.D. did. He gutted it out. He could hardly see what was happening in front of him, but he took one for the team and put the team above himself.
It’s no surprise that Terrell has remained my favorite Bronco of all time to this day.
The first NFL jersey I ever purchased had a number 30 printed on it. I wore it proudly on way too many occasions that I probably shouldn’t have and pretended to be him playing in the Super Bowl, when I was playing around with my first football in the backyard. I was hoping for him to get back on the field when injuries started to rattle his career and when he ultimately called it a career, I was hoping for him to make it to Canton one day.
It’s probably fair to say that at first, I was more of a Terrell Davis fan, than I was a Broncos fan.
I’ve got an orange crush – I’m afraid it’s serious
But just as I continued to follow T.D.’s career, I continued to follow the Orange-and-Blue.
I went on my mother’s nerves long enough until she made sure we got a subscription to Premiere, so I could actually "watch" football games and no longer just had to listen to them – although I had to promise her that I would only watch Sunday’s early game and tape the later ones. To this day, I still have a large number of VHS tapes of Broncos games in the basement.
I later spent more sleepless nights in front of the TV, whenever the Broncos were on, and witnessed the last game at the old Mile High and the first at Invesco along the way. I saw the heroes of my first Super Bowl go and the team change and change again. I watched T.D.’s last game and stayed with the Broncos through the not so great years and the rise back to Super Bowl fame.
It wasn’t always easy, I’ll acknowledge that. I loved Jake Plummer, hated to see Brandon Marshall (#15) and Jay Cutler leave, while I wasn’t a big fan of Tim Tebow and had a very hard time of getting used to seeing Peyton Manning dress up in orange and blue – a few crucial losses to the Colts simply still haunted me.
However, I stayed a Bronco. Even an exchange year in rural Kansas and Chiefs territory of all places couldn’t rattle me. And it was T.D. showing me that you can overcome all obstacles if you stay focused on what’s important, who got me to my exchange year in the first place – as I, coming from a working class family who never could have sent me on an exchange year, put in extra-work in and outside the class room on my way to earning a scholarship that sent me closer to my beloved Broncos.
And it’s that spirit, that makes me sure, that one day, I will watch a game at Mile High.
Because dreams can come true after all – just ask T.D. and his soon new golden jacket.
You just have to push your luck a little bit and it will pay off.
That is the Broncos way.