Bronco’s country was a different place in the 70’s and 80’s. Long before the Super Bowl Trophies, before free agency, before the Rockies and Avalanche came to town, Denver was a football town. Yes, the Nuggets were around, but they were far from good and the one thing that brought the community together every Sunday in the fall, was the Broncos.
If you weren’t at Mile High Stadium, you were watching the game with friends and family. The town literally stopped to root for our guys. The malls were empty and some stores didn’t even open on game day. No matter how good or bad the team was, we were there to support them.
Home games were a ritual for my family. We would go to church in the morning and rush home to start a crockpot full of chili. Then we packed up and headed to the stadium, parking blocks away at a young couple’s house that turned their yard into parking for games. The walk to the most glorious place in all of Denver was always exciting and you could feel the energy in the air.
Mile High Stadium is where I grew up. We had season tickets from ’74-’86 and most of our friends and family were ticket holders as well. So if there was a home game, we were there. My best friend sat in the east stands, neighbors spread throughout the stadium, but my grandfather had the choice seats in the west stands right under the press booth on the 35 yard line. My family though, we were special. Our seats were 20 rows up, in the heart of the South Stands.
Seats are an overstatement though because the south stands were bleacher type seating. Hard cold aluminum benches with no backs, crammed in like a can of sardines so that you are squished between those on either side. Although this was very helpful during cold winter games as we all shared body heat, as one collective mass.
Yet, the south stands had a reputation. We were the loudest, the rowdiest, and probably the most obnoxious fans in the stadium. It could be compared to the Raiders black hole, or the Dawg Pound of Cleveland, but we took pride in our side of the field. Typically, there were more fights that erupted in the south stands, in part due to the cramped quarters, but also due to any number of inebriated fans.
I had my first drink of alcohol there; peppermint schnapps that someone nearby had brought into the stadium in a leather bota bag. As it was passed down the row, my father looked away and I took a big drink. It was around 20 degrees and the wind was bitter cold, but that slug of schnapps kept me warm for the whole second half.
I also learned to curse from sitting in the south stands. Such creative use of words was the backbone of an adolescent boy trying to impress the kids at recess with new and interesting ways to use language. Some of the most interesting insults actually came out my mild mannered mother’s mouth, for she was a true fan. Referees, opposing players, and even our team and coaches, my mom would call them all out if given a good reason.
Most of all though, I remember the Broncos; this was my team, my city. I screamed until I was hoarse for days. They lifted me up in joy with every first down, every hit, and every score. Sunshine, rain, snow, it didn’t matter, we were there for the team, and they gave us all they could. Many of our teams weren’t great, or even very good, but these were our guys, our team.
The NFL is different now, with billion dollar facilities and all the amenities. No matter how nice or comfortable it may be, in my mind nothing will ever compare to old Mile High stadium with 76,000 screaming fans uniting their energy to root for our team, the Denver Broncos. I will always be thankful for growing up in the South Stands.