I was a Broncos from the day I was old enough to hold my head upright.
My mother and father brought me home from St. Francis hospital in July, 1972.
I was in kindergarten when Joe Collier’s defense faced Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys in Superbowl XII.
Though I was only a tyke, I can still recall the fervor that embraced the state then. It was the year of the Broncos.
Number seven still belonged to Craig Morton. Lyle Alzado wasn’t a Raider yet. Linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson set the tone.
Broncomania was born.
John Elway joined the Broncos in 1983, just as the ‘Orange Crush era’ was winding down. In ’87, almost a decade after their first Superbowl appearance, Elway got them back to the big game.
I was fifteen when the Giants crushed us 39-20. Like every Broncos fan, I wept as the team was throttled by the Redskins the following year and the 49ers two years after that. But I still loved my Broncos.
As far as the rest of the NFL was concerned, I couldn’t care less. I didn’t watch football. I watched Broncos games. I could name a few players outside of Colorado, but not many.
Once Denver finally won it all in ’98 I was all grown up. I had met my wife, started a business and dreamed of raising a family. My awareness of the National Football League had increased somewhat, but I had other priorities. Broncos football was still the only football that mattered to me. It wasn’t until 2002 that Tom Brady changed all that.
My brother was in the process of remodeling an old Maytag appliance store on 28th Street in Boulder the year the Patriots faced Kurt Warner and the Rams’ “greatest show on turf” in Superbowl XXXVI.
He was working around the clock. We had a Grand-Opening looming. Our little business was about to add a second location and we had deadlines to meet, so we worked Superbowl Sunday.
I had intended to make it home before kickoff, but there was a ton of painting to do, lighting to be installed, network cables to be strung and signs to be hung. So I worked. Exhausted, I climbed into my pickup just as the big game begun. I dialed it up on my radio and listened to it as I drove east on highway 36 back home.
Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to start that game. Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots starting quarterback, was injured in a collision with linebacker Mo Lewis of the rival Jets in week two of that season. Bledsoe’s handsome backup took the reigns and, under head coach Bill Belichick, led the Patriots all the way to the Superbowl.
The Patriots weren’t supposed to win that game. They were prohibitive two-touchdown underdogs. But they did. And the Patriots dynasty began. It was February 3, 2002.
As I rocketed down the freeway that evening, listening to the play-by-play on my radio I was screaming out in support of the Pats – not because I was New England fan - but because I loved underdogs. I pounded on my headliner with my fist with every Patriot first-down.
It was late in the fourth quarter when I finally got home. I burst through my front door, gave my wife a quick kiss and flipped on my TV in time to see Adam Vinatieri hammer the game-winning 48 yard field goal as time expired. Superbowl XXXVI was a life-changing experience for me, even though I didn’t get to see most of it. It had been the greatest Superbowl ever. The Patriots had beaten the mighty Rams – and they had done it with their backup quarterback. And I had blossomed into a fan of the NFL.
By the 2003 season, I was all-in. By 2004 I had joined my first fantasy football league. I still loved my Broncos, as I do to this day, but I had evolved into a fan of the game of football and the entire NFL. All thanks to the 2002 Patriots and their cleft-chinned backup quarterback, Tom Brady.
It’s almost a decade later now, and Tom Brady has become a legend. He’s seeking his fourth Superbowl Championship. I’m involved in six fantasy leagues, down from nine last year, and I follow the NFL as closely as anybody I know. I drive my wife nuts by dedicating every Sunday from September through January to the NFL. I have two kids and they both hate football. Who can blame them? Tom Brady made their daddy love football almost as much as he loves them.