My favorite Denver Broncos memory:
The morning of the team’s first Super Bowl victory parade in 1998, I saw a black SUV circling the old Rocky Mountain News building. “Go Broncos” and “Super Bowl Champions” were written in shoe polish on the heavily tinted windows -- the work of pumped-up Gen X’ers, I assumed.
A window rolled down.
“Say, do you know where I can park?” the elderly man in the driver’s seat asked.
He was on his way to watch a victory parade he had dreamed about for decades.
Pat Bowlen made that man's dream come true. The owner of the Denver Broncos made a lot of dreams come true.
Bowlen died June 13, two months before being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was 75.
Of course I cheered on the Broncos after I moved to Colorado in 1993. I still remember the front page of the Rocky the day after the Jan. 4, 1997, divisional game against Jacksonville. The photo featured a few fans sitting in the mostly empty stands after the game, too stunned to move after the Jaguars' 30-27 upset victory.
The next season was so exciting. The new uniforms. The salute. Terrell Davis. And then the Broncos going to the Super Bowl as a wild card team.
I rejoiced. My fellow reporters at the Rocky, not so much. They had endured those last three Super Bowl appearances with quarterback John Elway and the team losing by wider margins each time.
(I didn’t have the heart to say I particularly remembered the 42-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in 1988 because I was working for The Albuquerque Tribune and my assignment after the game was to track down Redskin Timmy Smith. Smith, who set a Super Bowl rushing record in his first career start, gaining 204 yards and scoring two touchdowns, had graduated from Hobbs High School in New Mexico.)
The Green Bay Packers, undefeated at home, were attempting to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The Broncos were up 31-24 with less than two minutes in the game when Packers quarterback Brett Favre, the division MVP for three straight seasons, threw a pass that Broncos linebacker John Mobley deflected.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” KOA’s Dave Logan thundered. “You can stand up and salute in Denver! The Broncos have done it! They have shocked everybody!”
Bowlen hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy in the air and said, “This one’s for John!”
I got the lucky assignment of writing the Super Bowl parade story for the Rocky:
The largest crowd assembled in Denver history. A sea of orange and blue. The Super Bowl trophy hoisted above the steps of the City and County Building.
Thirty-eight years after the Denver Broncos first took to the field, 650,000 grateful fans showered them with love and confetti at a parade and rally.
Young and old, infirm and fancy-free, they lined up along 17th Street and Broadway. It took the Broncos 2 1/2 hours to go a mere 18 blocks.
The next season the Broncos were even hotter. By then I had bought a fixer-upper in north Denver, and I didn’t bother to get cable because I knew I would never get any work done.
The fall of 1998 is when I discovered the thrill of listening to a sports event on a radio. Nothing compares to Dave Logan’s play-by-play.
The Broncos were headed to a perfect season. I still remember where I was on Dec. 13, 1998: Painting the basement family room. The Broncos lost to the Giants 30-27. Phew, I thought, that pressure’s off. The team would lose one more game before heading to another Super Bowl, this time against the Atlanta Falcons.
Elway retired after that 34-19 victory. The departure of No. 7 wasn’t easy for Bowlen or for Broncos fans, but Elway returned to the Broncos in 2011 as general manager and vice president of football operations.
The Broncos went to the Super Bowl twice more, led by quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Broncos were favored to win in 2013 against the Seattle Seahawks after a record-breaking season, but they got killed 43-8. Manning struggled during parts of the 2015 season and fans were jittery about facing the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
By this time, Bowlen, dealing with Alzheimer's, had stepped down.
It was Elway who hoisted the Lombardi trophy after the Broncos’ 24-10 victory.
“This one’s for Pat!” he said.
A year ago, Colorado Public Radio’s Vic Vela did a wonderful feature on the Broncos’ first Super Bowl, in 1978, against the Dallas Cowboys. What a season. Cases of Orange Crush -- the nickname given to the Broncos “ferocious defense” -- flew off the shelves, and Coloradans who had never followed sports suddenly devoured Broncos stories in the newspapers, Vela reported.
“And though they lost, that miracle season spawned a generation of die-hard Broncos fans — and ignited a civic pride in Denver,” Vela wrote.
That’s what Pat Bowlen inherited when he bought the Denver Broncos in 1984.
Dan Haley was 7 when his parents took him to his first Broncos game, in that magical 1977. The Facebook post by the former newspaperman (and now CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association) on Bowlen’s passing said it all:
Pat Bowlen was an icon, especially for a city where weather forecasters and local politicians are considered bold name celebrities.
In the '80s he roamed chilly sidelines in fur coats and Ray Bans — and tough luck if it that bothered you. He was unapologetic about winning, even as society seemingly got less competitive.
And he was a winner, whether competing in triathlons or Super Bowls. He was an undeniable leader and a shrewd businessman. I mean, he got taxpayers to help build his stadium and years later the Broncos erected a statue of Bowlen outside of it!
But above all, he invested in a team, its city and its fans. And he brought players and talent and excitement to this old Cow Town that we could have only dreamed about in the 1960s and 70s.
RIP, Mr. B. I hear in Heaven “The Drive” plays on an endless loop.