A Crush on Orange

It ain't no bandwagon. Ralph and Jimmy Garcia remember the day the Broncos got rid of their vertical striped socks in a public burning at training camp. They recall Lionel Taylor's 100 pass receptions in 1961 and the moment when Jeremiah Castille fell on The Fumble at the three-yard line with a minute to play, preserving a playoff win over Cleveland. Ralph and Jimmy remember Floyd Little Day, when everybody stood up and a lot of grown men wept and the great little running back with the bowlegs waved goodbye. They can rattle off the names Frank Filchock and Jack Faulkner and Mac Speedie. All the head coaches. They remember the incredible Christmas Eve playoff win over Pittsburgh. 1977. What a Christmas present! They can still see the triumphant look on Wahoo McDaniel's face that Friday night the Broncos beat the Chargers at the University of Denver Stadium. What was that--'62?

Hey, listen. The Garcia brothers remember Scotty Glacken. You know, the Broncos quarterback. Number 17. Let's see here: 1966.

So it ain't no bandwagon. Just ask them.
"We had tickets before the Indians got here," says Ralph Garcia. "Thick and thin, you can call it. Me and Jimmy, we been going to games a long, long time, and we haven't missed many. Raiders game here in '68, Jimmy had the flu. Almost killed him. Not going to the game, I mean. Then in '75, day we beat Green Bay here, friend of mine named Billy Baker died. So I had to miss that one. Otherwise..."

Otherwise, Ralph and Jimmy can't remember many games they've skipped. Because of icy roads and nightmarish traffic, there were a couple of scattered Sunday afternoons when they didn't get to see the opening kickoff, and that snow thing on Monday night against the Packers back in the early Eighties, that was a real piece of work. Oh, and Linda misplaced the keys to the Buick once, probably after getting home from Mass. Finally found them under a chair in the kitchen. But by the time Ralph and Jimmy settled into their usual seats in the west stands, the Jets were already up ten-zip.

"Sounds ridiculous, I know. But if we got there on time, maybe it'd been different," Jimmy muses. "Anyhow, we been going a long time. For us, it ain't no bandwagon."

No. Absolutely not. Elsewhere, though, there's a brand-new story. As the 1996 NFL season nudges past the halfway mark, people in Chicago and Keokuk and Honolulu and God knows where have taken note of the Denver Broncos' powerful running game, stiff defense, Elway-to-Sharpe connection and sparkling 8-1 record, and they've hooked their freshly minted loyalties to a winner. Why, one amused New York friend even called the other day to report the sudden appearance of bright-orange Bronco jerseys, with Manhattanites stuffed inside them, on the teeming pavements of Third Avenue. And those throngs of displaced Southern Californians now clogging the fashionable boĒtes of Cherry Creek and the vast shoe department down at Nordstrom's? Why, they're lifelong Bronco fans, don't you know--at least since the Rams slipped off to St. Loo and the Prince of Darkness took his Raiders back up to Oakland. In the treeless southwest suburbs, Coloradans who've lived here ever since the O.J. verdict are proudly shading themselves under blue baseball caps with big orange "D"s on the front. Hopping on the bandwagon.

Ralph Garcia's basement tells a different tale. If you're startled by bright colors, don't go down there. And if you're, say, a Kansas City Chiefs fan, better shut up about it. That's a twelve-gauge leaning darkly in the corner, the protector of the realm.

"Beer?" Ralph cracks three Bud Lites from a little blue refrigerator and turns up the rheostat, smiling. "Here we are."

Here we are, indeed. Now, there are couches and there are couches, but to call the bright-orange upholstered passenger train in Ralph Garcia's basement a "couch" is to vastly underestimate recent advances in interior decoration. "Seats ten. Twelve, if they're small," he says. Actually, this huge, curving orange monster looks like it could accommodate twenty full-sized adults, and each of them would get his own crocheted orange-and-blue pillow, precisely the shape of a football, but three times bigger. "Linda did those," Ralph reveals. "Never seen any other ones like them."

Jimmy, Ralph and I sit down with our cans of beer. We peer across an orange-topped coffee table as big as a chem lab blackboard toward a matched pair of Sony television sets the size of milk trucks. The darkened screens look like lunch tables. "Gotta good deal on those at Harry Valas," he explains. "This is where we watch road games."

Among others, Lyle Alzado, Craig Morton, John Elway and Rich Jackson also watch. At least it seems that way. Back in 1987 Ralph Garcia knocked down a wall in his finished basement, painted the entire place in bold stripes of orange and blue and rehung the enormous action photos of his favorite players in much the way an archbishop would hang portraits of saints in a cathedral. The Morton picture is autographed in a bold blue stroke--"caught him at his club in Cherry Creek one night"--and the huge, glowering, mustachioed image of Alzado is personalized. "To Ralph," it reads. "Best wishes, Lyle Alzado, #77."

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