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City of Hype

Great moments in Bronco history--and hysteria.

Bronco Talk reaches a milestone as Sandy Clough abuses his 100,000th caller ("Sir, you obviously know nothing about football..."). After the Broncos pull off a last-minute playoff victory over Pittsburgh, the sagacious Mariotti suggests that "Denver just might die" after another Super Bowl loss--"if not literally, then certainly spiritually"--and argues that the "community" will be better off if the Broncos lose to Cleveland in the AFC title game. Both papers recap The Drive and The Fumble and write stories about the altitude and fan noise. The News interviews a guy named Cleveland Brown; the Post describes Browns owner Art Modell as "one of the key figures in pregame hype." The Broncos whip the Browns. SUPER! gurgles the News, recycling its 1987 front page. NEXT STOP--MONTANA, puns the Post. Fans start booking flights to Missoula.

KCNC leads off its evening news with seven minutes of Bronco celebration before noting the death of a mother and four children from carbon monoxide poisoning. The News gives up on Lou Wright and consults a tarot-card reader, who says the Broncos will win the Super Bowl by a narrow margin. Mariotti, who had previously called Elway a punk, now takes credit for the Broncos' win over Cleveland (by suggesting they should lose). He decides that the town "needed" this victory and that the Broncos have a chance to win the big one after all. Comparing his guys to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, Reeves hints that Denver might just pull off "the second-greatest upset in sports history."

From the moment a panicky-looking Elway hurls his first wild pass into the Superdome carpet, the game is never in doubt. San Francisco 55, Denver 10.

One week after the massacre, the News publishes a story about Vance Johnson's history of domestic violence as part of a series titled "Men Who Beat Women." The reporter--not a member of the paper's sports department, which was less than eager to tackle the subject while the Broncos were driving for the Super Bowl--receives death threats.

1991-92
The Post debuts a short-lived football column by a female known only as Flo. After a dismal 5-11 record in 1990, the Broncos rebound with a 12-4 season and eke out a home-field playoff win over Houston. Still licking their wounds over the 49er debacle, fans agonize over the prospect of another Super Bowl defeat; KOA's Mike Rosen denounces all the "defeatist blabber." Not to worry. David Treadwell misses three field goals in the AFC title match in Buffalo, and the Broncos pass the also-ran torch to the hapless Bills.

Woody Paige argues that the team gained national respect in the 10-7 loss, but much of the national media attention on the Broncos these days is focused on the bad actors Reeves has kept on his squad in an effort to compete with NFC levels of thuggishness. The Vance is one of several members of the 1991 Broncos charged with violent crimes against women, from assault to rape; only two spend more than a week in jail.

1993-94
Reeves is booed, then booted after a lackluster 1992 season. Pat Bowlen names Wade Phillips as the new head coach after Mike Shanahan turns down the job. Unimpressed, Post columnist Mark Kiszla predicts that the New York-bound Reeves will win a Super Bowl before the Broncos do. The amiable Phillips jokes with reporters that if he doesn't win it all right away, he deserves the ax. But in Bronco country, it's no joke; the sportswriters are crabby, the fans impatient, and Bowlen is hinting around about needing a new stadium.

When Phillips takes the injury-plagued Broncos to a wild-card playoff loss against the Raiders in his first season, local pundits tout him as the best rookie coach in the league. The following year, after a 7-9 record, he's fired.

1996
Bowlen finally has the coach he wants (Shanahan), a running back who can take the offense off Elway's aching shoulders (Terrell Davis), and the ear of the state legislature. He promises cheap tickets, affordable beer and world peace if the taxpayers cough up $180 million for a new stadium--and adds that he won't move the team if voters reject his bid for new digs. But everyone knows any possible stadium vote may hinge on the team's performance.

The hype has cooled down in recent years, thanks to the arrival of the Rockies and the Avalanche, but as the 13-3 Broncos march into the playoffs with home-field advantage, the feeding frenzy begins. Even though Elway hasn't made a Super Bowl appearance in ages other than in halftime Frito-Lay commercials, the Post's Adam Schefter declares that the entire country is rooting for his return: A NATION RALLIES BEHIND ELWAY. Mark Wolf and Bob Kravitz of the News confidently predict that the Broncos will whump the Jacksonville Jaguars by two touchdowns. (Never mind that Sports Illustrated just put Elway on its cover--usually the kiss of death for the Broncos.)

"What's to make anybody think this team, so level-headed all season, will lay an egg on the most important day of the season?" asks Kravitz, as if any recollection of the Broncos' previous playoff failures has been erased from his memory banks.

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