City of Hype

Great moments in Bronco history--and hysteria.

Not to be outdone, the Post's Paige figures Denver will smoke the pathetic "Jagwads" by three touchdowns. Such hubris provides Jacksonville with just enough motivation to stiff the homeboys, 30-27. The upset devastates the hype-mongers, who now have to scrap all those Super Bowl stories already in the hopper. For solace, they turn to the team's most prolific hype generator, Shannon Sharpe, who says the defeat "will set the organization back four years. It's going to be at least the year 2000 before we recover from this loss."

Mournful, maudlin Mark Kiszla agrees. "This morning, the most football-crazy town in America would rather plop down alongside Sharpe on the sofa for a good cry," he writes. "The ramifications of this loss will hurt the Broncos for years."

Snakebit and gun-shy, the infallible press corps doesn't know what to make of its beloved Broncos anymore. They can't make up their minds about the new uniforms or the old Elway, whose shoulder problems loom as career-threatening and then vanish with a snip of a tendon.

Over at the Post, confusion reigns. A hoax about Elway having a nipple ring makes its way into the paper, followed by an alleged interview with a Bronco flack about the new stadium that turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. But the most flustered hypester on the scene is the News's Kravitz, who is vying to replace the long-departed Jay Mariotti as the state's resident oracle.

A deep thinker who once suggested that the Broncos should trade Elway because "it would be good for Elway and the team to start anew," Kravitz demonstrates an uncanny ability to hop on and off the Bronco bandwagon all season long. A 6-0 start has him contemplating the impossible dream that the team will go undefeated ("Maybe, just maybe, the Broncos are poised to forge a season for the ages.") Three weeks later, after the team has gone into the tank against the lowly Raiders--and worse, after one media-weary player has beaned a sportswriter in the back of the head with a basketball--he wonders if the Broncos are "just setting themselves up for another playoff loss."

Hot and cold, that's our boy. After a loss at Pittsburgh crushes the team's division-title hopes, Kravitz insists the team is still going to the Super Bowl; the next week, following the San Francisco beating, he decides it's time "to face the hard truth about this football team: they're done. Doomed." He forecasts a playoff loss at Kansas City. When the Broncos fail to oblige him, he predicts they'll lose the AFC title game at Pittsburgh. He can't lose for winning.

But at least Kravitz is honest about his ambivalence. Most of his print brethren and practically all of the TV and radio types are homies with a vengeance--they can't wait to promote every aspect of every Broncos playoff game this year as part of a "Revenge Tour" or "Unfinished Business" that will right past wrongs. On the Denver airwaves, revenge is a dish best served all the time, reaching new heights of hyperbole.

Woody Paige makes amends for last year's Jacksonville jinx by predicting the Jags will prevail 65-0--a stunning piece of reverse hype that gets him off the hook with the fans on both sides. After the Jacksonville game, the local TV crews swarm the locker room, shoving microphones into every available sweaty orifice, asking if this wasn't the greatest Bronco victory of all time (never mind the 1977 AFC title game). After the AFC championship is secured with an eighteen-yard Elway pass to Sharpe, the stadium-hungry Bowlen calls the play "the biggest first down in the history of the franchise" (so much for The Drive).

The story lines all but exhausted, the assembled faithful can only repeat themselves. Super! Wow! Borrowing a tear or two from Chuck Green's letters from doggy heaven, Mark Kiszla describes Elway's father looking down on his son from the stands--and "Grandpa Harry" watching them both from heaven. But even Kiszla, who gets all misty-eyed at the notion that his hero might retire ("The rest of us can only hope [eight-year-old] Jack Elway asks his daddy to stay in a Denver uniform a little while longer"), can't match Post veteran Joseph Sanchez for pure bombast. On the front page, Sanchez reprises Schefter's story of a year earlier about how the whole country wants Elway to win the Super Bowl: A NATION PULLS FOR ELWAY, AND THAT'S OK BY HIM.

Broncomania rules the airwaves. Wacky fans. Zany fight songs. Cheese-eating contests. Public officials making jingoistic wagers on the game, pitting Rocky Mountain oysters against Wisconsin brats.

Deep in the media fishbowl, the Denver pundits are preparing their final pre-game column, the one about how the city's image, its psyche, its cosmic destiny hinges on what the Broncos do on Super Sunday. At the same time, the post-game column, the one they've written so many times before, is already taking shape. The one that begins:

"It's only a football game. Get over it.

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