Backfield in Motion

While the Broncos prepare for the second half of their big playoff game in the Colorado Legislature, why don't we just sit back and enjoy the halftime show?

The high-priced entertainment, of course, is reserved for the VIPs--the Very Important Politicians who will be voting on SB 171 (read: the Bronco Bailout Bill) over the next few weeks. But there are still some amusements offered up for the little people, the little people who will ante up the big bucks if the Broncos get their new stadium.

And they don't come much littler than at the Denver City Council.
On Monday, Pat Bowlen showed up at the weekly council meeting with three of his "no-limit soldiers": Terrell Davis, John Mobley and Billy Thompson. Bowlen came to city hall to accept a council resolution officially honoring the Broncos' Super Bowl win--but it clearly was the council that felt honored, bowled over by the presence of the team's owner, his athletes, his Lombardi Trophy and his omnipresent lobbyist, Porter "Razzle Dazzle" Wharton.

The reflected glory was enough to obscure the fact that the city had already officially honored the Broncos just five short weeks ago. That big-ticket celebration came complete with a parade through downtown and a crowd of 650,000 (give or take a few hundred thousand--but then, the legislature is asking us to give or take a few hundred million), speeches and, courtesy of Mayor Wellington Webb, the city's first outright endorsement of a new stadium to replace Mile High, where the team is supposed to play for the next twenty years. (Despite the Broncos' whining about that lease, Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson points out: "People need to put in perspective what this lease we have now does. If it's the worst in the NFL, then we must have the best for a city.")

In the ensuing weeks, though, the Broncos have been playing another important game, so you can hardly blame Bowlen for wanting his boys to make a few more very public appearances. And if the Boy Scout troop invited by Councilman Ed Thomas to greet the Broncos wasn't quite as raucous as the crowd cheering the team on in San Diego, every supporter helps when you're going for the big win, the stadium Super Bowl: an election next November. Everyone who votes to extend the Coors Field sales tax--just a penny on every $10!--gets a Bowlen merit badge and a no-limits salute. (Councilman Hiawatha Davis, who told Bowlen and the sparse audience that the Broncos deserved the best stadium our money can buy, apparently has already collected his.)

But first the Broncos must win this final playoff game at the State Capitol. And so, even as Bowlen's troops stage their halftime show, more action continues on the sidelines.

The Broncos came into this playoff game, held on the legislature's home field, with a big advantage--the unexpected Super Bowl win (fifth time's a charm!)--but some significant baggage.

The biggest load was the Metropolitan Football Stadium District Act, which looked so good when the Broncos fought for its passage two years ago. But that proposal--passed at the eleventh hour, and only after Bowlen scrawled a promise to offer plenty of jobs to minorities--limited the public subsidy on a new stadium to $180 million.

Time, and a big victory, inflated expectations--and the cost of the stadium Bowlen insists is needed to keep his team competitive. The price tag is now at least $100 million higher, he told legislators, and if he wants to keep his team competitive, he just can't chip in much more than the quarter-share he'd already committed to back in 1996. And while the legislature was making that small amendment raising the public portion, it would be nice if the public vote was moved to May rather than left on that inconvenient--but legal--November date that just happened to fall in the middle of the next, perhaps less competitive, season.

Senator Elsie "Win One for the Gypper" Lacy volunteered to carry the bill. But despite a flashy offensive series in the state Senate--including an appearance by Bowlen, at which lawmakers genuflected before his Super Bowl ring as though he were the Pope himself--by Friday, February 20, the ball was back, way back, inside the Broncos' $180 million-yard line. And you could kiss a May vote goodbye.

An unexpectedly tough fight by Denver senator Pat Pascoe had stalled Lacy's drive. While Lacy pushed hard with reminders of the Broncos' glorious victory in San Diego, Pascoe pushed back with reminders of Colorado's not-so-glorious poor, who would be "hit hardest" by the stadium sales tax. Before they broke for the weekend, the senators took a preliminary vote. It was 19-16 against boosting the taxpayers' share to $265 million from the $180 million approved two years ago. But today, Lacy sniffed, "that $180 million amount is basically useless."

Lacey called a time out over the weekend--and the Broncos got their backfield in motion.

On Saturday, "No Limits" Bowlen donned a cashmere sweater and headed to the public presentation of the two architecture firms vying for the Bronco stadium contract. The dog-and-pony show pitted Kansas City's HOK Sport, creator of Coors Field and the Pepsi Center, against Kansas City's HNTB. But while HOK, considered the front-runner, forgot to bring its dogs and ponies, HNTB put on a real show. In the center ring were two local architecture-firm affiliates--one minority-run and one featuring Curt Fentress, who brought us the tent-roof at DIA and the Tinkertoys outside the Colorado Convention Center--as well as a vision of what the stadium could look like. The swoosh to the roof looked suspiciously Nike-like, but it was enough to sway the stadium authority. Bowlen got some good press, and HNTB got the job--if there is a job, that is.

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