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 botes 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."
The rest of the room is stuffed with Bronco team pictures mounted in brown wooden frames and dozens of 8 x 10 photos of Bronco players past and present--Steve Atwater, Sam Brunelli, Kelvin Clark, Otis Armstrong, Steve DeBerg, Elway again. There are oversized front pages from the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News trumpeting the team's great moments--SUPER BOWL BOUND!--and a jagged, three-foot length of thick yellow pipe ("Goal post fragment!"). There are beer glasses and coffee mugs and ashtrays emblazoned with assorted Bronco logos, yellowed team calendars from seasons long past but not forgotten, half a dozen autographed official NFL footballs and three dozen pictures of Ralph and Jimmy. Cooking steaks in the parking lot at Mile High Stadium. Sitting orange-jerseyed, blue-capped and binoculared in their regular seats. Leaning happily against the Buick with a big poster of the Three Amigos suspended between them. Almost every square inch of the walls is crammed with Broncos memorabilia. Not much on the floor, but the soft rug is royal blue. With big orange polka dots.
"Had to have that special-made," Ralph reports. "Ever seen one like it?"
"Nope," the visitor answers. "Absolutely one of a kind. By the way, Jimmy, what's your house like? Your basement?"
"You don't wanna know," brother Ralph answers. "Jimmy here's got the rest of the Bronco stuff. Actually, that's not right. Fact is, he's got most of the stuff."
Seeing most of the stuff over at Jimmy's will have to wait for another time. Right now we're getting down to brass tacks about the remainder of the Broncos' season and the awful things that have happened at the end of some other great Bronco seasons. The nightmarish second quarter in the Super Bowl against Washington. The grim efficiency of Joe Montana and the Niners in the 55-10 debacle. Phil Simms, the New York Giants and the second half.
But Ralph Garcia doesn't scare easily. He looks you straight in the eye and never hesitates for a second when he says it: "This time the Broncos are gonna win the Super Bowl. Me and Jimmy, we're in at the Bourbon Orleans. And we can't wait. Isn't that right, Jimmy?"
Jimmy Garcia just nods. Because this time he's sure it will all work out. So is his brother Ralph. Because they remember. Both of them. They remember the time Tom Jackson returned the interception 73 yards for a touchdown to beat Baltimore. And that touchdown pass to placekicker Jim Turner. They know all about Number Seven's 36 fourth-quarter comebacks, and The Drive against Cleveland, and the Orange Crush, and Randy Gradishar's seven Pro Bowls. They remember $8 seats, and the night Elway was signed away from the Colts, and Al Denson's great catches, and the fog snorting out of Cookie Gilchrist's nostrils that time it was so damn cold in December when we played the Chargers.
This is the year, all right. Finally. "We been waiting a long time, and this is it," Ralph Garcia says. "Me and Jimmy, we both know that."
And remember. It ain't no bandwagon.
While the New York Yankees were savoring their first World Series win in eighteen seasons late last month, another member of their far-flung family left the earth.
Right-hander Bob Grim was by no means the most famous Yankee of his era--players named Mantle, Ford and Berra shared that distinction. But in 1954, as a 24-year-old rookie, the native New Yorker put together a 20-6 record. No American League rookie has had a twenty-win year since.
Grim never made quite so good again. He was 7-5 in 1955, 6-1 in 1956 and 12-8 in 1957--Yankees World Series years all--before vanishing into the hinterlands of Kansas City and completing his career at the end of the 1962 season. He lost both of his World Series starts (one each in 1955 and 1957), but he was a workmanlike professional, and we have always cherished him as a starter for our mythical All-Down-in-the-Dumps pitching staff: Bob Grim, Vida Blue, Sad Sam Jones, Jim Mooney, Billy Loes.
Grim, age 66, suffered a fatal heart attack in Shawnee, Kansas--after joining neighborhood kids in throwing snowballs.
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