Deep in a corner of my conscience is a wad of unfinished sweaters--one for every Bronco Super Bowl bust. Somehow, in the agony of defeat--or, perhaps more accurately, the discomfort brought on by excessive consumption of both crow and alcohol--lifting the South Stands would have been easier than hoisting those knitting needles and picking up where I'd left off before the Broncos blew it. Every dropped stitch was a reminder of what might have been. Every blob of nacho cheese dip was another blot on Denver's already pathetically depressed self-image.
It always seemed easier to start fresh the next season.
Just as the Broncos have never won a Super Bowl, I have never finished a sweater. I never will.
I resurrected my knitting hobby--my mastery of the craft consisted of a two-foot-long scarf made in Girl Scouts--almost twenty years ago for Denver's first Super Bowl season, reasoning that watching TV and drinking beer and making a sweater equaled one legitimate activity. And they may well have, but they didn't add up to a win. Sitting in the blue-and-orange rec room of our landlord's house, ready to toast the victory with "chabliss," we watched the Cowboys ride victorious into the sunset. My big beginner's needles and my tangle of yarn disappeared into the closet the next day, never to re-emerge.
Like the Broncos, nine years later I thought I was up for a challenge--in my case, a sweater with a complicated cable pattern. But by now, I had more invested in the game. After all, I'd met John Elway three years earlier, when we'd cajoled the spanking-new quarterback to pose for a cover photograph with Elise Cagan, a celebrity gossip columnist who was arguably the town's biggest celebrity herself until Elway came to town and she was canned by the Denver Post (in an unrelated development). But by halftime the Giants had cut Denver back down to size, and I had been reduced to using my knitting needles to spear pretzels.
There is not much to say about the next Super Bowl--not about the Broncos' pathetic 42-10 loss to the Redskins, not about that season's project, a fetching turtleneck (in deference to the team, all my knitting projects were blue). Like the team, I was out of it after the first quarter. (It did not help that we had replaced our original party plan, of doing a shot of tequila every time the Broncos scored, with doing a shot every time the broadcast broke for a commercial.)
Even more ignominious than the team's defeat was the city's reaction the next day. After a network correspondent noted that Denver had "never been number one in anything but air pollution," our noble leaders scrambled like Mark Brunell to find some hallmark they could hold on to. Then-congresswoman Pat Schroeder gamely pointed out that Denver was number one in vitamin consumption and possessed the world's largest laundromat. We could also boast the world's longest street (Colfax Avenue, for what it's worth), as well as the highest per-capita number of psychiatrists.
By then, we needed them.
In 1990 the Broncos were once again headed to New Orleans, this time to face off against the 49ers. By this point, people had stopped inviting me to Super Bowl parties. In a not-unrelated development, I had progressed the furthest on that season's sweater, which I had completed down to the sleeves before the Broncos lost the game. Two days later this unfinished masterpiece disappeared from my car. Like the rest of the city, I was robbed.
This past fall, I was not even tempted to cast on another project. I had begun to feel like Madame DeFarge, knitting and cackling away as the aristocrats were led to their doom. And from the start of the season, there were signs that all would not end well.
First there was the undeniable fact that Denver was beginning to feel full of itself again. National eyes were upon us: because of our booming economy, because of the upcoming G-7 conference, because of the Oklahoma City bombing trial. Our new airport even appeared to be working. Clearly, we were cruising for a bruising.
So were all those merchants who were betting that renewed Broncomania would translate into big profits and so had stocked endless variations of the new, improved, tastefully darkened navy-and-orange Bronco paraphernalia.
Then came the time-tested kiss of death: a December 30 Sports Illustrated cover devoted to John Elway. "After 14 seasons as the Broncos' quarterback," the inside headline read, "John Elway hasn't lost a step of his uncanny ability to lead Denver out of disaster and into Super Bowl contention." And then back into disaster, the magazine should have added.
"Though usually surrounded by a human rummage sale," wrote Rick Reilly, "Elway has won more games as a starter than any other quarterback in NFL history (126). It's the equivalent of carving Mount Rushmore with a spoon or composing Beethoven's Ninth on a kazoo."
Or knitting an afghan on the toothpicks that skewer little cocktail weenies.
But this year was different, because "for the first time," Reilly noted, Elway "may end up not taking a team to the Super Bowl, but going with one." Well, maybe if he has plans to go with one of the expansion teams.
The only cautionary note to the piece was offered by Elway's wife, Janet, who prayed, "Please, God, if we can't win the Super Bowl, let us lose in the playoffs."
God was listening. Frankly, it was surprising He could hear Janet at all over the jeers directed toward the team's leading cheerleader, Woody Paige, who had further tempted the fates in last Saturday's column by referring to the Jacksonville Jaguars as the "Jagwads."
That was all the inspiration his young team needed, said Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. It was certainly all the Wall Street Journal needed to give Denver a jab--another blot!--on Tuesday's editorial page. Coughlin had raised the possibility that a local columnist's work violated the First Amendment, the Journal noted. "You beat Denver in Denver," the Journal added, "and you get to say things like that."
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Denver residents, on the other hand, aren't saying much at all. Mayor Wellington Webb tried to speak for them with a sad Monday missive to Elway: "Denver Broncos fans are the best fans in the world and as you know, we are not fair-weather fans. Despite the frustration of Saturday's game, we will be back next year routing [sic] for you and the team.
"Keep your head up, we are still behind you."
Make that: We are still behind.
Ten days from now, just three days before the Super Bowl at which the good times will roll without the Broncos, the new football-stadium board will meet to discuss whether Denver needs a new stadium. Pat Bowlen worked hard behind the scenes at the legislature last year to get that board established, to get the right people put on it, to get a new stadium put on the '97 ballot. He just forgot one thing: to make sure the Broncos cinched the deal.
Which leaves a big knot in the strings Bowlen would like to pull.
If the Broncos' owner doesn't get his new stadium, he's threatened to take his team away.
Good. Then we'd be eligible for an expansion team. That way, we'd have to wait only two years to make the Super Bowl.