Devoted Broncos fans probably remember the greatest among their ranks, Tim "Barrel Man" McKernan, as the guy who wore nothing but a barrel with overalls to pretty much every home game -- rain or shine -- from 1977 to 2007 (though he attended, fully-clothed, nearly every game ten years beyond that). McKernan died in 2009, and though we will probably never see another fan with the same flair and reckless devotion to tradition, we caught up with his brother-in-arms, best man and fellow Hall of Fans member, "Hat Man" Jay Hocking.
He gave us a lifetime of blue-and-orange stories to chew on -- seven of which you can read below:
For 25 years, Hat Man and his equally devoted wife, Valerie, have not missed a single home game And they've got the stories to prove it: From getting shot at in hostile territory to trying to sneak away with a piece of the old Mile High, we bring you the Hat Man's seven greatest stories of Broncos glory. Enjoy.
7. How Hat Man got his name: "I used to drive nights for the Pueblo Chieftain. I would go 100 miles or sixty miles west up in the mountains to Salida, delivering all the bundles of newspapers. Or I would go a couple hours East to Lamar at night, but there was a guy there that showed up one time with a knit top hat and it was grey, and I said, 'I gotta have one of those, and it's gotta be orange.' So I had his wife make me one, and then I needed another one for Valerie. So I got the orange one. She got the blue one. We started going to games and we always, always sat in the South Stands.
"We basically cut our teeth and grew up in the South Stands. The South Stands always had the reputation of being the rowdiest. They were the cheap seats of the stadium. They were added on later, basically as an afterthought to that stadium. There were these long fiberglass-covered benches, and if you weren't wearing the right clothes, you'd get little splinters from the fiberglass...The least expensive seats in the stadium -- jeez, how do I say this -- I don't want to say it attracted a bad element, but it was different. We were all different, you know? To kind of clean up the image, Valerie and I had the hats. I said, 'You know what? I could get a tux, get a coat.'
"But they don't make orange coats. So I went everywhere I could find tux rentals. The only thing I could find was a white coat. 'Well, I'll grab one of those and dye it orange.' So I threw the coat in the bathtub with the orange dye and stirred it all up, and it came out all blotched all over. It didn't work. But I had an orange bathtub, so that's kinda what I ended up with that. Eventually, I found somebody who would make me a tailor-made orange tux, and it started out with the jacket, and I said, 'Well, you know, I gotta get the shirt. I gotta get the vest, the whole thing, the bowtie [and, of course, the hat.]'"
6. BBQ for the kids: As members of the Hall of Fans, Hocking and Barrel Man would travel to Canton, Ohio for the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game and Hall of Fame weekend. The Hall of Fame fans had their own float in the parade, and everybody dressed up in their Sunday outfits. Being a diehard football fan is about fun and tradition first and foremost, but getting together, getting drunk and celebrating America's greatest game left Hocking and the other fans wanting more.
"You know, once you organize, you have to have a purpose, so we adopted some charities. One thing that we did is...Canton, of course, is known for the NFL Hall of Fame and all the football stuff and all this, but Canton has...a large underprivileged kid population. So what we did is, one weekend, we kind of adopted this community center which wasn't in the best part of Canton. And we went down there and we took over the place for the weekend, and we brought all kinds of barbecues and everybody dressed up and we signed autographs, and we invited every kid in the town. And the first year we did that, we had probably about seventy or eighty kids, and the last year I went, we had, jeez, over 500 kids that showed up."
5. "This is who we are. This is what we do." There are some sweet moments in Broncos history, to be sure. But you don't put 25 years of your life into anything without accruing some sad memories along the way. Still, when we asked Hocking if he had any regrets or second thoughts about giving so much of himself to the Broncos, he answered simply, "No."
"You know, some people take their vacation and go for a ride somewhere or go back East or go to California or whatever. This is what we do. We've done this so long that, of our group, a few people have died and passed on. There is a thing that me and this one guy, Tim Dolph...if you look at our trailer up by the speakers, there's a couple of Broncos players that have come tailgated with us and they autographed the trailer. But Tim and I were up there and what we wrote -- this is a thing that he always said at the tailgate and so finally we wrote it down on the trailer -- was, 'This is who we are. This is what we do.'
"You said, 'Do I ever regret or have second...' No. This is what we do. This is who we are."
4. The engine-powered blender: Although the members of the Hall of Fans celebrated rival teams, they all shared the love of football, and they all knew what it was like to be so devoted to one team. "It was like a huge family," says Hocking. "Of course there was the team competition between us, but we had a blast.
"We'd all get together and, at that time, our [Hall of Fans] group was small. The group now, I think, would take up two hotels, but we took up two floors of this, I think it was a Holiday Inn. We had a ground-floor room, and we opened our door to the hallway. People would walk in, and they'd walk right out the sliding door because there was grass all around there and a nice secluded area with trees all around it. We had the trailer there with the music and [this engine-powered] blender, and it got to be pretty late. It was like 11 p.m., and people were complaining that we were making too much noise, so the manager came out and said, 'You gotta bring the party in.' So we went into the banquet room area, actually we had what we called a hospitality room, and the guy said, 'C'mon bring all your stuff in.' And I said, 'Well, can we bring our blender?' and he goes, 'Well, sure,' and I said, 'Hey, it's a gas blender. It's loud.' We didn't want to get anybody angry. And he goes, 'Just shut the door and everything will be fine and nobody can hear it. That's a soundproof room.'
"So we all moved into that room, and it's like midnight, and then one of the Packer fans, this guy they call Titletown Clown, he said, 'Well, Jay, we have no music. Why don't we just take the whole trailer in?'...So he and I go out and we rolled the trailer out of this little area and into the driveway and then we see all kinds of people walking around the building and you know this is Canton on a beautiful night and it's warm and everything and I say [to myself], 'Well, jeez, Jay, these people are health freaks. They're going for walks at midnight,' and I see this police car pull up and I said, 'Oh, crap. What's going on?' So I kind of put the trailer down and then comes the freaking fire truck. They're all parking in front of the hotel and I say, 'Oh, Chuck, we'd better put the trailer back. We don't want any cops seeing us trying to take the propane and all this stuff into the hotel.'
"We get into the hospitality room and there's all of our people. The fans were all sitting in there, laughing and joking, and the fire alarm's going off and nobody's doing anything! And then the fire department and the firemen come and... Ernestine -- she was a Titans fan -- Ernestine yells out, 'The strippers are here!'
"Valerie was running the blender, and the carbon monoxide detector went off, evacuated the whole place, evacuated five floors, two wings."
3. BAM! Good food at the Super Bowl XXXII: The Broncos were a lowly wildcard, a seeding that had only won the Super Bowl once before, and on top of that, the AFC had lost the Super Bowl thirteen times in a row. The Broncos were expected to lose to Brett Favre and the Packers, but John Elway and Terrell Davis led one of the greatest underdog Super Bowl victories ever. Hat Man already lists Super Bowl XXXII as the best Broncos game he ever went to, but before the game, he and his crew had an encounter that really took their experience up a notch.
"We had the truck and the trailer and these production people started waving at us to come over to where they were, and we parked up right next to them.
"What they were doing was filming the Super Bowl tailgate special that Emeril [Lagasse] was gonna do and I said, 'Well, wait a minute. You see this vehicle? Let me get dressed up for you.' And so I put on the tux, and they got all excited, and they filmed the thing and we were on there....When they were done, they had big, huge what almost looked like sides of beef -- these chunks of meat all over the place and everything that they were cooking up, and they said, 'You guys want any of this?' Because they had bought tables and the decorations and everything and they were just gonna throw 'em away. So we said, 'Yeah, sure!'
"So we took all their food and then we went and found a room in a motel that was probably about 45 minutes out of San Diego, and it had a little kitchen with the refrigerator. We filled it all up. That game, we took all the food they had given us. We went to the game. We threw it all on the grill. We're slicing off steaks and grilling 'em up, and it seemed like we fed practically half of the parking lot there."
2. Stealing a piece of history: "You know how they said that we destroyed the South Stands and all of that? Mere humans couldn't have done that, not with our bare hands, but what we were able to do...It's the last game and you want a souvenir, you know?"
Having spent so much time in the South Stands seats that they were basically his own (after all, he pretty much paid for them), Hat Man figured that Mile High Stadium's closing was his best opportunity to bring that piece of his life home with him.
"There was a security guard -- this guy was a monster -- he used to work out with Shannon Sharpe, and you know how he looks. His name was William, so me, thinking I'll be this guy's best friend, 'Hey Bill! How are ya?'
"He said, 'My name is William, not Bill.'
"'Sorry.' So [thereafter we always called this guy] 'William, not Bill.' And we had fun with this guy all the time. He was at the bottom of the South Stands in the Southwest corner.
"But anyway, I had under my arm in my tux an eight-foot section of this pink fiberglass and I'm walking out, and William says, 'Jay, you can't have that.' And then he looks at me and he says, 'You know what? I'm turning around, Jay. Just get your ass out of here.' And so I went down the ramp, and I got this eight-foot section of the fiberglass cover of the chairs and I'm going down the ramp and the exit is maybe thirty yards from the bottom of the ramp from the South Stands. I get to the gate. I'm going through the gate. And I can't move. I'm stuck. I'm through the gate and I'm stuck. And I turn around; a cop has a hold of the other end of the seat that I'm trying to take out. I almost made it."
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1. Getting shot at in Kansas City: As members of the Hall of Fans, Hocking and Barrel Man would travel to Canton, Ohio for the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game and Hall of Fame weekend. The Hall of Fans would have their own float in the parade and everybody would dress up in their Sunday outfits. One of the trips was more memorable than the weekend itself.
"We always drive down there with the white truck and the trailer behind us and the big, huge Bronco logo on the side. We would follow Tim and his Barrel Man truck and all of that. This one year, it's probably about 2:00 in the morning....We'd end up in rest stops and pull out our little fold-up chairs and that's where we'd spend the night, or the three or four hours that we slept, and get back in the car and keep going. We were going through Kansas City about 3:00 in the morning, and POP! POP! We hear this... holy crap...and didn't think anything of it. We keep going and we meet Tim at the next rest stop. Tim's got two bullet holes at the bottom of his passenger door. People were shooting at us in Kansas City."
More from our Sports archive: "Denver Broncos Super Bowl favorites? Don't bet on it yet."