"So I'm working on a piece about Jay Cutler," I told the dubious Broncos PR guy I'd finally been connected to after being bounced from flack to flack as I attempted to land an interview with Cutler, the Broncos quarterback returning for his second season and thus the fourth-most-important man in the City of Denver behind Mayor John Hickenlooper, myself and the guy who sounds the tornado-warning sirens.
"You see, I'm not like all those other reporters trying to interview Jay," I continued, whipping my wispy bangs even though he couldn't see me on the other end of the phone. "I'm young, I'm hip, I write a humor column! Don't you think that's a unique opportunity to showcase a different, more lighthearted side of Cutler, a side this city knows very little about?"
In my mind, I could see Jay and me hitting the town. He'd say, "So where do you want to go tonight to cruise for babes?" — because in my fantasy Cutler says things like "cruise for babes" — and I would say anywhere but LoDo, and he'd say, "Man up, pussy" — because in my fantasy Cutler and I are already boys enough to clown each other — and so we'd go to LoDo, pick up some fly-honeys all Entourage style, probably get some late-night burritos even though Jay's from Indiana so he wouldn't try the hottest hot sauce, so then I'd say, "Man up, pussy," and he'd eat the hot sauce and his face would turn all red, and me and the girls would laugh, laugh, and then we'd all go to Cutler's pool for a dip. Then a week later, Jay and I would get BFF tats.
But dubious Broncos PR guy wasn't buying. "We're trying to limit the number of interviews and appearances we arrange for Jay," he said.
Translation: Cutler is just 24 years old and he's the QB of the Denver Broncos, one of the most high-pressure positions in all of sports. You really think we're going to let him go out with some jackass, hipster douchebag humor columnist and get hammered?
I was so disappointed, I almost didn't hear what he said next: "You can come to training camp if you want."
Um, what was that, Willy Wonka? Did you just actually say I can tour the factory?
"Make sure you bring your press credentials," said the dubious Broncos PR guy before hanging up to deal with reporters who could actually help his cause.
Credentials? You mean golden fucking ticket!
But when I showed up at Dove Valley on Sunday, I quickly saw that, unlike the Chocolate Factory, where chunky midgets churn fantasies from chaos, Broncos training camp is a perfectly organized paradise, one where cameras on cranes film all the action, the grass is green and pristine, and the various sections of practice are signaled by air horn. Air horn! And there are certainly no midgets to be seen. Instead, I stood on the sideline between the two practice fields and watched giants like John Lynch, Javon Walker (sporting a kick-ass Darrent Williams-tribute Mohawk), Champ Bailey and Jay Cutler (!) warming up mere feet from me. Equally impressive, though, were the barbarous hordes of Bronco Nation, wedged so tightly into the western section of the fields reserved for them that many were forced to cram into the bushes. Any time a player would do a quick sprint or backwards trot to limber up, these fans would burst into spontaneous applause, boiling over with Broncos fever (which you can contract either through lifelong devotion or by fucking the Barrel Man).
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Then practice got under way, and the fans were treated to the real show: quick drills and formations by the boys in orange and blue. Cutler took some snaps and looked pretty solid, and let me tell you this first, friends: Jason Elam's calves are in mid-season form. I also learned — after being subjected to numerous guttural barks from assistant coaches — that the key to being a football coach is saying "Square it up" a lot. Not breaking through the offensive line effectively? Square it up. Botched a pass that was right in the numbers? Square it up. Suffering from memory lapses and seizures due to severe cerebral damage after a lifetime of hits in the NFL? Square it up.
Although I never got to ask Cutler if he wanted to catch The Simpsons Movie or offer to be one of Champ's Vitamin Water Volunteers, I left Broncos training camp happy, overstimulated and beyond optimistic for the upcoming season. From there, I headed straight for dinner at the home of old family friends who happen to be diehard Broncos fans as well, like any good Denver natives. When they asked me what I'd been up to lately, I told them where I'd been, and they pumped me for details. Realizing that I could not provide the level of detail desired by my friend Jesse, a guy who knows way more about football than I do but respects me because I once fucked the Barrel Man, I simply handed him the enormous 2007 Media Guide I'd been given. Jesse took the book, studied it carefully and silently for about a half-hour, then came over while I was mid-meal.
"I've got to tell you, man, I am really excited about this season," he said. "I've just got this good feeling."
"I hear you, brother," I said through a mouth full of food. "Square it up."