Blindsided by Blind Love

Jennifer Johnson is a born fan, and despite her California address, her love for the Broncos has been unwavering. "I wasn't from Denver," she says, "so I don't know why I became such a fan. They weren't a dirty team, so I just liked them. I've been a Broncos fan since 1980. I just adopted them and started following them -- watching them get creamed in so many Super Bowls. I cried every time. I still have tapes of the games they won. I've got interviews, team videos, scrapbooks, cards -- you name it."

John Elway was always one of my favorite players," she adds. "But then Terrell Davis came along, and there was just something about him -- an attitude, maybe. He was always the underdog. He never quit. He always fought back. Never gave up on his dreams.

"I'm a person who likes a real person -- the ones who had to struggle, who seem real when they speak."

A self-taught computer junkie --"I've always had an artist-type background," she says -- Jennifer naturally thought a fan Web site would be a great way to show, and share, her support. "I was making a Broncos Web site at the time, just for fun," she recalls. "They'd just won the Super Bowl, and I had a free Geocities server. I built separate pages for Elway and Terrell Davis. They each had links to photos and news." Who knows how these things catch on, but at some point, somebody must have seen the site and submitted it to a search engine, because suddenly Jennifer found herself hosting 2,000 visitors a week.

As Jennifer's personal allegiances shifted more and more exclusively toward Terrell, so, too, did her Web site. In August 1998, it officially became a Terrell Davis site only.

Jennifer's admiration for the Broncos running back was apparently shared widely, and the Web site caught fire. One day, while scanning an NFL magazine, she saw an article listing the best fan Web sites. Jennifer quickly looked up Terrell Davis -- and saw her site listed as the best of the lot. "I freaked!" she says. "It was amazing! I wrote to the magazine to thank them."

As time passed, Jennifer's site got better, too. An illness kept her out of work -- mostly in fast-food and retail joints -- so she had plenty of time to put into the computer. The sheer number of hours she spent working with Terrell improved her skills. "I got better with graphics," she says. "I put in video clips and other things. It just kept growing as I went along."

Sometimes she'd work all night with him, starting at six in the evening and stopping only when the sun came up the following day.

If you are a professional football player, having your own Web site is a mixture of hubris and hope -- the Internet equivalent of seeing a jersey with your number sold at Gart Sports. Despite the name recognition universally enjoyed by any member of a professional sports team, not many players are big enough stars to merit their own Web addresses.

"There aren't that many players who are a brand in and of themselves, guys who could attract fans to their site," says Steve Harbula, director of marketing and communication for the Denver Broncos. Only a handful of Broncos players have qualified -- and even then, most found it to be a waste of time.

Ed McCaffrey used to have his own "official" Web site, but not anymore. Same with Howard Griffith. When he was still with the team, Bill Romanowski once contacted Harbula for assistance in setting up a site but then never got around to doing it. Today the only Bronco with his own official Web site is quarterback Brian Griese.

Although Harbula says he is happy to direct players to local companies that can help them build and maintain a site, he adds that the Broncos generally try to stay out of such self-promotional ventures. This is to avoid any unnecessary headaches. The team once contemplated adding a link off its official page to the best fan Web sites but then decided against it. "What if," Harbula muses, "the next day one of them linked to some porn site?"

Neither the NFL nor the Broncos endorse player Web sites -- whether they are official sites boasting the player's approval, or simply fan sites. But both organizations also take a practical, business-oriented view of the ventures. While it is technically against policy to permit unauthorized use of the NFL or team logos, "you don't want to suppress people talking about your product, either," points out Paul Kirk, a Broncos spokesman. The unwritten rule is that as long as a fan or player is not making any money off a Web site, the teams and the league will look the other way.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer