City of Hype

Smiling, frosted-haired matrons, their teeth capped in orange and blue. A naked man in a barrel making a heartfelt plea for playoff tickets. Nightly weather bulletins on the field conditions in Kansas City or Pittsburgh, pre-empting the local snow report.

If it all sounds vaguely familiar, then consider yourself a semi-native. The Denver Broncos are heading for the Super Bowl for the fifth time in two decades, and once again our city is drowning in a tidal wave of Orange Gush.

It's deja vu all over again. Orange you glad?
Every time the Broncos have marched into post-season play, the team has been mobbed by a horde of fawning, cheerleading, jock-sniffing, rabble-rousing Broncomaniacs--and that's just the local media. The fans, of course, get really excited.

And there's plenty to get excited about. Over the years the Broncos have reached a level of futility undreamed of by lesser sports franchises: four Super Bowls, four blowout defeats. One more, and they'll surpass the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings as the greatest also-rans in the history of the game. We're talking dynasty here.

True Broncomaniacs shrug off these past humiliations as if they never happened. They've been aided in their selective amnesia by the Denver dailies and TV stations, which have buried the truly sordid saga of the Broncos' Super Bowl quest under a mountain of hype.

No other city in the world has to put up with so much drivel in the name of sports journalism. Every year the scribes trot out the same headlines and cliches, the same manufactured "controversies" and rivalries, the same old orange blizzard of hyperbole, trivia and shameless boosterism, whipping up the usual frenzy of Broncomania--leading to the same agonizing thud of disappointment.

True, this year's team has a few advantages over earlier models. It has a running game, a back-up quarterback named Bubby, an expectorating linebacker, a coach who isn't Dan Reeves, and a good chance of beating the spread, if not the Green Bay Packers. All of which has propelled the local hype machine into overdrive.

"Those who do not learn from the hype are doomed to repeat it." Those are the words of a weary fan that appeared in these pages eight years ago, the last time the Broncos went to the Super Bowl, and they bear repeating. The following capsule history of Bronco hype should remind us all that, no matter how tough things may get on the field on Sunday, it won't be half as embarrassing as what goes on in the press box.

Designated 16-point underdogs, the Denver Broncos upset the Boston Patriots 13-10 in the first regular-season game of the upstart American Football League. The game receives only a few paragraphs in the sports sections of both dailies, which are preoccupied with the Denver Bears' chances of winning a minor-league pennant.

The Broncos land on the front page of the Denver Post by defeating the Detroit Lions 13-7, the first time an AFL team has beaten an NFL team. The Post's Dick Connor writes that the win "erased for all time the ragtag label the Broncos have worn through seven previous years." Unfortunately, the victory is an exhibition game; the ragtag Broncos will wait another seven years for their first winning season.

In the season opener, Lou Saban orders his team to play for a tie against the Miami Dolphins. He tells an outraged press corps that "half a loaf is better than none." The Dolphins go on to the Super Bowl, and the Broncos go weeks without a victory. The dailies rip into Saban; deranged "fans" dump garbage on his lawn. Cool Lou resigns, the first case of Bronco burnout.

The term "Broncomania" surfaces in a front-page Post article. "If you have Broncomania," writes Dana Parsons, "enjoy this year, because it may never be this much fun again." The Post is quick to capitalize on the Super Bowl-bound Orange Crush, offering a ghastly poster of Red Miller for fifty cents and cranking out predictable stories about zany fans and their wacky Bronco fight songs. The Rocky Mountain News consults an astrologer, who predicts that the Broncos will beat Dallas by a narrow margin.

KOA's Bronco Talk expands to elephantine proportions. Governor Dick Lamm declares a state holiday in honor of the team, then rescinds it after a brick sails through a window of the Governor's Mansion. One hundred thousand people show up for a Broncos parade before the big game.

Woody Paige and Bob Collins of the News and Connor and "Candid" Cameron of the Post all pick Denver to win handily. THIS IS IT FOR BRONCOS! the News bellows on Super Sunday. Craig Morton is intercepted four times (a Super Bowl record), and the Broncos fall 27-10. A measly thousand fans greet the losers at Stapleton.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast