Everyone knew last night's Broncos preseason closeout against the Arizona Cardinals was meaningless. But when someone gives you free tickets at the last minute, does any of that matter? Hell, no.
Even though the game ended with a 32-24 Cards win (and, reportedly, a serious injury when a man fell from an escalator), there was still plenty of colorful spectacle to go around -- including a new T-shirt design sure to be coveted by Broncos fans everywhere. Here's the story, in words and photos.
"Peyton fuckin' Manning!" declared the T-shirt hawker my wife and I encountered on the long walk from our distant parking lot to the stadium.
Then, after flipping the shirt over, he recited the slogan on the back: "If you don't bleed Mile High Orange, take your bitch-ass home!"
Shockingly, I didn't see anyone actually purchase one of these items despite an excellent sales pitch: "Just in time for back-to-school shopping!" Maybe that's because people were mesmerized by the sight of the giant banners on the side of the stadium -- Peyton fuckin' Manning on one side, Baltimore Ravens heart-crusher Joe Flacco on the other:
Still, despite the national publicity garnered by the NFL's decision to put Flacco pics all over Denver as a way to hype the season's kickoff game on September 5, we didn't hear fans angrily fulminating about the indignity, even when they got up close to Big Joe.... Maybe that's because they were focused on dealing with the new, NFL-mandated security procedures, which limited the sort of bags that can be brought into the stadium -- hence a bag-check tent on the outskirts of the grounds: "I told my wife about this, but she didn't believe me," groused one guy, who decided he'd rather take his beloved's purse back to the car than deal with the hassle of checking it.
Continue for photos and more from last night's Broncos game. At the stadium itself, the bag-check process wasn't out of control....
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...but the guy who wanded me in the main line was clearly feeling the stress. When I didn't immediately understand that he wanted me to stand on a chalked line on the ground with my feet together while holding the stuff from my pockets in my outstretched arms, he physically moved me there while angrily barking, "Stand...right...here!" Afterward, an employee at the gate tried to make light of the exchange, saying, "He's a tough cookie."
That's one way of putting it. Here's hoping he doesn't wig out when there's a capacity crowd, which definitely wasn't the case last night. We were in the second deck from the top on one side of the north end zone, and as this shot demonstrates, the stands in our section were only partly occupied even as the player intro videos played on the nearest Jumbotron:
Yet the main section of the stadium was more full than not during the flag-a-riffic National Anthem ceremony: After that, a game was played, but not with many recognizable players. Even though Manning and other notables were part of the pre-recorded intros, few of them had reason to take off their caps. Ronnie Hillman got in for a play or two, to prove that he could run without fumbling, presumably. But for the most part, backups fighting for their jobs took center stage, causing the attention of many attendees to wander -- except after two big hits that were penalized under newly strict NFL rules, prompting lusty booing.
From our vantage point, there was certainly the temptation to just watch the big screen as if the stadium was our living room. Yet I did my best to follow the action on the field, even though it seemed very far away....
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By halftime, the Broncos had pissed away an early ten point lead and were tied going into the locker room -- at which point a far more entertaining competition got underway, between area kids and assorted team and corporate mascots. At one point, near-tragedy struck, as the semi-inflatable Grease Monkey rapidly lost air, causing his head to sag like a used condom. But few noticed, since everyone's attention was riveted on Nuggets super-mascot Rocky, whose wild antics included shoving a little kid on the sidelines and causing him to face plant, taking a punch in the face from another spunky youngster, kicking out an end zone marker and otherwise turning the time waster into the main attraction. If all the other pro teams in Denver could simply agree to let Rocky be their mascot, too, everyone would be happier.... The Broncos and the Cards definitely had a tough act to follow. Denver managed that trick for a while thanks to some excellent passing by third-string QB Zac Dysert. But the Broncos D was unable to contain Arizona, not exactly the most fearsome offensive juggernaut in the league, and Dysert came up short when it counted.
He should still make the team, or at least the practice squad, but some of his brethren likely made their final appearances in orange last night -- before their efforts actually counted. As we walked off into the night afterward, though, no one was too downhearted. After all, next week we'll be able to see Peyton fuckin' Manning.
More from our Sports archive: "Photos: What did you do at the Broncos game other than watch football?"