January 19

Steve Solloway: Denver full of confident Broncos fans

But in a city awash in team colors, Pats fans are game to show theirs.

DENVER — Ken Osborne was adamant and defiant. “Tom Brady is scared. He’s shaking in his boots. Peyton Manning wins this game for us. You watch.”

Osborne, of course, is a Denver Broncos fan.

A lot of people will watch the New England Patriots and Brady play the Broncos and Manning for the AFC championship on Sunday afternoon. The sellout crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium will be raucous. Broncos fans believe this is their year to win the Super Bowl.

Sunday’s winner goes on to the Super Bowl in New Jersey in two weeks, and that should be the primary story line. But somehow, whether you’re talking to people in downtown Denver or in the heart of Boston or Portland, the talk shifts quickly to the two great quarterbacks who will face each other for the 15th time.

“Peyton has to win three Super Bowls just to survive in his own family,” said Osborne. “His brother, Eli (a quarterback for the New York Giants), has his two and he beat the Patriots, didn’t he? Peyton has his one. He needs two more. He gets the second this time. It’s karma.”

Osborne and a friend, Paul Bidner, came to Denver this weekend from Sioux City, Iowa. They don’t have tickets to Sunday’s game and won’t pay scalper’s prices.

“We’ll tailgate with all the rest of the Broncos fans,” said Bidner. “Then we’ll watch the game from Hooters.”

They’ll celebrate the victory there, they say.

It was late Saturday morning in a downtown district of Denver. Few people were walking out of the several major hotels or strolling down the 16th Street Mall. The 108th National Western Stock Show and Rodeo is in the middle of a two-week run and, frankly, there were more banners welcoming ranchers than football fans. More cowboy Stetsons seen than Broncos caps.

Although it was difficult to miss the splashes of orange here and there. Orange and blue are the Broncos’ colors. Thirty-five years ago, Denver’s defense was known as the Orange Crush.

Make no mistake, I was told, the Broncos own this city, much as the Steelers own Pittsburgh. Unlike the Steelers, the Broncos’ reach sprawls the entire state and the High Plains region. John Elway, the quarterback who led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two, is now the executive vice president of the team and very visible. He is revered here. His presence unifies the widespread fan base.

In fact, the Broncos are big on unity. To overcome last January’s double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, a “United in Orange, Time to Ride” campaign started soon after the emotional defeat. Friday at lunchtime, that theme was sounded again in a big rally for fans.

David George had “United in Orange” T-shirts for sale in the small Sportsfans store where he worked on the 16th Street Mall. They were selling, but not as much as the “Omaha, Omaha, Hurry, Hurry” T-shirts. “Omaha, Omaha” is what Manning sometimes shouts at the line of scrimmage before the snap. Manning won’t say why.

“We got them last week,” said George. “We’ve sold an awful lot.”

Last season’s hot seller was: “When a Colt grows up, it becomes a Bronco,” referring to Manning coming to the Broncos after he was released from the Indianapolis Colts following neck surgery.

Chris Butler, wearing a Stetson, stood in front of the “Omaha, Omaha” shirts, considering the purchase. He has a ranch some 80 miles north of Omaha, Neb., and was in Denver for the Western Stock Show. He’s also a Broncos fan, though he won’t be upset if the Patriots win.

(Continued on page 2)

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