Les Shapiro’s wife isn’t a sports fan, but she’s sure a fan of Denver Broncos home games.
“She loves Broncos home Sundays because the mall is always empty and she likes to go shopping,” said Shapiro, a longtime Denver sports-talk radio host.
Mrs. Shapiro’s impression isn’t unique. The Broncos are such a longtime obsession in Denver that there are few signs of life outside Mile High Stadium on game days.
“You drive around when it’s a big home game. Now it’s New England. It used to be the Raiders. We’re talking late ’80s and early ’90s. If you weren’t at the game, it was an empty town,” said Dimitrios Seitanis, who moved to Denver in the 1980s.
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“If you were driving around, and had a question, there was no one to ask, even in the little stores.”
Seitanis and his brother immigrated to the United States from their native Greece after first coming to Denver as high school exchange students. To them, football was the round kind played in gigantic soccer stadiums throughout Europe.
But in assimilating their new culture, the brothers caught the Broncos bug. Walk into their restaurant, “Greek to Me” a few miles from the Broncos’ training facility and you’ll quickly be swept into a conversation about how many sacks linebacker Von Miller will have on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
When they discovered they were chatting with a sportswriter from Charlotte, the questions cascaded from their mouths: Is Newton really that big? Is Luke Kuechly as good as Miller or DeMarcus Ware? And most importantly…
“You give us a chance, don’t you?”
“Us” is of course Bronco Nation. If the charm in the Panthers’ second Super Bowl appearance is the freshness and relative newness of the experience, then Denver is a distinct contrast: Families everywhere full of multi-generational fan bases. The Broncos have qualified for their eighth Super Bowl appearance, which creates a different set of expectations.
“The whole town is down” after a Super Bowl loss, Seitanis said. “The second time they had riots downtown. When they won it was amazing. But when they lose, like two years ago against the Seahawks, it’s like a funeral. The feeling was like you run 100 miles, you’re so tired, and then you lose the race.
“You try to erase it from your mind, to think of something else. There is no way to describe the sense of emptiness. You feel so bitter; like you’ve been beaten up by 100 guys.”
A forgiving town
Shapiro, who hosts the afternoon show on Mile High Sports Radio, AM1340, says that while Super Bowl losses are depressing, they never break up Denver’s love affair with its favorite team.
“The region is very forgiving. It’s not like the East Coast – it’s not Philadelphia,” Shapiro said. “People care here greatly, but if they have a bad season or even two – which is infrequent – the fans are very forgiving because they know as long as this ownership stays consistent, and someone like John Elway is running the show, they will always bounce back.”
By Shapiro’s count, the Broncos have had only five losing seasons in the 31 since the Bowlen family bought the team. The Bowlens reinvest lavishly in the product, as in when they renovated the training facility adding 17,000 square feet to the complex in 2014.
Those facilities have helped the Broncos add and retain talent to win sustainably in the NFL’s parity-producing free-agent era.
“It’s incredible in this day-and-age,” Shapiro said. “With free-agency – the way players, coaches and even owners move around in a mercenary way – there’s still been a consistency in this organization and it’s a consistency the community really appreciates.”
A Charlottean sizes it up
Jeff Golden moved to Charlotte as a third-grader, just before the Panthers’ inaugural season, playing home games at Clemson in 1995. His family went to a game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Panthers lost 31-10, but the Golden family was still smitten, holding season tickets as Jeff grew on to attend North Mecklenburg High and UNC Wilmington.
Golden stayed a Panthers fan but his career took him west, first to New Mexico and 5 1/2 years ago to Denver, where he does public relations and marketing for the Colorado Mountain Club.
He sees both parallels and contrasts in how Charlotte and Denver love their NFL teams.
“There’s definitely a more established tradition here. Most families have generations of life-long fans. This is a place with a lot of Super Bowl appearances and a lot of retired jerseys,” Golden said.
“But still it’s the same kind of excitement I remember from the Panthers’ first Super Bowl. You’ll see at least one out of every four people wearing orange.”
Golden attended a Super Bowl party two years ago, watching the Seahawks drill the Broncos 43-8 in 2014. The only trouble with reaching seven Super Bowls is they can result in five losses.
“I was with a lot of friends who are Broncos fans. By halftime they were pretty resolved to the idea they were going to lose,” Golden recalled. “That was hard on them because the Broncos seemed like the better team, but through a series of errors they were going to lose.”
Golden will fly to the Bay Area next weekend to take in the Super Bowl atmosphere. He won’t have a ticket to the game, but he has arranged to be with his people.
Not the people he lives with in Denver. Golden will deck out in black-and-blue and head to a Roaring Riot viewing party in San Francisco.