This was supposed to be a column about how totally cool it was to be in Denver in the days leading up to the Broncos’ big Super Bowl victory.
I would tell about how I ordered a Broncos jersey (MANNING #18, of course) on the very afternoon they beat the Patriots and how I wore it around Cookeville every chance I got. Almost everyone smiled and gave me the thumbs-up and said “Go, Peyton!” A greeter at Walmart stopped me as I entered the store and said “We sure are proud of him, aren’t we?” and I nodded and said we sure were. There was, of course, the occasional gruff remark that he should have chosen the Titans when the Colts cut him loose. But that was as close as anyone came to saying a negative word about Peyton.
As I was rifling around in my carry-on suitcase trying to retrieve my one-quart clear plastic bag of liquids, a TSA employee at the Nashville airport tapped me on the shoulder. “We know the Broncos are going to win,” he said, “but how many points do you give them?”
I smiled and shrugged. “I’m just trying to get my shampoo and toothpaste onto the plane.” And he laughed. That’s right. A TSA employee actually laughed.
None of that Tennessee enthusiasm prepared me, though, for what I encountered when I arrived in Denver for a visit with daughter Meg and son-in-law Andrew. The city was awash in orange and blue. Flags and banners were everywhere, from the entrance to the state capitol building to the gas pumps at 7-11. Electronic traffic information signs said “United in Orange.” Even the produce at Kroger (called “King Soopers” in Colorado) had stickers with the iconic wild horse head on them. Every conversation ended with “Go Broncos!”
Departure day, Super Bowl Sunday, was even more exciting. An impressive number of airport employees were dressed in Broncos gear, from t-shirts to jerseys to caps to scarves. Yet another friendly TSA employee (the second in five days!) made the joking announcement “Seattle fans, please move to the back of the line.”
Nothing was going to kill the ebullient mood that had settled over frigid but sunny Colorado.
Our plane took off right on time. But it stayed low and began circling. Around and around and around the airport we went. Something was clearly amiss. Finally, about the time we should have crossed into Kansas, the pilot came over the loudspeaker to announce that the landing gear was stuck in the down position. He would have to set the plane down and figure out what to do next. Which, as it turns out, meant moving all the luggage, passengers and crew to another plane.
Would we make it home in time for kick-off?
Not quite. By the time George and I nabbed our checked bag, caught the shuttle to the economy parking lot and made our way to Cookeville, we’d missed not only “The Star Spangled Banner” but also the safety that gave the Seahawks the first two points of the game.
It was all downhill from there, of course. Denver 8–Seattle 43. As the Seahawks’ well-deserved celebration began, I remembered the man pushing a broom outside an airport restroom the day I arrived in Denver. “If the Broncos lose,” he asked me, “are you going to burn that jersey you’re wearing?”
I shook my head. “I’m from Tennessee,” I told him. “And we love Peyton, no matter what.”
(February 9, 2014)