DENVER — It began as Denver fans dreamed it would. The Broncos went ahead, 10-0; John Elway and the Three Amigos appeared to be on a roll, and the Washington Redskins had trouble moving the ball.
In sports bars and living rooms where Broncos fans had gathered to watch their hometown team on television, joy was in order for 15 minutes.
But it ended faster than anyone imagined.
In a nightmarish second quarter, Washington went ahead, 35-10, and the shellshocked Broncos never recovered.
Nor did their fans.
They had believed this would be the year the Broncos would win the Super Bowl. In anticipation of that, the city had been awash in the Broncos' orange and blue during the past two weeks. Pep rallies were held daily.
Instead, Sunday proved to be the day Denver went 0-3 in the Super Bowl.
"We started to lose our enthusiasm at halftime," said Michele Kiddney, a cocktail waitress at Denver's Bay Wolf restaurant, which played host to a private black-tie party of about 100 people. "We remained hopeful in the second half, but in our hearts we knew what would happen."
The game evoked bad memories among Denver fans. Last year, in the Super Bowl at Pasadena, Denver was ahead of the New York Giants at halftime, 10-9, but ended up losing, 39-20.
"It was a wake. It was very tragic," said Charlie Biederman, who played host to one of the scores of house parties held across Denver on Sunday. His two dozen guests watched the game on his big-screen television.
In downtown Denver's Prudential Plaza, where a giant television screen had been erected outdoors, hundreds of people gathered to watch the game as light snow fell. By the third quarter, the crowd had dwindled to fewer than 50 people.
Supermarkets experienced the opposite effect.
"It was dead in the first half," a clerk at a store in south Denver said as the second half of the game began, "but it has picked up. We have customers, although it's a little thinner than usual."
At Jackson's Hole, a sports bar in nearby Lakewood owned by former Bronco tight end Ron Egloff, the cheering of fans in the standing-room-only bar drowned out the 33 television sets in the first period, when Denver was ahead.
Kammi Albin, 21, a nursing student at Bethel College in Colorado Springs, said the Broncos "are like a religion to me. We go to Broncos games more than we go to church."
Bill Gobaw, 41, from Ridgefield, Conn., took part in the Denver fans' devotion to the Broncos. He said he and three friends came to Denver last year to watch the Super Bowl on television.
"Denver is a fanatical town," Gobaw said. "Like you're on top of the pack; no town competes fan-wise with Denver. I've never seen any other town where people paint their houses the team colors. I saw a Corvette today that was painted blue and orange."
As the game wound down and the Broncos showed no signs of rallying, fans at the sports bars began to drift home.
"I feel sorry for the Denver Broncos organization," said Joe Gable, who watched the game at Zang's Brewing Company, a bar near Mile High Stadium. "I hope that someday John Elway, Dan Reeves and the Broncos organization come out champs. They'll be back."
Others spoke bitterly of the loss.
"It's a typical Denver game. They build you up and let you down," said Clayton Douglas, 35, of Littleton, who watched the game at Duffy's bar in downtown Denver. "I felt so elated for the first quarter and so depressed for the next three quarters."
Sean Sarga, 23, of Denver, who also watched the game at Duffy's bar, lost a $20 bet when the Broncos lost.
"I don't think it was a good game," he said. "The Redskins just walked all over them."
His fiancee, Beth Baker, 25, said: "I felt let down."
But both said they would go to Monday's homecoming parade for the Broncos in downtown Denver.
The scheduled mid-afternoon parade is the last ritual before the Broncos' season is officially over. An orange stripe has been painted down 17th Street in anticipation of the parade, which will end at Civic Center Park.