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SUPER BOWL XXXIII: DENVER BRONCOS VS. GREEN BAY PACKERS;
3:15 P.M., SUNDAY; TV: CHANNEL 4. RADIO: KNX (1070)

Wary Bronco Fans Not Quite as Manic

January 19, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — Where have you gone, Broncomaniacs?

A city turns its lonely eyes to you.

As everybody from San Diego to the MIR space station knows, the Denver Broncos are heading for a monumental confrontation with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Super Bowl XXXII.

But it's not quite the same, say some old-timers. That brand of insanity known as Broncomania is not quite as wild, intense or crazy as it once was.

Back in 1977, the first season that ended in a Super Bowl berth for the Broncos, Rick Savage and his girlfriend entered a Denver bar where the patrons were watching their beloved team on television.

As chronicled in "John Elway, Armed and Dangerous," by Clay Latimer, Savage put some money in the jukebox only to be told that the music was disturbing the sound of the Bronco game.

Savage ignored the complaints.

One of the angry customers shot and killed him.

Now that was Broncomania out of control.

Back then, a women once painted a horse blue and orange, the Bronco colors, stripped and rode the horse naked through a downtown mall in order to get Bronco tickets.

That was Broncomania.

As a rookie, Denver quarterback John Elway had to go to the home of a barber to get his hair cut because his presence in a shop might have created a riot.

That was Broncomania.

But that was then.

"There was no Bronco enthusiasm, even when the team was 11-4," said Rich Goins, a Denver disc jockey, of this season's squad. "People were cautiously optimistic, but they were afraid the team was not going to make it to the playoffs. I got tired of hearing it. In the old days, it didn't matter what the Broncos did. People supported them."

No one can accuse Goins of not supporting them. On Dec. 19, he had a shed erected on the roof of a Ramada Inn adjoining Mile High Stadium, moved in with his poodle, Muffin, and announced he would be staying there, through rain and sleet and mountains of snow, until the Broncos got to the Super Bowl.

At that point, the team had lost back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers.

Thirty-two days later, Goins is still there, having spent Christmas and New Year's and all the days in between in his forlorn shed, where he spends his mornings doing his radio show and his afternoons and evenings watching television, reading, playing the guitar, running up and down the stairs of the 14-story hotel to stay in shape, talking on the telephone and entertaining the seemingly endless group of fans who have begun making pilgrimages to the man who is trying to bring back the zanier side of Broncomania.

Of course Goins is getting valuable publicity for himself and his radio station. But there are easier ways to get attention.

Goins spends his nights huddled near his heater while the temperature outside sometimes has dropped to 5 below zero.

And every day, he stands on the edge of the roof, looks out at the stadium next door and makes the military-style salute that has become the Broncos' symbol of triumph. Not one salute, but 5,280 per day.

"I do it once for every foot of altitude in this mile-high city," Goins explained.

Now that's Broncomania.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Denver's fierce feelings of yesteryear about the Broncos have been somewhat tempered this time around.

When they first burst into the spotlight, the Broncos were the only big-league team in Denver.

Now, there is the Colorado Rockies baseball team, which has drawn over four million fans in a season. And the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, which already has won a Stanley Cup, handing the city its first major championship.

And the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. All right, so maybe two wins in the first 37 games doesn't quite qualify for major-league status.

Add to the divergence of sports interest in Denver the rocky fortunes of the Broncos themselves and it isn't hard to understand why Broncomania isn't what it used to be.

After losing three Super Bowls, including two in three years, creating the kind of heartbreak they might understand only in Buffalo, the Broncos went eight years without reaching football's biggest show.

And then, last season, after compiling the best regular-season record in the American Football Conference and, with it, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Denver lost it all in a stunning defeat in its first playoff game to one of the new kids on the block, the Jacksonville Jaguars. In only their second year of existence, the Jaguars knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs with a 30-27 victory.

Adding insult to inefficiency, the loss came at Mile High Stadium of all places.

There's only so much heartbreak you can take.

As a matter of fact, some fans said they were hoping the Broncos would lose to the Steelers in the AFC championship game so as to avoid the possibility of another crushing Super Bowl loss.

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