On Jan. 25, 1998, all was right with the world. That was the day the Broncos won their first Super Bowl, over the Green Bay Packers. After the game, I remember standing at a Conoco on Wadsworth, filling the car with gas and listening to car horns joyfully puncture the crisp night air. It was, in a word, blissful.
It wasn’t always thus. As I joke with my wife, every time the Broncos lose, a little part of me dies. It began on Jan. 15, 1978, when the Dallas Cowboys brought an end to the Orange Crush’s unlikely championship run.
As the 1980s progressed, hope sprang eternal. I was lucky enough to be at John Elway’s first comeback game in his 1983 rookie season — a thriller in which the Baltimore Colts led 19-0 heading into the fourth quarter, only to see Elway rally the orange to a 21-19 win.
But the euphoria of “The Drive” in Cleveland or “The Fumble” at Mile High turned sour as the Broncos were inevitably torched by the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers in a string of unwatchable Super Bowls (I confess that I simply skipped the last of the three, a 55-10 beating at the hands of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice).
Then came the 1990s. When Elway was finally given a supporting cast worthy of his stature, the wins came in droves. It was almost absurd how good the Broncos were from 1996-1998.
True, there was the awful shock of losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the 1996 playoffs. But all that ended the following year. By the time the second Super Bowl ended in a big win over the Atlanta Falcons, the championship was almost an afterthought — something akin to what 49ers fans in the 1990s must have felt: “Super Bowl win? Yeah, sure. What else is new?”
Like almost everyone else in Colorado, I was disappointed that the Broncos lost to the Ravens this year. Without admitting it to myself, I fully expected to see Peyton Manning bring a third Lombardi Trophy back to Dove Valley. I’m ashamed to admit that afterward, I indulged in a few hours of self-pity before getting back to normal.
It’s often surprising how much of ourselves we invest in professional sports teams. The atmosphere in Denver is palpably lighter the Monday after a Broncos win, just as a gloom sets in after the losses. But it’s important to keep it in perspective. Yes, the wins are thrilling and the losses are painful, but they are not, in the grand scheme of things, all that important. I think of the kids whose daddies and mommies are deployed right now, or those who have lost loved ones overseas, or our friends and neighbors who steadfastly fight the scourge of cancer.
I will root for the Broncos until the day I die. But in the end, it’s just a game.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”