As one can see just by coming onto DenverBroncos.com, this week’s game against the New York Jets has officially been proclaimed Orange Sunday by Mayor John Hickenlooper.
The Denver Broncos organization is encouraging all fans to wear orange to the game. Broncos players will be wearing the team’s alternate orange jerseys this week, and all fans in attendance will receive an Orange Sunday rally towel, courtesy of U.S. Bank.
There will be a pep rally Friday, cheerleaders, alumni, food, drink, festivities and an “Orange Ride” encouraging fans to ride their bikes to a pregame tailgate party. The mayor will deliver the game ball on his bike, and it will be orange all over.
So, you think you know all about Orange Sunday?
Well, not quite.
What is the story behind the story? How did it start? Where? When?
As is often the case, it is what you learn after you know it all that counts the most.
It was 1971, and Lou Saban was in the fifth year of his 10-year contract as head coach and general manager of the Broncos. Saban was a great coach who had given respectability to the franchise, but he was a notoriously intense and impatient man, and he was losing patience with his building project in the Mile High City.
The Broncos had not had a winning season in his first four and they had begun 1971 with a 10-10 tie vs. Miami at home. Afterward, Saban said that “Half a loaf is better than none,” and he was assailed for that comment. Fans threw half loaves of bread on the field at the next home game, a 16-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Kansas City loss was the middle one in a three-game losing streak that had followed that tie, so it was the middle of October, the Broncos did not have a win, and Saban was on the verge of chucking his job out of frustration.
Enter Charlie Goldberg, one of Denver’s most influential behind the scenes citizens in the 1970s and ‘80s. Charlie had been president of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club and was not just a big fan, but a real civic get-it-done guy.
He approached the Broncos and said he felt Saban and the team badly needed a show of support for the Sunday, October 17 home game against the San Diego Chargers. Goldberg got permission from the club to start one of pro football’s great traditions, virtually single-handedly and completely at his own expense.
Charlie went out and bought up all the orange fabric he could find in the city of Denver, had it cut up into small handkerchief-sized pieces, and secured volunteers, many from the Quarterback Club, to hand these orange cloths out to every fan as they entered the stadium on that 62 degree fall day back in 1971.
Floyd Little and University of Colorado product Bobby Anderson scored touchdowns that day and Jim Turner kicked two field goals as the Broncos built up a 20-6 halftime lead and held off the Chargers in the second half to post the first win of the season and create a tradition that continues to this day.
Orange Sunday was born.
Over the years it got bigger, with sponsors involved — Charlie Goldberg did not have to pay for the fabric himself or get the volunteers himself in future years, but he had planted the seeds for a tradition that continued not just here but quickly spread to every other city via television.
Remember, this was before NFL marketing was anywhere near as big as it is today, with color-themed tee shirts and sweatshirts readily available. Before the decade was over Orange Sunday had spawned “Luv Ya Blue” in Houston, the “Terrible Towel” had been created in Pittsburgh and all of a sudden every other NFL city seemed to have its own color-themed day of support.
But it only started one place, one time.
It started with a coach’s frustration and a fan’s desire to do something about it. Charlie Goldberg created Orange Sunday in Denver on October 17 at Mile High Stadium against the San Diego Chargers. There is a bronze plaque honoring Charlie and his memory on the West outside wall of INVESCO Field at Mile High.
By the way, Saban’s frustration continued and he eventually resigned before the end of that 1970 campaign. But not before a tradition was born that Bronco fans will celebrate the 40th year of this week.