Some things are just too crazy to believe. And so it was with the improbably story of The Barrel Man, and how he came to be.
Virtually every Denver broncos fan and a great many pro football fans are familiar with Tim McKernan and how he painted up a barrel on a bet with his brother, just to see if he could get on TV.
He got on TV, alright. Over and over again, national fame following his initially simple ploy.
Tim became symbolic of the passionate Broncos fans who follow, cheer for and believe in their team at all times, at all costs.
Including the risk of hypothermia, in Tim’s case.
I knew Tim McKernan since I started working for the Broncos in 1978, and despite the fame which seemed to increase annually he was all about the team.
No question, Tim derived great personal publicity in his role as The Barrel Man, but he was never about making a personal profit from his alter ego.
He always used his own ticket to get in, never asked for any free passes, home or away, and never asked for any of the very special attention that came his way.
Some fans do crazy stuff in the hopes that they can become some sort of NFL-stadium American Idol, but not Tim.
He cheered for his team, and did it his way.
His first year in the barrel was that fabled Super Bowl season of 1977, and his persona grew so fast that when the team plane headed out of Stapleton International Airport for Super Bowl XII, it was United Airlines mechanic Tim McKernan, dressed (or undressed, actually) in full barrel regalia—barrel, boots, and hat, all resplendent in orange—who waved the aircraft down the tarmac and into the Rocky Mountain sky.
His fame did not waiver form that year, and neither did his devotion to the Broncos.
Tim McKernan passed away last week, but his legacy will continue in the minds of Broncos fans.
Who can forget the image of a late middle aged man wearing an orange barrel outside for three hours in the coldest of days?
You are invited to comment about The Barrel Man. It’s our way of remembering him on this site.
For a photo gallery of the Barrel Man and everything he brought to Broncos games, click here.