The heart of Broncos fandom rarely beats with more vigor than at Fan Fair.
Thousands of Broncos fans teemed at the INVESCO Field at Mile High, with nary a game in sight. And while the building bustled with Broncos players and coaches being squired about from autograph stations to bingo sessions to on-field clinics and beyond, there’s a reason why the event is most often referred to as “Fan Fair,” and not “Broncos Fair.”
The fans are the stars — as I learned during my two hours perched upon a barstool on the East Club level, attemping to answer any and all trivia questions flung at me by Patrick Smyth, the statistical guru of the organization whose number-mashing is vital to media relations, the Web site and the coaching staff all the same.
There is Elmer Gonzales, Jr., a lifelong Broncos fan whose basement is a museum to all things Broncos. When it comes to Broncos trivia, he seized his share of victories, taking six questions to knock me off and then winning twice more for nearly half a week’s worth of T-shirts. He was better on his knowledge of the Broncos in the 1960s and 1970s; I knew more about draft picks and alma maters.
People seem to have fancied me as a repository for sports trivia — and minutiae in general, as I’ve been a ringer in more than one trivia contest. But with Gonzales and some other Broncos fan, I met my match, and it was easy to see why. Many of you have a lifetime of Broncos trivia in their mental Rolodex; I have five years’ worth — although I could relate to the way Gonzales and others have such an amazing comprehension of their favorite team.
Some of you may know, and others who don’t — I’m not from Denver, and did not grow up a Broncos fan. Those youthful allegiances belong to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose history I can disseminate encyclopedically. I can tell you who their punter was in 1987 (Frank Garcia, with Ray Criswell kicking in the replacement games), how many interceptions Vinny Testaverde threw in his first season as a starting quarterback (35) and the tight end who caught a touchdown pass in the Bucs’ Dec. 26, 1993 win at Mile High Stadium (Dave Moore).
So when it comes to the Broncos, I have decades of catching up and many more skull sessions with the media guide still to come. But I held my own. Probably more than that, as I could hear one contestant utter an exasperated epithet as I answered several questions in rapid-fire succession.
I was starting to feel pretty good about my trivia command … and the fact that if I didn’t have the answer, the odds were in my favor that no one else in the rapidly expanding group around my bar stool would.
Then, along came a middle-aged sprite of unbridled Broncos enthusiasm wearing an orange wig and asking me who the Broncos’ three 1980s draft picks from the University of Houston were. I knew just one — Simon Fletcher. The other two names I’d never heard before and may never hear again.
The trivia game was called “Stump the Mase,” and she had done just that. Of course, the weisenheimer within had to ask, “Is that orange your natural color?” but she didn’t take offense such a query.
Her name is Kara Christian, but here at INVESCO Field, she answers simply to “Bronco Lady.” In late March, she earned a brief measure of local fame when she tried out for the cheerleading squad against women 30 years her junior.
“It was a serious effort by me to say if they want a true cheer-leader, I’m your head cheerleader,” she said.
Few are more successful at convincing hundreds to yell “Raiders!” immediately followed by a word that begins with “s” and rhymes with “tuck,” as in “tuck rule.” She held season tickets for two decades when she lived on the East Coast, but now calls Denver home, which allows her to more readily indulge in the team she adores.
Unlike Gonzales, Christian’s museum is one she carries with her to Fan Fair — an early-1990s era white John Elway jersey flooded with signatures from Broncos players and coaches encompassing all eras.
This thing has to be worth at least 75 large. “Holy crap!” were the only words that initially passed from my lips as I scanned the jersey, which carries on it virtually the entire history of the franchise.
With room left for only about 13 signatures, the jersey is so full now that she has to be selective on who signs it, focusing on players who contribute for multiple years, without whom the history of the franchise would be incomplete.
Christian said she had it spelled out in her last will and testament that upon her passing, the jersey will go to Denver Broncos Charities to be auctioned to the highest bidder — minimum bid, $50,000. Something tells me that a jersey with more Broncos signatures than any in existence — including those of Hall of Famers and some who surely will be — will be a bargain at no matter what lofty price it beckons.
But no price can be put on her loyalty or everyone else who donned a Broncos hat, t-shirt, jersey, shorts or all of the above for a day out at the stadium.
Above all, Fan Fair it’s about fans like Gonzales and Christian, people whose heart pounds for the Broncos, whose blood is bound to have some orange hue amidst its corpuscles, whose love for the franchise makes the aura surrounding the Broncos so unique. Unlike the more vitriolic passion endemic to some other fanbases, Broncos Country is defined more by its loyalty and communal spirit, and less by hatred (well, except when the Raiders are discussed).
After this weekend, it’s clear that the heart of Broncos fandom is healthy. Entering their 48th season, the Denver Broncos are at what for a human would be middle age, but their collective heart is healthy like that of someone at least a quarter-century younger.
Back on Monday night with a glance at the Mike Shanahan Golf Classic.