Thunderstruck in the Rocky Mountains.
Welcome to Broncos Country
From the moment you land at Denver International Airport, you know that you are in Broncos Country. Everywhere you turn; from the luggage carousel, the Uber and Lyft stands, and even those pop-up airport booths: you are inundated with Blue & Orange merch.
It’s safe to say that the people of Colorado (Broncos Country) absolutely love and support their Broncos. Like many other major metropolitans, even the most casual of fans are sporting some kind of Broncos gear. Sure this was early October, and the Rockies hadn’t played meaningful baseball since June; so the ratio of MLB to NFL was expected, but even more noticeable than I anticipated, if I am being 100% honest. Nonetheless, it was almost game day, and riding the heels of an improbable come from behind win, against the Chicago Bears, Denver was brimming with confidence.
Enter the New York JETS, who were coming off a very controversial loss to the reigning Super Bowl Champs, Kansas City. The JETS, who were blatantly hosed on two late 4th quarter penalties, in front of Taylor Swift and her friends, that undoubtedly cost them the win. However, the JETS had a secret weapon that no one saw coming; well, no one except us.
As I was preparing for my journey into the Mile High city, I knew there was really only one way to get there; the Denver Light Rail. Yes indeed, the Mountain version of the Elevated Rail Line or dare I say Subway. So, with those closest by my side, we parked at the Downtown Littleton Light Rail Park & Ride and hopped on the train.
Initially, there were only a few scattered fans lining the material cushioned seats; I was already in shock. In fact, a companion of mine remarked; “wouldn’t have those kind of seats back home would ya?” I silently chuckled and smirked, nodding my head in agreement as the Light Rail pulled away. Stop after stop, more and more Broncos fans flooded the passenger cars. Scattered among them were the out of place JETS fans, but unlike any other major metro (sans Tampa), everyone was getting along. Immediately, thoughts raced to my head, had this been Philadelphia, NYC or San Francisco I had better be prepared to step up at a moment’s notice; but this was Broncos Country.
Then after the last transfer, with railcars at full capacity (standing room only), something hit me. I took a momentary pause, I imagine it was likened to the early morning wake and bake so famous in Broncos Country: Why have people been so polite, why was I given extra space to stand by the doors, why were people excusing themselves as they maneuvered by me? Eureka! My inner monologue began to scream, “You’re wearing a Brian Dawkins, #20 Philadelphia Eagles jersey.”
Subconsciously, when packing, I reached for the B-Dawk threads as opposed to the Westbrook ones and it was paying huge dividends. Not only had Dawkins played in Broncos Country, after his tenure was up in Philadelphia, he was a well respected (on and off the field) Hall of Fame player. The fact that it was an Eagles jersey just happened to be icing on the cake.
As I exited the Light Rail and made my approach to Empower Field, immediately and without provocation, I heard ‘Go Birds!’ This all too familiar greeting, would become somewhat of a surprising theme for the day. However, as the ‘Go Birds’ count increased it was even more clear that the reputation of Philadelphia had far preceded me and it was as if the Red Sea was parting as I made my way around the Broncos home field.
Fan after fan would cautiously come near me and say things like: “Go Birds”, “Man, they are a great team” , “You guys are so lucky”, “Can I get you anything?” Ok, that last one may have been made up, but not too far from reality. Total times bumped into, pushed in the crowd, nudged in line was a resounding zero. Needless to say, if you come to Denver for a game, wear an Eagles jersey and people will either leave you alone, get out of your way, or shower you with adulation.
The field itself is humongous! They don’t call it Mile High for no good reason. Towering over the ground below, the East side of Empower Field offers the most serene views of the Rocky Mountains; which are located directly West. The South end-zone features a magnificent 225’ x 72’’ scoreboard; you see everything. Lined with suite levels on the 200-400 rings; there is never a bad place to stop and watch the game.
You can gain access to these suites by going all the way up to the 500 level and then using special elevators or in reverse from the lower club entrance. I personally didn’t have a suite access ticket; but I don’t think that would have mattered since I was donning the Eagles jersey, haha. If you have a moment before or even during the game (let’s be real it’s the Broncos), head over the far East side of the stadium (any level); from there you will have the most spectacular view of downtown Broncos Country. In the skyline, you’ll easily be able to pick out Ball Arena, home to the NHL Colorado Avalanche, NLL Mammoth, and NBA World Champion Denver Nuggets.
As you make your way back to the inner rings, there is a plethora of food to be consumed and beverages to be enjoyed. Standing room tables are everywhere on the concourses and they aren’t just for eating. The fixed high-top tables are fully equipped with flat screen tvs above and multiple cell phone / tablet charging cords, at no cost to the fans; in Broncos Country it’s all about staying connected.
The food was what you’d come to expect at a traditional football game. Soft Pretzels, Hotdogs, Nachos, Pizza, Burgers, the occasional sweet treat are all front and center. There are a few specialty places scattered throughout and within the designated suites one can take part in a little more diverse menu. One seemingly glaring omission was the lack of French Fries. I made several attempts to procure the fried golden potato; but was unsuccessful.
However, I did come across a very unique offering, a Denver Cheesesteak. Of course, it goes without saying, I had to try it. Being a Philly purist and native East Coast guy, the bar was pretty high (pun intended). Casually I asked the individual preparing the pseudo-cheesesteak, what makes it special. His reply was, and I quote, “You know you got your steak, you got some 505 Green Chile, Pepper-Jack cheese brother, that’s it; that’s all you need. Filled with confidence, I decided it was best to come back later and try this Mountain masterpiece; provided I didn’t find any other food of substance.
So, after three quarters of Broncos football and feeling as desperate to score as their offense; I made my way back to my Denver Cheesesteak guy. Much to my surprise, they were out of Rolls. Like, who the heck runs out of rolls? You’re making and serving Cheesesteaks*. I would find it quite essential that there would be some form of bread at the ready, at all times. Hope dwindling, a voice from the back motioned me over and said that if I hurry to section 514 they had a few rolls left. A little annoyed and cautiously optimistic, I raced to the imitation cheesesteak stand.
Upon arrival, I was able to get one of the last pre-wrapped sandwiches. Anticipating a pure disaster and preparing myself for a garbled mess of meat, cheese and 505 Green Chile, I bit in. Mushy roll aside, it wasn’t too half bad. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the IPA’s, fact of the matter was this; put this concoction on a Liscio’s or Sarcone’s roll and you may have a bonafide winner.
After failing to convert late in the game and turing the ball over to the JETS, the Broncos walked away with the loss. Exiting the field was as pleasant as it was going in; sans the occasional chatter from the overly tipsy granola grandmother; it felt like walking out of a really big Pop Warner game. A few more chides and a semi-inebriated JETS fan later, I was heading back home. Note to all, the Light Rail gets packed on the way out and the only stop you can board is at Empower Field. All other stops within walking distance are suspended for one full hour after the game; makes sense. That being said, a quick Uber or Lyft ride out of town and you’re home in 15-20 minutes tops.
Oh yeah, remember that secret weapon? Well, that would be us, Bleacher Brothers. You see, the NY JETS are undefeated whenever we show up to cover their games. Sadly, next week the JETS play the Eagles, and no one from our team will be able to make it. Even if they were able to, I have it on really good authority that they’d never make it all the way up I-95, haha.
Bronco Counrty, it was a pleasure and we will surely be back; I’ll bring rolls next time.