In part three of our new feature, Peter Gall explains why he’s a Broncos fan.
Monday morning. October 1985. A chilly school playing field in Scotland, waiting for the inevitable 9am bell to ring.
A few of my school friends were excited about some new sport they had seen the night before on Channel 4. They had seen some big men running around in helmets and pads and knocking seven bells out of each other. The hits were hard and the game looked brutal. “Ah! That’ll be American Football,” I said. “Me and my Dad have watched a bit of that before on World of Sport. It’s cool. They even have some guy who runs on the field and all he does is kick!” I needlessly added.
I was 13 years old and that was the sum total of my knowledge of the sport. Sunday evenings around 6pm, you understand, were still a time for me to meet up and play football with friends before the weekend was out and a cold winter set in. Not for sitting around on the off chance that your parents may give up rights to the sole TV in the house to let you watch something other than the usual Sunday evening dross such as Last of the Summer Wine.
Pretty soon, though, thanks to Nicky Horne and Channel 4, the NFL’s popularity was catching like wildfire. I was able though to persuade my parents to let me watch the highlights show for an hour.
We started to play tag football too in the local park. We used tennis balls until somebody once brought along the holy grail – an actual regulation sized Wilson football!!! Everyone was either a Cowboys, Dolphins, 49ers, Bears or a Redskins fan. Throwing the ball around pretending to be Joe Cool, Dan Marino, or running around like Walter Payton or Tony Dorsett. Apart from me. I didn’t want to just pick one of those teams on the TV all the time. I wanted to have my own team. One that no-one else that I knew of was a fan of them. Be different a little different.
I am a Dundee United fan – my local team. I’m a season ticket holder and from a large family of them, passed down through generations. Most of my friends are fans off them too. It’s in my blood. We wear Tangerine. It’s my favourite colour.
That next Sunday evening, on the C4 highlights show I watched showed this team, wearing Orange (close enough to Tangerine) playing a team who I had begun to develop a bit of indifference to called the Los Angeles Raiders. These guys in Orange clearly had a young star at QB and their fans were going crazy as they were in a close match but eventually lost (again), this time in OT.
They were the Denver Broncos and they became my team. (And, yes, I still count my blessings C4 wasn’t showing footage of a rare Boomer Esiason or Steve DeBerg comeback that particular Sunday night!). Coincidentally, that very day I had saved up enough pocket money to buy a copy of Gridiron UK in my local newsagent and who was on the cover of that edition? None other than these Denver Broncos.
I was hooked very quickly. I couldn’t get enough information about this team. Pretty soon I wanted to know why Karl Mecklenburg could play anywhere across the front 7 (once I worked out what that meant), and why he wasn’t drafted until in the 12th round. And how did Gerald Willhite manage to do these crazy back-flips in full pads?
I had rapidly turned into a Broncomaniac. It was clear evidence of that disease we have all caught called Orange Madness!
Pretty soon waiting a whole week for Channel 4 highlights was too long. Only the Super Bowl had started to be shown live the previous January.
Gridiron UK and Touchdown – cracking monthly magazines which were the basis for picking up knowledge of the game seemed to take an age to get printed. I would buy them and read them over and over again.
I started to try and look at results in my local paper but these didn’t get printed until two day later. Sometimes Ceefax or Teletext gave results, if you could find them!
It wasn’t enough. I needed to know scores as they happened. Broncos games, I learned were mostly played around 9pm UK time. By chance, one evening after finding a reference to it, I found the US Armed Forces Radio and Television network on 873 MW. I was lucky to find it. Commentary from Hank Stram and Jack Buck quickly drifted in and out to what sounded like Spanish opera music, then the sound of a boat’s engine before returning 2 or 3 minutes later It was very frustrating and seemed to take an eternity to come back! Listening to live commentary and US forces personnel messages was the closest thing to live action for UK based fans back then.
Only recently I watched a re-run of the 87 Championship game. My recollection at the time was listening to AFRTS under my bed covers and Cleveland were driving late with the Broncos up 38-31. Earnest Byner took a hand-off towards the end zone and…….the commentary cut out to be replaced by that wailing Spanish lady. Aaaarghh!
By the time it returned I was confused to hear how Elway was taking a safety on a 4th down. I thought the game was over and the Browns had won. It was their payback for “The Drive.” Infuriatingly, I had to wait for another agonising couple of minutes or so to work that Bernie Kosar was getting the ball back for one final chance to drive and win… then it was all over. Back to the Super Bowl! God bless Jeremiah Castille!
Getting hold of merchandise was rare in the late 80s unless someone has just come back from a trip to Disney. One guy was considered cool as he took a Seahawks bag to school. My first trip to the states was to Florida in 1998 – the summer after beating the Packers in SBXXXII. I brought back as much Broncos stuff as I could possibly stuff into my case.
Nowadays, of course, it’s far easier to get merchandise via Ebay and NFL stores but it wasn’t always the case. And of course, I wear the jersey with pride each year at Wembley. Maybe one day, the Broncos will return and Paxton Lynch will lead them to a win there. The only time I have seen them live in the flesh was at Wembley where they contrived to lose to the 49ers. Yeah, thanks Orton and that clown McDaniels. However, at least I got to see Elway; Zimmermann; Floyd Little and Billy Thompson up close at the Bronco fans gathering at Piccadilly before the game. That was totally awesome!
My kids are now Broncos fans. They will watch games with me when they can before packing them off to bed. I still get up at 2am to watch Sunday night on Monday night games which NFL UK fans know isn’t easy if you are working at 9am or earlier!!
One day, I will save up enough to go to the Mile High city and we can experience a home game for real. Waiting for 30 years is far too long to see the current Super Bowl champions.
Worst moment as Bronco? Not losing any of the Super Bowls, not even to my little brother’s Giants team in SBXXII which he hasn’t stopped bragging about. No, it was the 59-14 loss at home to those bloody Raiders in 2010. Truly awful!
Greatest moment as a Bronco? It’s not “The Drive” or even “The Helicopter!” It was John Ulysses Mobley batting down Favre’s 4 & 6 pass on the 31 yard line with 30 seconds left in SBXXXII and realising we were finally going to win it!!! They should have retired his #51 jersey after that game!