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The Mile High Club
Leigh Montville
December 25, 2000
Denver's South Stands are the second home to a close-knit gang of diehards bonded for life by their passion for the Broncos
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December 25, 2000

The Mile High Club

Denver's South Stands are the second home to a close-knit gang of diehards bonded for life by their passion for the Broncos

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Hey, how ya doin'? you got a ticket for that seat? Let me check it out. Sure enough, you're in the right place. Section DD. Third row. Seat 18. South Stands. You must have bought one of Victor Marquez's tickets. Am I right? I heard his granddaughter wasn't feeling well, a cold or something, so you got her seat. Welcome to Mile High Stadium.

I know you're new here, so let me tell you that you're in for a different kind of day, a day.... Well, how should I describe it? You're joining a family, my friend. You're joining a football family. A Denver Broncos football family. So settle in. And try to keep warm.

This is watching sports the way it used to be. You've probably gone to games in other stadiums, maybe even sat in somebody's luxury box and been wined, dined and maybe caught a T-shirt shot into the air from a backpack cannon by a group of management troglodytes. Oh, yeah, and you probably watched a little bit of the game too. Well, this isn't like that.

You're going back in time here. This is Boston Garden and Franklin Field in Philadelphia and the old Yankee Stadium with the old New York football Giants. This is bedrock sports. We watch the game here. Watch it? Man, we inhale it.

There used to be a guy, Billy—sat right near here, two rows down—who used to get mad when people going up the stairs stopped to watch what was happening on the field, blocking everybody's view. Billy doesn't come much anymore, not since the divorce, but he would tell those people to sit the hell down. The people would say something back, and then, wow, it would start. We watch the game here. Yes, we do.

We're fans the way fans used to be. Nobody's here on a corporate account, getting a tax write-off for the money he spends. This is money from the cookie jar, from the Christmas club account or something. I know $25 for a ticket doesn't sound like much, but 10 games times $25 is $250. If you buy two tickets, that's $500, and if you bring a family of four, that's a grand. You throw in parking and some dogs and maybe a few adult beverages, and it adds up. It's all worth it, though. We're paying to follow our hearts.

Look around you. Look at all the Broncos stuff. Everybody's wearing something. Look at those two big guys two rows back, the Oletski brothers, in their Romanowski jerseys. That's their sister, Carrie, in the Griese shirt. And her friend Harold in the Easy Ed McCaffrey shirt. Everybody is here for the Broncos. Here for the game. Here for the win. We want the Broncos to rip some hearts out. So take your seat....

Yeah, that's your seat, that little 16-inch-deep stretch of wood covered by that bleached-out skin of orange fiberglass. Yeah, it's a little small for the modern backside, especially when everybody's wearing a ski parka against the cold, but scrunch up. Everybody does. Scrunch up and lean back against the knees of the guy behind you—that's O.K., it's John Soper Sr., a good guy—and kind of get your breathing in sync with the rest of the folks in the row and enjoy. You're in the group now. Let me tell you about it.

The south stands have room for 8,096 backsides, and 8,096 backsides have filled those spaces for 33 years. All these seats are for season tickets, most of them owned by the same people for most of that time. Anywhere you go in the South Stands, you'll be sitting in the middle of a bunch of people who know one another, three-row and four-row societies, each one bleeding into the next. If you're a stranger, you stand out like a kicker's clean jersey, like Jason Elam in the fourth quarter on a rainy, muddy afternoon.

Kathryn Harding, that tiny woman, looks like a retired schoolteacher, three rows back? She did work for the Boulder Valley school district, in the cafeteria. She says she has to call people if she can't make it to a game because they'll worry about her, think she's dead. She's 77. She's been a season-ticket holder since 1967.

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