When I was seven, I saw John Elway giving a sideline interview during Monday Night Football. He was hurt. As my favorite player on my favorite team, I decided to write him a letter, wishing him well. Obviously, my words of encouragement would expedite his recovery, and he would come back stronger than ever to lead the Denver Broncos to a second consecutive Super Bowl. I received an autographed commemorative card that hangs in my room to this day. Seven-year-old me was stoked – he must have appreciated my artfully penned note. I’m not saying the letter spurred Elway, Terrell Davis and Rod Smith to crush the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII… but you can’t tell me it didn’t.
Growing up in Northern California, my dad was neither an ardent fan of the San Francisco 49ers nor the Oakland Raiders, but one of his pals loved the Broncos. Plus, they were good, so I bandwagoned as kids do. But I stuck through the Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and the Jay Cutler years. I endured Mike Shanahan losing his touch and Josh McDaniels, supposed wunderkind, imploding in his first professional job. Times were tough, y’all. Oh, and don’t forget the brief, meteoric Tim Tebow era, which, like a rickety rollercoaster, went up and down and shook side to side so frequently that I thought for sure I would be tossed overboard and die, unable to understand what outrageous carnival permitted this experience to legally happen, as it nearly gave me three heart attacks and 16 ulcers.
Elway and the Broncos returned to the Big Game last night in different circumstances, this time as Denver’s executive vice president of football operations, facilitating another aging quarterback’s – Peyton Manning – chance at a possible final ring. Well, that didn’t go well, as the (very deserving) Seattle Seahawks throttled the Broncos (without its two best defensive players; it only would have been a 20-point contest with them in the fold) 43-8. It was a bloodbath. Nothing went Denver’s way, which was evident 12 seconds into the game when the game’s first snap from scrimmage went over Manning’s head and into the end zone for a safety. It was going to be that kind of game where the wheels fall off right after the engine’s turned on followed by the car exploding. But the team wouldn’t have Ace Rothstein’s luck.
Watching this game was an odd experience. At the party I hosted, I was the only legitimate fan of either team, the only one donned in a team’s colors. Everyone looked my direction to gauge how the game was going. I kept saying some variation of, “Well, this really sucks” because, well, the game really sucked for Broncos fans. But I truly felt fine. I couldn’t help but give a Vonnegut-esque, “So it goes,” in my head. Even when the 43rd turnover happened, I expressed more disbelief than soul-crushing heartbreak that Denver’s ineptitude and Seattle’s sheer dominance coincided on the same day. It’s hard to discern, but either A) I knew the game was over when the team turned it over faster than Rick Pitino in a restaurant bathroom or B) my fandom has progressively faded.
Before you say, “You wouldn’t be saying this had the Broncos won.” Maybe. But even after they bested the New England Patriots to book their flight to New York, I was more or less like, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” mustering up some degree of excitement. It seems to me that the two teams that hold “Will’s emotional fandom” stock are the U.S. men’s national team and the Sacramento Kings. I care about USC, but since I covered the team, I look at the side with a far more critical eye than the typical alumnus or student.
After explaining this to a friend, she posited that perhaps my lows weren’t nearly as low anymore. That could be it. The Jacoby Jones Hail Mary last season hurt, but I was mostly fine by that night and was good to go the following day.
Maybe reading all of the news everyday and having to consume and regurgitate the nauseating talking heads numbs me to just about everything; there are only so many real hot takes my brain can handle before it shuts off and resorts to Netflix or a book. I avoid Skip Bayless like the plague, but that’s not enough to be saved from the “let’s make news out of every small thing ever and make it sound way more dramatic/shocking than it is because someone will watch/read it” mentality general sports media possesses in 2014.
Maybe I’m just jaded by the NFL, concussions and the squirrely nature of the brain trust. Shockingly, CTE and ex-players not receiving lifetime health insurance aren’t good things. I much preferred to have Sundays to myself and watch the Broncos than spend my entire day on the couch simultaneously watching five games. That just had little appeal to me as a regular habit I would enjoy whereas that’s for what I suffered through an autumn week of school.
Maybe I’m just in a different place in life, and the lessened fandom theory rings true.
Or maybe I’m still in shock after watching one of the most one-sided Super Bowl performances ever. This may change by next season. But even if it doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll miss it.