This weekend, I traveled all the way from Charleston to visit a friend in Denver. Of course, neither the date nor the place were chosen randomly. Here is how excitement built through Sunday night, when the Broncos clinched their third Super Bowl crown and set the city ablaze.
It all started as a mere wager with a great friend of mine who carries out her exchange year in Denver.
“If the Broncos defeat the Patriots, I will come visit you during the Super Bowl weekend,” I texted her.
“Double dare you!” she answered, quite confidently.
Even though I am a terrible tipster, which she is perfectly aware of, I thought the smart money would be on the New England Patriots. Since the get-go of this season, the defending champions were in full flight. They were on their way to notch back-to-back title successes and as far as I know about football, I could not see the Broncos stun the establishment, however impressive their defense had been so far this season.
Yet, the unthinkable happened, and as I am used to living up to my (risky) promises, I punched my ticket to the Mile High City.
Fast forward to last Friday. After a 19-hour journey by bus and plane, I landed in Denver, home-city of the Broncos. What first jumped out at me – right after the immaculate beauty of Colorado’s snowy peaks in the background – were people basking in the glory of having their team participating in the much-anticipated NFL season’s curtain-closer. Whether they had Peyton Manning’s No. 18, Von Miller’s No. 58 or Demaryius Thomas’ No. 88 on the back of their jerseys, fans were rocking Broncos gear. The whole city was decorated with orange and blue bunting, giving a sneak peek of what it would be on Sunday. In the bend of a street, one could run into a spellbinding mural fresco of local hero Manning. As their beloved Broncos were about to play their second Super Bowl in three years, Denver inhabitants were readier than ever to dismiss to the past Broncos’ 2014 painful loss to the Seattle Seahawks (43-8) by crushing the Carolina Panthers – sometimes even literally.
Depicted as a match up of stylistic contrasts between Panthers’ explosive offense and Broncos’ rock-solid defense, with Manning’s last hurrah and Cam Newton’s first date with history on the line, the anticipation for the already historic Super Bowl 50 was palpable – which did not prevent naysayers’ speeches to resurface, just as every year at this time. Yes, Super Bowl’s viewing figures are still standing way below more globalized sports’. However, believing that the annual American sports high mass craze never makes inroads beyond its national borders is a tainted picture.
Actually, if I started taking a real interest in this sport a couple years ago, most of the credit rests with my former French roommate. A die-hard football fan, he holds the impressive record of having never missed a Super Bowl for the past sixteen years (he is 24). A long-time Patriots fan as well, he obviously did not miss out on their epic late win last year. And despite their loss in the AFC Championship game this year, he was in front of his TV once again at the off on the night from Sunday to Monday. Time difference never overcame him. Neither did his girlfriend. His passion is as consuming as it is inspirational. And it certainly encouraged me to eventually get caught up in the hype after years and years of reluctance.
Nevertheless, my friend is not the only football fan on this side of the Atlantic – far from it. The leading journalist of Eurosport France, Laurent Vergne, recently paid a vibrant tribute to the subtle idiosyncrasies of a sport often disparaged as ‘drawn-out’ or ‘self-centred’ by Europeans.
“The way football combines strategy and physical commitment is fascinating. It is both a chess game and a physical brawling. It is like Kasparov versus Karpov (Editor’s note: two of the greatest chess players ever) facing each other on a boxing ring. It is the only sport where a guy who runs the 100 metres in under 11 seconds can play alongside a guy weighing more than 350 lb. within the same attack line. It is an eminently paradoxical sport, reflecting the country where it is king. What is sure is that it deserves better than the simplistic criticism it constantly has to shake off – that criticism often originating from a mere ignorance of the game.”
Long before I started to understand football rules, I have always been fascinated by Super Bowl’s theatrics. This year was no exception to the rule. As always, the half-time show featuring Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyoncé did not fail to deliver. Nonetheless, the preamble of the game stood in its own merits. I enjoyed how MVPs of the previous 49 Super Bowls (expect Manning, in a comprehensive manner) were invited to gather for a legendary family picture; how Golden State Warriors’ reigning NBA MVP and notorious Panthers fan Stephen Curry unleashed all his rage hitting a big drum while the guy he defeated the day before on the basketball court, Oklahoma’s Kevin Durant, was shooting among accredited photographers; and how global pop star Lady Gaga produced a fittingly fantastic conclusion to the pre-game ritual by singing a very graceful Star-Spangled Banner that left neither Cam Newton nor the American Forces in Afghanistan unmoved. In a Levi’s Stadium of San Francisco that was bursting at the seams, the tone was set for an unforgettable Super Bowl 50.
Independently from the final result, the game itself left me quite hungry for more. The Panthers left no stone unturned but they burned too many bridges, Cam Newton in particular. The latter was the one expected to find a chink in the seamlessly unbreakable Broncos’ armor. He did not, no more than the Steelers and the Patriots did before him, and Denver took advantage of his nervousness to put the game to bed with little fuss at a time in the fourth quarter when victory was still within reach for Carolina (24-10). ‘Attack wins games; defense wins championships’, as the saying goes.
Peyton Manning, in turn, did not either display a vintage swashbuckling performance for his very last game. However, his second Super Bowl crown with a second team will surely and deservedly get ‘The Sheriff’ lionized among the greatest of all time of its sport – although Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller was the one who “laid down the law”, according to the Denver Post.
After hoisting back-to-back Vince Lombardi trophies in 1997 and 1998, the Broncos went through a 18-year title drought. Little wonder that their supporters were keen to celebrate in style their first ‘World Championship’ of the millennium.
Straight away after the final whistle, my friend and I chugged on vodka shots, ‘dabbed’ with our friends to mock Carolina’s hallmark, took to the streets, let ourselves be driven by the ‘Orange Crush’ and high-fived pretty much everybody on our way to the bars. Out there, a man in his sixties with a John Elway jersey on his back told us, practically in tears, that “the eyes of the world (were) riveted on Denver (tonight)”, and that we would “remember spending the night (here) forever.”
We let his words sink into our minds while ordering a couple more beers, simply relishing in being at the outpost to witness the celebrations. The pre-season pipedream had mellowed into reality for Denver. Coming back home far into the night, we could feel the indescribable atmosphere of a whole city that falls into exultation after getting its white whale completed.
Celebrating a Super Bowl victory within the city of the triumphant team was definitely one of my sports-related bucket-list items.
It felt even greater fulfilling it with a great friend – even though I was on the plane back to Charleston during the parade on Tuesday.
Taking stupid bets can be sometimes worthwhile, after all.