Recap - Broncos 23, Chargers 20
For my final trip of the 2019 season I am heading out for an 8 day Southwest/Rocky Mountain region adventure starting today in Denver and taking me through 5 states. 2 ski resorts and ending up next week in Arizona to see the Cardinals play.
The day started with an early flight out of beautiful Newark, NJ with my landing in Denver around 10 am. Of all the sports cities I’ve been to on my trips – Denver is by far the farthest from a major airport – the drive took about 45 minutes without traffic. A better (and cheaper) way to take the trip is via the express train from the airport to beautiful Union Station in lower downtown Denver.
By the time I got to and checked into my hotel – it was already lunch time. I took a short walk up 14th street to Larimer Square (which was all beautifully decorated for Christmas) and lunch at one of my favorite Denver eateries, Tamayo.
The stadium isn’t a terribly far walk from LoDo and the 16th Street mall, but there isn’t a direct or convenient route without having to somehow cross Interstate 25.. Luckily, I was able to follow the mass of orange jerseys who knew a shortcut through the paths leading through the Auraria Campus.
The Broncos stadium was built in 2001 to replace the 53-year-old multi-purpose Mile High Stadium – the old facility is now the parking lot for Broncos Stadium. The new stadium has gone through several name changes since it opened from Invesco Stadium to Sport Authority Stadium and now Empower Field at Mile High.
My first impressions of the stadium weren’t terribly positive. It seemed quite a bit older than its years and was this cold, grey and dirty open-air stadium very similar to the ones in Buffalo and Nashville.
The Denver Broncos have a long and prosperous history dating back to their American Football days in the 1960s – they have eight conference championships and are 3-time Super Bowl Champions (to go along with their 5 Super Bowl losses!). Yet despite this, there was very little display to their history throughout the stadium other than some autographed jerseys in the team store and their ring of honor.
There is an area for pre-game imbibing and socializing with fellow fans called the Noble Energy Sports Legends Mall on the south end of the stadium is a big lawn that provides an on-site festival and event area with a permanent stage.
Right before kickoff, the Broncos ‘Stampede Drumline and Brass Band’ came out and performed the Fight Song along with the Broncos cheerleaders. The ‘Thunderstorm’ comes on shortly after the Stampede, and consists of 4 skydivers parachuting into Broncos Stadium.
There is a lot of fan interactive rituals at this stadium - On key defensive plays fans stomp their feet on the metal flooring, creating a loud buzzing sound throughout the stadium. This has been a tradition that started at the old Mile High Stadium when the seating was on metal bleachers.
Another (somewhat annoying) tradition is the "Incomplete Chant." Whenever the opposing team throws an incomplete pass, the stadium announcer will state "Pass thrown by [the opposing quarterback] intended for [the opposing intended receiver] is..." at which time the fans complete the sentence by shouting "IN-COM-PLETE!!" Also, when the opposing offense has 3rd down, they blast a real loud and annoying horse neigh over the PA system.
A stadium feature that they brought over from the old Mile High Stadium is the 30-foot high Bronco (which is named “Bucky”) hearing on its hind legs atop the main scoreboard
Other nice features are the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, which has free admission and is open year-round, and is located on the west side near Gate 1, the Broncos Horse Fountain outside the stadium by the Team Store entrance and the Ring of Fame Plaza on the south side of the stadium which incorporates thirty-two 8’ steel monuments in honor of each of the Broncos Ring of Fame inductees
Mile High Stadium sits along Interstate 25 near the Colfax Avenue and 17th Avenue exits
A dedicated light rail station also serves the stadium. The stadium is located in the Sun Valley neighborhood. It’s not nearly as convenient to get to from downtown as is Coors Field or the Pepsi Center but again, completely walkable from downtown.
The game time temps for the 2:25 start were pretty nippy, but unlike that brutally cold New Year’s Eve game in Nashville I attended 2 years ago, I was prepared for today with my full ski gear and heated socks on.
The game itself was a doozie!
Bronco Rookie QB Drew Lock 's debut resulted in only 134 yds passing, but was highlighted by a pair of touchdown throws to Courtland Sutton.
Charger QB Philip Rivers overcame an early interception, his eighth in three games, and a 17-3 deficit with touchdown throws of 30 yards to Austin Ekeler and 36 yards to Keenan Allen . Rivers completed a 38-yard pass to Mike Williams on fourth-and-11 in the closing minutes to set up a Michael Badgley game tying 46-yard FG with 14 seconds left. It appeared that the game was headed to OT.
Diontae Spencer returned the ensuing kickoff 26 yards to the Denver 28.
With 9 seconds left, Lock heaved a pass down field for Sutton that fell incomplete, but a defensive pass interference penalty gave the Broncos the ball on the Charges 37 with 3 seconds left. Broncos kicker Brandon McManus then trotted out and booted a game winning 53-yard FG as time expired.
The game winning debut for Lock comes a month after Bronco QB Brandon Allen beat Cleveland in his NFL debut. It made the Broncos the first team in NFL history to have two quarterbacks start and win their NFL debuts in the same season.
After the game , I made my way over to the Falling Rock Tap House on Blake Street over by Coors Field (a hot spot during Rockies home games) which has 75+ beers on tap and over 130 different beers in the cooler. Then headed down Blake for a few more beers and dinner at Brass Tacks. Both highly recommended.
Tomorrow morning, I’m taking a tour of Coors field then heading over to Boulder for a day of hiking and sightseeing, then flying out to Jackson Hole in the evening for some skiing on Tuesday. Eventually I will make my way down to Phoenix for next Sunday’s Cardinals vs Steelers game.
Fans - C – Despite the losing record, really enthusiastic and supportive of their team. If not the most friendly or colorful.
Features - C - Given this franchise history and great players, I would expect there would have been more to showcase this. Nothing really for the fans to do but watch football, buy merchandise or eat.
Location - B - Walk-able from downtown albeit a bit of an 'aggressive walk'. Located right off Interstate 25 and near light rail
Food - C - Basic run of the mill stadium fare. Decent prices
Game - A+ - One of the best finishes of all games I've been to so far. Bronco QB wins his debut beating an AFC West rival.
Overall Experience - C+ - A fun city - even more so at Christmas time, a great game- but one of the more drab and boring stadiums on my visits.