During my college years it was easy being a football fan, especially when my school’s team won the national title. It was an exciting time, to be sure, but my interest in college ball ended with graduation. A few years later, any allegiance I felt toward a professional franchise faded as jobs and parenting vied for my attention.
Since then, I have missed most of the NFL regular season and playoff games, and half of the Super Bowls. I have been shiftless when it comes to loyalty, never really finding a team to call my own. Not, that is, until a weekend in Las Vegas made me a Denver Broncos fan.
It wasn’t a planned vacation. My reason for going to Vegas was not to try my luck in the casinos or to see the latest shows. Unlike the rest of the weekend revelers, when I climbed into the limousine waiting outside the Luxor Hotel, it wasn’t a fun night on the town that awaited me. It was a funeral.
My cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years, had died suddenly at the age of 46. Although we hadn’t even spoken in all that time, I mourned his death because he was part of my family and part of my history. Now that he was gone, my mind flew back to the few memories I had of him.
Since we lived in different states for most of our lives, David and I had little opportunity for interaction. On the rare occasions that I saw him, I was greeted with a sneer and a grunt. I don’t think he meant anything personal by it. It’s just that for whatever reason, he was the least social of my twenty-one cousins.
It surprised me, then, when someone spoke at his funeral and described a person that was not the David I knew from childhood. She choked back tears as she honored a man who was a natural leader, a good listener, and a sociable person with a great sense of humor. I also learned that David was an avid fan of the Denver Broncos and had been for most of his life.
My favorite story about David was the one his friend shared about them watching a Denver – Atlanta game at a sports bar. Evidently, there was only one Atlanta fan in the whole place, and he was being completely obnoxious. When David finally had enough, he told his friends he was going to burn that guy’s hat when Denver won the game.
The Broncos did win, and David was true to his word. He took that fellow outside, lit fire to his hat, and then came back in and bought him a beer. When I heard that story I laughed out loud – right there in the chapel!
The more I learned about David, the more I wished I would have known him as those closest to him had. Sadly, he remained distant from our family geographically, as well as emotionally, for most of his life. I don’t know if he would have welcomed a relationship with me had I offered it. Yet, it saddened me that I didn’t even try to connect with him.
If I am to be honest, I must admit that before David’s death I rarely thought of him. Now, I found that I didn’t want to let him go. The closure that funerals typically provide evaded me because instead of it being the end of my relationship with David, it was more like the beginning. For the first time in my life, I wanted to know him.
After I returned home, I began to notice that when I thought about David I thought about football. And when I thought about football I thought about David. Now, they seemed inseparable. Perhaps it was because one of the few things I really knew about David was that he loved the Broncos.
I realized then that since the Broncos were short one very devoted aficionado, the best way for me to befriend David was by adopting his NFL team as my own. David’s love for the Broncos was all I needed to give them my loyalty, too. For by embracing the Broncos, I would also be embracing David.
That was seven years ago and I have been a Bronco fan ever since. I finally found my team. There’s just one thing I’m worried about – being charged with assault for burning some guy’s hat in David’s honor.