Thursday, January 28, 2016

The AFC Championship Game Experience

I have attended all seven AFC Championship games played in Denver - including the Broncos Sunday's thrilling 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots.  Here are some pictures of my experience.

That's me in the third row of the upper deck in the brown shirt behind the guy with the "7" Elway jersey.  My son Andrew in the Mile High football t-shirt is next to me.  Why didn't I wear orange?  The weather forecast called for temperatures in the lower 40's so I figured I'd be wearing a coat all day.  No one would see my shirt so why not wear a warm flannel one?  But when we arrived the temperatures felt like a September game.  The early 1 pm kickoff resulted in the sun shining on us for most of the 1st half.  By the second half the temperatures dropped to the upper 30's and the coats came on - not too cold and perfect January football weather.

Our seats, in the second deck in the northwest corner behind the end zone, would prove to be a perfect vantage point for the drama we would witness at the end of the game.  Every game I bring binoculars (to see plays near the south end zone) and a radio to listen to Dave Logan's KOA Radio play by play.

This Patriot fan was seated near us but he was relatively quiet during the game (wonder why?)  We saw a number of Patriot fans while walking to the stadium, but once inside we didn't see as many.  For the Pittsburgh playoff game the week before there were far more visiting fans.

The crowd gave a big cheer for the pregame skydivers landing on the field after jumping from high over Mile High.  The roar was a hint of how loud the stadium would get later that day.

The crowd noise rose during the player introductions - boos for the Patriots and cheers for the home team.

As shown on the scoreboard, 102.8 DBs (decibels) at kickoff!  The fans were really getting into it now.  It was the loudest I have heard the crowd at Sports Authority Field.  Not quite as loud as the old Mile High Stadium but plenty loud enough.  The noise would play a major factor in disrupting many a Patriots play this game.

Fast forward to the end of the game - Broncos win!  The last 6 minutes were the most intense I have ever experienced in my 50+ years of attending Denver home games, as the Patriots threatened to tie the score in the north end zone below us.  We were high fiving everyone around us as victory was assured in the last few seconds.

WIth our north end zone seats we also had a great viewing angle for the post game trophy ceremony.

Was this the greatest Bronco home game ever?  I still rate the first AFC Championship win (20-17) on January 1, 1978 as my favorite Bronco home game of all time (I was in the South Stands for that one).  But this sweet victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots is a close second - a nice bookend to that first AFC Championship game for my many years of cheering on the Broncos at the old and new Mile High.  Regardless of the outcome of the Super Bowl in two weeks, the memory of what happened here on January 24, 2016 will always bring a smile to my face.  Go Broncos!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Broncos AFC Championship This Sunday Reminds Me of Their First One

Here I am with my son Andrew before the Broncos/Steelers playoff game this past Sunday.  The Steeler game brought back memories for me of the very first Bronco playoff run at the end of the magical 1977 season.

Yes I attended my first playoff game on December 24, 1977 against these same Pittsburgh Steelers.  I was age 21 at the time - just one year younger than my son Andrew is today.

This AFC Championship game matchup this Sunday really reminds me of the Broncos first AFC championship game in 1977 (actually January 1, 1978);

  • The Broncos beat the Steelers to reach the championship game each season in a close, hard fought, emotional game.
  • The Broncos are playing a defending Super Bowl champion at home for the AFC title (Raiders in 78, Pats in 2016)
  • Broncos are led by a strong defense with a just good enough offense led by a savvy veteran qb with health issues (Craig Morton in 78, Peyton Manning in 2016)
  • Broncos are underdogs (to the Raiders in 78 and the Patriots are favored Sunday by 2 1/2 points)
  • Early kickoff for a Denver home game (12 noon in 1978, 1 pm this Sunday)

While the odds makers and experts will favor New England, don't bet against the Broncos! Just like a strong defense and the home field was enough for Denver to beat the Raiders in that AFC Championship game on New Years Day 1978, I think the same factors can lead to a Broncos win this Sunday.  I'll be there - attending my 7th AFC Championship game in person in Denver (Raiders 1978, Cleveland 1988 - the Fumble, Cleveland 1989, Jets 1999, Steelers 2006, Pats 2014, Pats 2016)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mark Cooper at the QB Club

Former Bronco Mark Cooper educated a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club crowd on the intricacies of NFL offensive line play at our monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Cooper played on the John Elway Bronco teams from 1983 through 1987 at various positions along the offensive line.  He was drafted in 1983 in the second round - the same year Elway started with the Broncos.  Cooper told us he roomed with Elway in that first year.  In addition to his time in Denver Cooper played for Tampa Bay from 1987-89.  He was a college teammate of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt at the University of Miami.  With these credentials we were anxious to hear Cooper's insights on the current Broncos team.

Cooper is still very much involved in the game - coaching youth football in the Denver area in addition to being a realtor (he's been with ReMax for 25 years).    He said he still watches a lot of film on the Broncos.

He described the zone blocking scheme that Gary Kubiak has once again turned to after this scheme was so successful with the Shanahan coached Broncos.  Former Bronco offensive line coach Alex Gibbs "invented zone blocking", Cooper said.  "If you want to understand zone blocking do a youtube search on Alex Gibbs - he has a 3 part video seminar up there on zone blocking."  I later found the Gibbs video series on this Seattle Seahawk fan site.

Cooper said the running backs are just as important as the line in the zone blocking scheme.  He said early this year the Bronco running backs weren't that good at it, but he's noticed considerable improvement as the season has progressed.

While he thinks Alex Gibbs is done with coaching, he had some entertaining stories to tell of his time with Gibbs as his o-line coach.  In one game Cooper roughed up a defensive lineman that had taken a cheap shot at John Elway.  Cooper drew a flag, and head coach Dan Reeves was not happy, chewing Cooper out as he left the field for the roughing penalty.  Gibbs pulled Cooper aside and said, "do it again!" In a gladiator sport Gibbs appreciated Cooper standing up for his teammate. 

Cooper was very open with his opinions on some past and present broncos offensive linemen:

Should Tyler Polumbus be starting?  No, Schofield is better but Schofield looks to be playing hurt.
Ryan Harris - he's not a left tackle - he'd be better at right tackle
Evan Mathis - not a fan, it was a horrible trade (Mathis was actually a free agent signee - but you get the point)
Max Garcia - he's decent, definite potential for the future
Ryan Clady - the team really misses him this year.  A solid left tackle, though he lost a step after his last injury.  
Ty Sambrailo - showed potential, could be another solid guy like Clady
Orlando Franklin - wish he was still here - he's a good tackle.  He was not a good guard.

Cooper described in depth his opinions on the correct way to play the offensive line, demonstrating different moves for the qb club audience.  Overall he's been disappointed with the current Broncos offensive line.  "3 offensive linemen have been turtled this season" (knocked on their backs), Cooper said, "that never happened when I played."

Cooper remembers fondly his playing days in Denver.  "Our playbook was twice the size of what we had in Tampa," he said.    "There was nothing more fun than playing in front of the fans at Mile High."

I learned more about offensive line play in one night in listening to Cooper than my many years of watching the game as your average fan.  This is one feature I appreciate about our QB Club meetings - we hear from insiders and get new perspectives on the team and game we all love.

Our next guest speaker will be "Make Those Miracles Happen" Bronco RB Jon Keyworth in March, and in April Cecil Lammey will return to give the club his annual draft preview and offseason assessment of the Broncos.  If you join the club now you'll get these two meetings plus all the meetings of the 2016-2017 season.  $50 for a family membership, plus $20 per person for our buffet dinner meetings.