With an 8-year-old, but relatively one-track mind, the first time I attended a Denver Broncos training camp practice was more or less about seeking signatures than it was watching football.
Details of the action that 1987 day in Greeley have evaporated into the mists of time, though I want to say I accompanied my Autumn Court neighbor Justin from Longmont up to the University of Northern Colorado. Pretty sure my brother Micah also made the trip, which ended with us lucky enough to offer pen and paper to three individuals, including Denver defensive end Walt Bowyer and St. Louis Cardinals – the teams scrimmaged that day – wide receiver Troy Johnson, who’d played for the USFL’s Denver Gold a couple seasons before and the first player I ever saw add “God Bless” to an autograph.
Thirty-two years later, I was blessed indeed to enter Broncos Stadium at Mile High last Saturday to witness a second preseason session – the only one on Denver’s 2019 camp schedule to be held at 1701 Bryant Street. Zero player autographs this time around – one cheerleader, however, happily signed a calendar – but many more vivid memories as one of a reported 21,234 in attendance.
A guest of three friends known through playing coed softball in Bayfield the past three summers, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that our sunscreen supply was ordered trashed at the gate, but fans seated directly to our left managed to smuggle in plenty of spray-style SPF in an almost-identical bottle. So much for the “clear bag” policy.
Resigned to receive the inevitable sunburn – a tan for myself – I settled into watching injured tight end Jake Butt and wide receiver River Cracraft go through conditioning drills before ready-to-go players jogged onto the field to fans’ applause.
Recalling mentally an interaction we’d had with a local Denver die-hard outside the stadium, touting the team’s defense more than its offense, I turned my focus toward the players in orange as they offered resistance to those wearing white – quarterbacks wore navy blue – and saw pretty much what the loyalist praised.
Even without absent star linebacker Von Miller, the defense performed well against an offense lacking first-unit stars Phillip Lindsay (dressed but held out) and Emmanuel Sanders (absent, with Miller). Quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Kevin Hogan and Brett Rypien appeared most comfortable utilizing tight ends – particularly second-year man Troy Fumagalli – over wide receivers, though Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick each caught a couple of balls. Cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. was called for a pass-interference penalty, as well, on a nearly 50-yard Flacco throw to Sutton.
Second-year running back Royce Freeman caught a touchdown from Flacco, while fourth-year RB Devontae Booker saw increased action with Lindsay sidelined, but, ultimately, about the only person the Bradley Chubb/Derek Wolfe-led defense couldn’t stop was kicker Brandon McManus, whose field goals had plenty height, distance and accuracy.
All told, the head-to-head play as well as by-position group work was about how a preseason practice would typically appear with numerous veterans appearing solid in their roles, others out because of injury and newcomers hoping to impress prior to Denver’s first preseason game – the Hall of Fame Game against Atlanta in Canton, Ohio.
The atmosphere, though, left supporters feeling as Mile High (general-admission ticketing, leaving front-row seats open to anyone, certainly helped) as ever, even with new head coach Vic Fangio’s squad set for its busiest preseason (five games) in 15 years, and then a regular-season slate ranked second-toughest (opponents went a combined 136-117-3 in 2018) in the NFL.
And definitely rendered one writer reminiscent.