Parque de Vida turned orange and blue on Friday as an estimated 2,000 fans came together in Cortez to meet players, cheerleaders and a mascot from the Denver Broncos.
Linebacker Corey Nelson and safety Will Parks signed autographs and took photos with fans. Cheerleaders Sydney and Jozie joined the players along with mascot Miles. Cortez was the first stop on the Broncos’ 11-town Salute to Fans tour, which lasts through June 3.
The main event at the park followed a training camp at Panther Stadium for more than 100 Montezuma and Dolores youths and their families, organized by Onward! A Legacy Foundation and sponsored by El Pomar Foundation. It was closed to the public, but many relatives and friends came to cheer on their children as they practiced throwing, passing, tackling and other skills with the pros.
Cortez Mayor Pro Tem Ty Keel introduced the players at the park’s amphitheater.
“Cortez is a great place to live, work and visit,” Keel said. “We’re really excited that everyone’s down here for this celebration.”
Nelson and Parks presented Keel with a flag that said, “Cortez is Broncos Country” and thanked the crowd for attending.
“On behalf of the Broncos organization, we want to say thank you guys for coming out, and thanks for being Denver Broncos fans,” he said. “We love you guys, please continue to support us. Thank you, and go Broncos!”
Theo Gregory, of El Pomar Foundation, which helped to sponsor the event, thanked Broncos staff and Cortez residents like Nicci Crowley and Brooks for helping to organize the day’s events. He also named Mitchell Toms the town’s Community Champion, an award that El Pomar planned to hand out at every stop on the Broncos tour.
Many people arrived hours early to get at the front of the line. Children played football in the park while they waited, and adults tried to get photos with the Broncos RV.
Cortez events coordinator Jonathon Brooks estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 people attended. Because the players were on a strict schedule, Brooks said, time ran out for about 300 people waiting in line for autographs at 6 p.m., the event’s planned end time.
Kelly Brinkhoff, who lives in the Cortez area, said he used to live in Denver and missed going to Broncos games.
“I haven’t gone in a couple years, but when I lived up there, I used to go to about one a year,” he said.
His son, Chase, dressed in a Demaryius Thomas jersey, but he said his girlfriend had stayed home.
“She’s a Cowboys fan,” Brinkhoff said.
Fans drove from Durango and Farmington or farther. Lavena Tom and Sophie Coberly said they drove from Farmington in the morning to claim their spot at the front of the line at 12:30 p.m., four hours before the scheduled start.
“We go to these things every year that they have them,” Coberly said. “We’re dedicated fans.”
Cortez police officers performed crowd control, but officer Boyd Neagle said it was a fun assignment.
“I’d like to see more events like this,” he said.
Journal reporters found time with the players and cheerleaders during an impromptu question and answer session in the Broncos RV before the park event started. Players and cheerleaders talked about the “hard work and sacrifice” of performing at the professional level, the benefits of education and the excitement of winning Super Bowl 50 in 2016.
“It was not easy. We work hard on and off the field,” Nelson, a fourth-year linebacker, said. “It takes proper dieting, and staying as healthy as possible, because we know when we go out on the field it is going to be full-throttle, and we have to give everything we have.”
Cheerleaders Sydney and Jozie echoed the importance of a work ethic.
“It is physically demanding. We are out there dancing for 4 to 5 hours during the game and are constantly moving,” Sydney said. “It takes a lot of practice and a lot of stamina and working together to help each other.”
Nelson and second-year safety Parks emphasized the importance of education for young people.
“It opened up so many doors for me,” said Nelson, who has a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Oklahoma. “I had good grades, so I was able to pick what college I wanted to go to. ... When you take your education serious, the connections you make are phenomenal. Knowledge is power.”
Parks, who played football at the University of Arizona, is pursuing a degree in behavioral sciences. He urged students to stay with education even when it becomes difficult.
“Your education is a big part of who you will become,” he said. “If you don’t like math, stay with it because one day you might want to be a scientist, and you will need to know math.”
The players’ and cheerleaders’ eyes lit up when they talked about Super Bowl 50, in which the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10.
“It was beautiful, a top moment,” said Nelson, who had multiple tackles in the defense-dominated victory. “The media day, meeting Snoop Dogg and other celebrities was a big moment, and of course the after-party!”
Jozie, who performed cheers at the Super Bowl, recalled fond memories of the fans.
“The caravan before the game, we rode around with fans, and everywhere we saw orange we all cheered. Even at orange construction cones, we’d all scream ‘Go Broncos!’” she said.
The players and cheerleaders were impressed with the people and the food they encountered during their first visit to Cortez.
“I’ve been screaming praises about this Denny’s,” said Parks. “It’s the best one I’ve ever been to, I ate my whole plate!”
Main Street Brewery also got good reviews.
“Great Italian sodas and burgers,” the cheerleaders said.
“Everyone treated us real well, and you can tell everyone knows each other, and it’s like one big happy family,” Parks said. “The food was great, the people here are great.”
The Salute to Fans tour also includes Del Norte, Trinidad, Fort Morgan, Woodland Park, Aurora, Gunnison, Canon City, Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Fort Collins.
It’s the fifth straight year the Broncos have toured the state in the offseason. Last year’s tour made five stops, including Durango and Montrose.
Journal reporters Jacob Klopfenstein and Ian MacLaren contributed to this story.