Heights Tavern, Harlem, New York – I was 1,800 miles away from Denver and the great madness on Sunday when I walked into the bar just off Broadway and 164th St. The drunk and the sober were clad in everything Broncos. Suddenly, it appeared all of New York City was from the Mile High state. “Jesus,” I thought. “When did they all get here? And how many are already on my couch?”
I’ve lived in New York long enough to know that the majority of these NYC pub crawlers are Jets or Giants fans, so to hear a single someone shout, “That’s it! We’re on our way, baby!” it instantly transported me back to Colorado, downtown Denver, the place of my birth where I also spent the majority of my 20s, as well as every last penny I had in my poor-boy pocket.
I look down at the table, at my phone. Facebook is booming with Broncos mania! A large number of my friends on Facebook are Native, from back home, so it was a fine sight to see that several of them, who regularly don’t get along, were ‘liking’ each other’s comments and photos.
There’s a serious political line in Indian country these days, and it cuts deep through Denver, but that line is quickly kicked out of the sand when Our Team is involved. “We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow,” they say. “But right now, the Broncos are on.” And in that moment peace is struck … at least for four quarters.
Though, sitting there in that NYC bar, I longed for home. All the orange and blue in the bar punctuated an unfulfilled longing. And I was reminded of how I described Denver in a piece I wrote at a coffee shop in the West Village.
Denver: where, on almost every night there, at a certain hour, in downtown, no one says a word. Nothing makes a sound. No cars zip by. No faces say, “Hi.” You can almost hear the black mountains moan in the distance, longing for the plains, just there, like a lover in sight but out of reach, separated by space and time and buildings and millions of sad souls dreading the morn … until they see the orange-red glow of the sunrise to the east, then everything, even for that instant, seems tolerable – and the words, “I can get through this,” come from somewhere in your gut, or maybe your spine, and they taste good on your lips like aged-barrel whiskey or wine. “I’ll be damned,” you say. “What was I worried about anyway?” …
And then I lose track of my nostalgia with the sudden boom of a bastard shouting at the flat screen, damning Brady. His girlfriend only yelled at him once, but that was for sitting on their to-go package of hot wings. “Get off, you idiot!” she shouted, which he was. That stuff will burn your lips off, let alone your cheeks, chum. She was just looking out for him. Right on.
Well, enough of that. We’re talking Broncos here, and Denver, the relocation city.
I am a product of said relocation – yet I have no time right now to go into the details of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and what it was at its rotten core. But I will say this: there’s a booming population of Natives in Denver (1.6-percent, according to the U.S. Census). There are Utes and Arapahos and Lakotas and Navajos and Cheyennes, and every Native I know there, in every corner of the city, relocation Indian or not, is a madhouse Broncos fan who’ll pour Pace Picante Sauce on your face if you dare cheer on the Raiders or Patriots or any other team in the NFL for that matter, which I used to do as a young shithead. Looking back, I deserved every morsel I got in these eyes, which is why today I shutter at the sight of pico de gallo.
That, of course, is an exaggeration. These are peaceful people, with big hearts, strong spines and serious personality, and they are Broncos fans.
One year at the Denver March Pow Wow, as I waited in line preparing to join the others in grand entry, I met a fellow grass dancer whose regalia was all Broncos colors, from his roach to his moccasins – all orange and blue. I remember asking him if he’d gotten gruff because it was an obvious homage to the Broncos and for “not being traditional.”
“Look around you,” he said. “How much of this really is anymore?”
Sweet God! It was a heavy thought, and I couldn’t handle it in the moment. My mind was on how to keep my bells on at my ankles and not kick them off mid-dance. Or maybe I was thinking about snagging? Priorities, man. Priorities.
And the last time the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl was 15 years ago, which means, for 15 years, die-hard Broncos fans have been eagerly waiting for their beloved team to buckle down, get serious, tighten the screws, and now they have. Yes! All that waiting and loyalty and angst and frustration has finally paid off.
Broncos fans, especially the Natives in orange and blue, are poised to let it all out on February 2, thousands of miles away and also just over the Hudson, in New Jersey, 17 minutes away from my apartment. I will, then, on that day, make frybread, just like we do back in Denver, back home. Mom’s is the best, though. The Creator says so, and Mom loves it when her team is on. So, go Broncos. Damn right. Cheers!