I learned about team loyalty in the mid-1980s.
I grew up in Oakland during a time when the Raiders were in Los Angeles and everybody from my mom to the mailman was pledging allegiance to the 49ers. I couldn’t do it. A boy sometimes needs to establish his own identity.
While turning the TV dial (remember those?) one Saturday, my hand stopped at a Stanford game. I had fallen in love for the first time. The object of my affection was the right arm of a guy named John Albert Elway.
When he eventually took the field as a Denver Bronco it was the start of a 30-year relationship between a boy from Oakland and a team from Colorado. Like every relationship, there were some rough patches.
In January of 1986 the Broncos made it to Super Bowl XXI and I told everybody on the playground of Piedmont Elementary that Denver would win in a landslide. It looked good at halftime. Then Giants quarterback Phil Simms completed every pass he threw the rest of the game. Giants 39, Broncos 20. That game cost me six months of ridicule by my preteen peers.
The next year was worse. I had the distinction of being the only African American in all of Oakland to root against the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl, or at least it felt that way. Final score: Doug Williams’ Redskins 42, Broncos 10.
Then came the 49ers. Super Bowl XXIV was billed as Joe Montana vs. Elway. It was all Montana – 49ers 55, Broncos 10. The smack that 49ers fans talked to me after that game would have made Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman blush.
In 1995 the Raiders came back to town. I could go see my team regularly as Denver plays the Silver and Black once in Oakland every year. In 1996, clad in a bright orange Elway jersey and blue Broncos hat, I was lucky to make it out of the Oakland Coliseum with my physical well-being intact.
In 1997 my dream was realized. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat during the three hours the Broncos played the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. All’s well that ends well – Denver 31, Green Bay 24. Cold pizza and hot wings never tasted so sweet. 1998 was more of the same – Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.
I really owe my college classmates an apology for strolling around campus wearing two Sports Illustrated Super Bowl Champion commemorative watches and toting the VHS (remember those?) highlights of the Broncos’ ’97 and ’98 seasons to every class.
Now Sunday, after 15 long years, my team is once again on the cusp of a championship. Win or lose, come Monday I’ll still bleed orange and blue.