SAN DIEGO -- The Denver Broncos are Colorado's No. 1 team again.
After waging several battles in the wake of mediocre seasons and the arrival of a major-league baseball team, the Broncos, riding high after gaining a berth in Super Bowl XXXII and coming off one of the best sports public relations campaigns in recent memory, apparently have gained public support for funds to build a new stadium.
According to recent polls conducted by two television stations in Colorado, 55 percent of those surveyed were in favor of public funding for a new stadium, a 5 to 15 percent improvement over a year ago, after the Broncos were upset by Jacksonville in the AFC semifinals.
"The reality of the situation is, this is really a stadium that the community has to have," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said after his team's win over Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.
"I would hope that these kinds of wins help. And if we'd lost, I wouldn't want to think that success or the failure of that vote is going to depend on the loss."
But Bowlen truly knows differently. This entire season was a carefully orchestrated plan to reach the Super Bowl while, at the same time, persuading voters on the stadium issue. For the past year, Bowlen had been telling citizens of Colorado he might sell the team if voters did not choose to replace Mile High Stadium, which could result in the team relocating.
In the off-season, he signed 15 new players (rookies included), including such present veteran starters as cornerback Darrien Gordon, fullback Howard Griffith, offensive tackle Tony Jones, defensive end Neil Smith and defensive tackle Keith Traylor.
Only two of the nine new free agents came from teams that finished below .500.
"Mediocrity is not tolerated here," said Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. "We don't expect to lose to anyone. We don't play second fiddle to anyone. We just don't accept it. We feel we have the best fans in the league. All our games have been sold out since 1960. We've got the best home-winning percentage since as long as I can remember. We've got the quarterback with the most career wins."
Jones, who played with the Ravens last season said: "When I came to visit, the first thing they told me was we're bringing you in to help us get to the Super Bowl. We can get to the playoffs without you. That's the first time an owner or a coach ever said that to me. This organization did a heck of a job bringing in the talent to get them to the next level. We have talent on this team I've never seen before."
The players showed an unusual commitment to the Super Bowl run. Because Denver has one of the highest payrolls in the league, 13 Broncos agreed to defer 1997 combined bonuses of $6.948 million until three weeks ago.
Starting defensive end Alfred Williams deferred his entire 1997 $1 million base salary until Jan. 2, 1998.
"I saw the commitment Pat had made, and I wanted to be on board," said quarterback John Elway, who deferred $2.26 million in bonus money.
But that's also part of the reason for trying to get a new stadium. Because of rising player salaries and increased costs, Bowlen said the Broncos can't remain competitive if he does not receive the kind of revenues new stadiums generate.
Mile High Stadium was built in 1948. According to published reports, only the Broncos and Detroit Lions do not receive revenue from parking, concessions, luxury suites and advertising their stadiums.
Estimates for a new stadium in Denver range from $260 to $330 million. Bowlen has said he will pay $80 million, though he might incur millions of dollars in costs from breaking his lease at Mile High that runs through 2018.
Bowlen said the league's new television contract, which could be worth an additional $20 million to $30 million a team, isn't the sole answer. The team, he said, will still need legislative support.
"If you were able to distribute television money weighted toward teams like ourselves that aren't getting stadium revenue, then, of course, it would be a solution," Bowlen told the Denver Post. "But that's not the way it works.
"The Dallas Cowboys get the same amount of television revenue as the Denver Broncos, and the Dallas Cowboys take $45 million revenue out of their stadium and we take zero. That isn't going to change until we get a new stadium."
State lawmakers are still discussing if a new stadium is necessary. The issue could be put on a ballot as early as May, but no later than November.
So far, the Broncos have done everything they could.
"I expect the support to increase as the election draws close, because voters will fear the loss of the franchise," said state representative Mike Coffman from Aurora.
"Give Pat credit. He's done everything necessary," said Elway. "He went out and brought the best players. We've always won, but now we're back in the Super Bowl. It would be great to give the people of Denver a Super Bowl because of what has happened in the past. But since I've been here, we've got the greatest fans in the league.
"You kind of become numb to it," said Elway, on the price of being a Bronco in Denver. "It's not easy to get gas, go get donuts, get coffee. You're not allowed to be in a bad mood.
"Probably the hardest thing is having kids. You won't be able to go where the kids want to go. Usually, when you go to those places, there are lots of others kids, and what were the toys becomes secondary to me. I become the toy."
Denver Broncos (15-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (15-3)
Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Packers by 12
Tomorrow, look for a special section previewing the Super Bowl, with analysis, statistics, history and a guide to football -- a complete package for the knowledgeable or novice fan.
Pub Date: 1/24/98