Broncos win makes fans feel mile high Denver police try to rein in celebration

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 26, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- Church bells rang.

Denver Broncos fans ran from bars in the popular Lodo district and fell on their knees in the streets. Police on horse back stood ready, others in riot gear blocked off roads.

One fan careened crazily down the street, tears in his eyes.

"John Elway," he said, hugging a stranger before rushing on.

John Elway and the Denver Broncos ended 20 years of frustration for themselves and their fans last night, with a 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

In Denver, their fans released their pent-up emotions as the sound of victory grew and grew until it echoed down every street, through every wall reaching other Broncos fans and still others who could care less, as they looked up from their dinners in wonder at the sounds of horns, automatic weapon fire, sirens and people cheering.

"We're hoping it won't be like the Stanley Cup celebration two years ago," said Denver police officer Brett Willcockson. "We had a riot that night. We're hoping it stays a fun, happy celebration. But some people are saying the city will burn."

An hour and a half later, several blocks away in the Larimer Square area of town, things became more worrisome. Bonfires were started. Fans hung from wires and walked the wires holding Bronco banners across the street.

And a few blocks further away, police released tear gas to break up the crowd, and at least one person was injured in a shooting.

The celebration started peacefully here early this afternoon, as fans began coming to McNichols Sports Arena for the "Official Broncos' Party" at 1 p.m.

"We're going to win," said 10-year-old Ricki Wright, who had an orange and blue pompons draped over her head under a Broncos hat.

Many of the 8,000 fans at the arena carried signs that said "Salute That!" and waved them when Elway fired a 22-yard touchdown pass to get their team on the board.

"Elway salutes his guys when they score," explained Marlene Inman, 39, and a native Denverite. "It's an in-your-face, take that kind of thing. There's not better team and no better fans than you'll find in Denver."

But the fans in Denver weren't taking anything for granted last night. Downtown at Dick's Last Resort, they were worried just after halftime, with the score tied at 17.

And Kelly James, a 21-year-old University of Colorado student standing in line to get in the Sports Column bar, said, "If the Broncos don't win, I'm going to cry."

The AFC hadn't beaten the NFC in 13 years, and no one outside of Denver gave the Broncos much of a chance this time, either. And Janet Leigh had mixed feelings about that as she sat in the Falling Rock Tap House with her friend Alicia Kruser.

"We're Packers fans," said Leigh. "We're the only Packers fans in this bar, and we're not very popular. If the Broncos lose, we're tearing out of here."

Out in the streets, they danced and partied into the night.

David McAdams, 22, could hardly believe it still, as he stood in the middle of the street.

"We've been waiting years and years for a championship," he said, a smile hiding the rest of his face. "The Avalanche won the Stanley Cup a couple years ago, but we bought them and didn't have time to fall in love with them. This is the Broncos. This is Denver's team."

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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