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Tradition

Mile High Stadium from the Inside

It hit me last week. You know it really started to sink in. I was walking toward the south stands heading into the locker room at Mile High Stadium, like I've done a million times before. But, this time was different. I stopped at the 20-yard line and looked up at the massive structure being built next door. I don't know why I stopped, I just did.

As I watched the cranes moving steel to the upper bowl, and heard cement trucks laying the foundation of new Broncos traditions, I started thinking back on all of the amazing things I've witnessed in this building. I started thinking back on all of the times one man brought his team back from the dead. And, I started thinking about all of the things the new stadium will have that Mile High doesn't.

I realized that with all of the amenities the new stadium will have, there will be one thing missing: The lines at the restrooms.

I started with the Denver Broncos in January of 1975 as both the director of stadium and ticket operations. In 1995, I switched gears and worked solely as the director of stadium operations. In that time, I've witnessed some incredible football games and have been privy to some memorable moments. Twenty years from now, however, when I think back on my Mile High memories, it won't be the football I remember, but the changes to the stadium itself.

When I got here, there were only three permanent areas in Mile High; the south stands, the west stands and the first level of the north stands. The east stands were bleachers that were brought in prior to the first regular season game every year. The reason they were not brought in before that was because the Denver Bears, a minor league baseball team, played here through the month of August.

Comfort in the east stands was not exactly a premium. The seats were similar to how the south stands are today, bleachers with no backs. Restroom facilities were port-a-potties under the stands, and those had to accommodate the approximately 15,000 people who sat there.

Fortunately for the facility and the fans, Mile High was renovated starting in 1975. The project was completed in 1977. In 1975 the north stands were completed and then in 1977 the moveable east stands were completed. The Mile High that we know today has been the same since 1977, with the exception of the skyboxes that were later added.

For me, the new additions and the changes to Mile High over the past 25 years are the things I will remember most. Getting new restrooms a few years ago, when the Colorado Rockies played here their first two seasons, all of the concerts that have been played here, those are the things I will latch onto. And, I've witnessed an entire city, an entire region for that matter, open its arms and embrace the Broncos.

It's no surprise why the Broncos are so popular in the Rocky Mountain region. When they started in 1960, they were the only professional sports team from California to Kansas, and from the Canadian border to the Texas border. We've got season ticket holders in every state except two in the region, and that includes Alaska and Hawaii. The Broncos have worked hard to earn the respect of everybody in the region, and we cannot thank the fans enough.

I will remember the football, too. There were so many games that I've seen here over that period of time, I can't begin to list all of my memories. The ones I think I will always remember are the ones that were most difficult for us to win.

Probably the best game I ever watched at Mile High Stadium was the 1977 AFC Championship game, the game that propelled the Broncos to their first Super Bowl. That was as exciting of a time as I think there ever was in this stadium. The fans were unreal and the atmosphere was electric. Nothing can describe the feeling you get by beating your most fierce rival to advance to the NFL's most coveted game. The excitement level of the stadium and the entire city of Denver was just unreal.

I truly believe that game was the start of the "Mile High Magic." I know that John Elway took it to new heights, but that game was the beginning of something truly special. People always ask me to describe "Mile High Magic." For me, it's having everybody not expect us to win a game but we do. I think the 75,000 fans that attend each game have been the difference in a great, great number of performances by the team on the field. It was ready to pop out of the bag before the trade in 1983, but John Elway took it to the next level.

A lot of people might disagree with Broncos fans, claiming that one person can't make that big of an impact, but they would be wrong. I really think one person did. John unzipped the bag and the magic came out.

He did some unbelievable things on the football field, but I think I will remember what happened in the locker room more. I would always go into the locker room before each game and go over the field conditions with him. I couldn't begin to tell him how to prepare for the game; all I could do was advise him on the field conditions.

John would always look at me with that unmistakable grin and say "Thanks." That's exactly the kind of guy he was. You never did anything for him that he did not appreciate. John Elway never quit surprising me. Every time he led the Broncos onto that field, I fully expected the Broncos to win the game.

John Elway will provide some lasting memories for me, and Head Coach Mike Shanahan has played a big part in that, too. Coach Shanahan can get very excited after a win. I've been in the locker room following a couple games and witnessed first hand just how happy he can get. But I've also witnessed his very special way of passing that excitement to everyone in the locker room. It's part of why Mike is such a great coach.

Next season by moving into a new stadium, we will begin building new traditions, a new attitude and most importantly, new memories. The new stadium will provide all of the things needed for the ultimate football watching experience, and without question, the Broncos will provide the excitement.

There will be a problem with the new stadium, however: When will you have a chance to reflect on your own Mile High memories without the lines.

By Gail Stuckey
Former Denver Broncos Director of Stadium Operations