ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Open practices with large crowds are a Broncos tradition that goes back decades, even before the Greeley years. They go back to when Lou Saban announced the team would hold his first Broncos camp at the then-new headquarters at 57th Avenue and Logan Street, just a long Steve Tensi pass north of the Adams/Denver county line. Broncomania was just building, and the gatherings for camp helped nurture and establish it.
Forty-seven years later, this is the summer that must be sacrificed to sustain that tradition for the foreseeable future at Dove Valley.
If you're a regular reader of this site, you know all about the ongoing construction project at Broncos headquarters. The centerpiece is the new indoor facility located to the northwest of the main practice fields, with renovations to the main building on the southeast corner of the grounds also paramount. By the end of this year, Dove Valley will barely be recognizable from its former state.
In the meantime, the facility is a construction zone. Hard-hat areas abound. Parking is compromised even for a regular workday, and the main lot where fans parked for camp is occupied by cranes -- appropriately painted Broncos colors -- concrete foundations and steel frames. An open-to-spectators training camp wouldn't work; even if everyone signed a liability waiver and wore a hard hat, there would be nowhere to park.
But when the project is complete, there will be more space for more fans. The berm on which fans sit to the west of the fields is being fortified, raised and enlarged. Areas for disabled fans to watch practice will be expanded. An expanded on-site retail store will be created, to be housed in the same building as the indoor practice field. There will be increased parking to handle the expected larger crowds the berm will accommodate.
And, not to be underestimated, the restroom facilities will be improved.
For the last 11 training camps, the Broncos have worked at Dove Valley. It has offered convenience for the players and coaches, and has been a godsend to the staff, which no longer had to uproot the entire operation for three weeks and move it 70 miles.
But it took several years before the crowds at Dove Valley rivaled the years at the University of Northern Colorado, where the Broncos trained from 1982-2002. With each year, the camp experience was tweaked and improved, to the point where over 85,000 fans attended Dove Valley practices the last two years -- an average of over 2,700 per session, each year. As recently as 2009, the per-session average was less than 1,000.
There are plenty of reasons why it took a while to increase practice attendance, but the one at the heart of the matter was that Dove Valley was not initially designed with fans in mind. For 11 years, the Broncos and their fans made do. That changes with this construction project. Creating a viable venue for thousands to gather is a priority, and will be reality next year.
The three practices to be held inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High will likely be massive draws, and with the dates set, fans can start planning now. The last two stadium practices attracted 41,304 and 44,439, so expect an exuberant throng. Parking and admission will be free, just like a Dove Valley practice.
And by next year, Dove Valley won't simply have returned to normal. For the die-hards who watch practice, there will be a new, better normal.