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Memories of Mile-High Magic: How people around the world experienced the Broncos' wild-card stunner vs. the Steelers

With CBS re-airing the Broncos' memorable 2011 wild-card round matchup with the Steelers on CBS Sports Network on Saturday at 8 p.m. MT, we spoke with several people who witnessed the game and its infamous finish as Demaryius Thomas raced to the end zone on the first play of overtime.

We selected each of them for their unique perspective of one of the defining moments in Broncos history — be it from the field, from the stands in the stadium or from their outposts around the world in Antarctica, the Middle East and Australia. These are their stories of what happened from their point of view.

On the field

Demaryius Thomas, Broncos wide receiver

For Demaryius' full recollection of the game, click here.

Man, I can say — and no disrespect to [Steelers cornerback] Ike [Taylor] — but that was one of my best games. That was one of my coming-out parties, like I say to myself. I had a couple games earlier in the season, but that's one of the games that I remember for the rest of my career and for the rest of my life because I was coming off an Achilles [injury] … trying to have a name for myself. And coming out having four catching for 204 yards was big for me, and a touchdown. It was big for me, big for our team and it was big for the organization.

I knew we would be able to score first if we got the ball first [in overtime]. I didn't know what we was gonna do, but I knew we was gonna call it and make something work because we were able to move the ball at a good pace that game. It was up and down, but we would have got a chance if we would have finished off that drive, also.

That was one of my best routes on that offense. It was "thimble" to the left. I just remember most of the time when we sent Eddie Royal in motion, the safety would come down because he's thinking we're running the ball, because we did that a lot that season and that game. I remember, I think it was [then-quarterbacks coach] Adam Gase that came up and said, 'We're going to do this the first play. You'll have a chance to make the play and make a big run with it.' I came up with the run — [that was] all I knew I had to do, right off the bat, because I saw the safety come down. I had to beat Ike Taylor, and I beat Ike. … It was at a catchable height. I stayed in stride, caught it on the run. It was perfect. … So, happily, when I caught the ball, it was like my hand was in the perfect position to get him right in the chest with a stiff-arm. After that, I just ran into the end zone.

Man, I couldn't hear nothing. It was like it wasn't real. … It was crazy.

The sound [came back] when I ran through the tunnel and in my head, I didn't know the game was over at the time. So I walked back in, and that's when I heard the crowd. I didn't hear the crowd until I turned around and walked back in, because if I knew the game was over, I wouldn't have turned around.

It was insane. If I didn't know no better, I would have thought we won the Super Bowl that game. If I didn't know nothing about the Super Bowl, I would have thought we had won it that game. It was rocking. The fans had the stadium rocking.

It's top three in my football career. In my time playing ball, it's top three for sure. I'd go Super Bowl for number one. This is probably number two. And then 509, three. I'd say it's number two right now. Of course, getting drafted, being able to play football, that comes into play. But this was a big one.

Jay Holmes, game-day security employee

I was on the north 40-yard line behind the visitor's bench, and it was a pretty typical game. I'd been doing security all year. … That was my only playoff game. I worked a full season that year and then I worked about half a season the following year, and then I moved.

I'd get there in the morning and I would do some wanding of the fans and then probably about two hours before kickoff they started gathering all the field people up to get us in position to help some of the on-field experiences and keeping traffic organized on the field. Once the game started, you had your post. It was usually a yard line on the home or away side. You stood with your back to the field and tried to keep eyes on the crowd, just to make sure everything was going smoothly up there.

When it went into overtime, it was exciting and tense. … We're not supposed to watch the screens up in the stands, but when the crowd stood up and started yelling, it was hard not looking up at the screen to watch Demaryius run for the touchdown.

I'd like to tell you that I was pretty good about [not looking at the board]. When the crowd responds, it's hard to kind of not see what's going on, because either something exciting is happening or something good for the other team is happening. I would say, probably any scoring play it was difficult not to glance up at the screen. …

You're facing the crowd, you're supposed to keep people from jumping down or you're supposed to notify [another guard] if anyone's acting inappropriately. But when everyone stood up and started cheering, you just know that a big play's happening or something exciting is happening, so you just kind of glance at the screen even though you're not supposed to. So I only saw the second half of the play on the screen. But it was amazing to be a part of that even if I was there working a job and wasn't there as a fan, technically. It was insane.

That's probably the loudest situation I've ever been in. When he scored the touchdown, that place went nuts. It was unbelievably loud. Luckily no one was running onto the field [from the stands], so I didn't have to worry too much about my security job. Players running around the stadium high-fiving fans — I had never seen anything like that in the years that I was working security for the Broncos. It was pandemonium for the last 40 yards that he was running for the touchdown. I specifically remember Tim Tebow running around and high-fiving fans. It was a long time ago, but it certainly was the loudest experience I've ever heard in terms of fans celebrating. I was at the Rockies' 163rd game when Matt Holliday scored. I was in the stands, so who knows, but it was at least 10 times louder than that celebration. It was crazy.

Right before the play, a couple of fans were tearing off pieces of foam padding that was on the wall of the section.

It was before overtime, so I had to say, Hey guys, knock that off, or you're out of here.Twenty seconds later, the game was over anyway. That's the only time I remember having to deal with anything like that [that day].

Lindsay Jones, Broncos beat writer for the Denver Post

The whole game was pretty surprising because they shouldn't have won. They shouldn't have been in that game. They probably shouldn't have been in the playoffs. They shouldn't have been hosting a playoff game. And yet here they were. Tebow was having the passing game of his life. I just remember it being kind of a surreal feeling down on the field as it was going to overtime. And then also because it was the new overtime rules that were going into effect for the postseason, so it was kind of a whole lot of factors and layers that were going on.

The Broncos had won so many games that season that they shouldn't have won, and won them in the most improbable ways that once it got to overtime, you kind of had to think there was going to be another wild ending. I don't think any of us thought it would be a walk-off 80-yard touchdown, but just the way that season had gone with the exception of the previous couple of games, we had just seen it already.

The fans were wild and really crazy. It's hard to even put into words how much people loved Tim Tebow that year and just how insane the fanaticism was around him.

I'm sure we went down to the field at the two-minute warning, because I remember being on the field at the start of overtime. From my vantage point, I was in the south end zone probably 5 yards in from the tunnel. That's the way that the play came. That was before the giant video boards, so it was kind of the smaller video boards in the corner and you kind of just see, OK, they completed the pass. OK, D.T. Look at that stiff arm. Oh my God, he's coming this way. You just felt the roar of the crowd. … It just got really, really, really loud and then D.T. came and ran right into that end zone. The play came to us. If you've never been on the field level for an NFL game, it's not a great vantage point, because you don't get to see the play develop. You kind of have to do this combination of watching it on the field and also checking the video boards. It's a much different experience from what you see either from the press box or watching on television. But you could just feel it all coming our way.

It was just chaos after. The end zone went nuts. Everybody in the south stands right behind where we were standing were freaking out. There was also this little question about Is the game over? because of the new overtime rules. I remember, D.J. Williams and Champ Bailey in the tunnel, they were probably just a couple yards into the tunnel and hugging and yelling. One of them, I think it was D.J., [didn't know] the game was over. And Champ [was] hugging him and saying, "We won! The game is over!"

Take a look back on the emotional and thrilling wild-care win over the Steelers on January 8, 2012.

In the stands

Ralph Ortiz, a fan in the lower level behind the north end zone

So going into the game … we parked at the Lincoln station there at I-25 and Lincoln, and then we took the train from there. … There's probably about 12, 13 stops until you get to Mile High, maybe a little more than that. As we started stopping, we just had more and more Steeler fans that we were picking up. Literally, the train was half Steeler, half Bronco fans. You know, all the [the Terrible Towels] and all that. …

The stadium seats 77,000 or 76-something — I felt that there was probably 15,000 Steelers fans, 15 to 20,000 — and yellow flags everywhere. …

Because they had that great stretch and we had lost a number of games, I wasn't sure [about the outcome]. I still full on support the Broncos, but I wasn't sure how Tebow was going to perform. That was the big question mark heading in there: Would he be able to elevate his play at a much higher level than what he had demonstrated during that losing stretch? I was kind of on the fence, but I had been with Elway through all his fourth-quarter, less-than-four-minute comebacks, so I still felt there was some magic in the building that hopefully would rub off. …

Watching Tebow was interesting. I loved his attitude, just such a great guy. I think he was a wonderful addition and player for the Broncos. I think he had one of the best hearts ever. And so all of his games, he would struggle for three-and-a-half quarters and then he would pull it out. …

You were not sure, but you had a hope. It was just something about that day. …. You didn't have enough experience with Tim to know if it was going to play out, I think. But there was something different about that day.

The Steelers had the momentum and we weren't doing anything [heading into overtime]. We did nothing in the second half. … Where I was standing, everyone was on their feet and before the snap of the ball, the [Terrible Towels] were swinging like you've never seen them swung before. Fans were fired up. … I remember the start of overtime, I wasn't sure to be honest with you. I had hope — I never give up hope — but I wasn't sure if we could pull it off.

We're standing and we're trying to get everybody quiet and I think two rows below us there were Steelers fans, and they're just shaking their towels. Everyone is swinging their towels. Then Tebow snaps the ball and … I remember him throwing the ball and then we looked and D.T. is wide open. … Sometimes his passes were not accurate, sometimes he would miss things … [but] when he threw that, he threw it in perfect stride. … Now we're seeing D.T. running and … I remember when he crossed the end zone, that stadium was rocking. Maybe I'm off on this, but I felt like they didn't stop yelling and screaming for, like, 10 minutes. Then I didn't see a single yellow [Terrible Towel] anywhere. It was dead silent, everyone started leaving but the Broncos fans [stayed]. The players were all going crazy, they were going around the stadium around there in the south end zone, but oh my goodness. …

I remember the ride from [the stadium] was the best light-rail ride of my life. It was packed with Broncos fans — no Steelers fans — whereas when we came out it was half Steelers, half Broncos. There was not a single Steelers fan. Everyone was just talking, I think some people were passing around beverages. The ride was about a 40-minute ride to Lincoln, and it was as much energy as when we first entered. … The energy was as livid and high as when we got dropped off at Lincoln. It was just memorable.

It was even more special just because of the trials and tribulations that Tebow had gone through, the ups and downs. It was a very emotional game; you were very up and down. … It had the plot of a movie where it starts and finishes. It was such an electrifying experience just being at that stadium and seeing us pull that through against a team where I think some people didn't even have us winning. … Because Roethlisberger had been through Denver before where we were picked to win it, and [he] beat us. … It was tremendous. I love that game. …

It would rank in my top five at number three probably. … just because there was little hope [and] that I think they fed off the magic of Mile High and just made a beautiful play.

Kevin McDonald, a fan in Section 519

I did feel like the game was slipping away a bit as overtime started. However, Tim Tebow had helped pulled out so many unbelievable last-minute victories that year [so] I still had confidence, especially when the Broncos won the coin toss.

I had a great view of the play from my seat in 519, and I remember seeing D.T. break open before Tebow threw the pass. The Steelers had brought extra players into the box to stop the run, so I knew if Tebow could get the ball to D.T. it would be a big play.

As D.T. stiff-armed the last defender and it became clear he was going to score, the people around me and in the entire stadium went nuts. I became a season ticket holder in 1995 and this stands out as the most insane atmosphere I've ever experienced in Mile High Stadium or the new stadium. It's possible it's been equaled just in terms of noise, but I've never see people lose their minds like that, myself included. People were jumping up and down, screaming and hugging people near them.

Since I've been going to games, two other moments come to mind that can rival this one. First was John Elway's final game at Mile High Stadium, the AFC Championship Game against the Jets. While we didn't know at the time that it was for sure his last game, it definitely felt like it was in the stadium. It was a very special (and loud) atmosphere the entire game, especially when it was over and Elway walked around the perimeter of the field shaking fans' hands. Also because the Broncos had won and were going back to the Super Bowl.

The second was Peyton Manning returning shortly after halftime against the Chargers in the final regular season game of the 2015 season. This one was really special, as the crowd wasn't really expecting it. When Manning jogged onto the field and into the huddle, people went crazy. This is probably the moment I would compare closest to the Steelers game, as the crowd went from almost silent to deafening in a very short period of time.

The Steelers game and this particular moment definitely stand out for me as Bronco fan. While it wasn't a Super Bowl, given that it was the playoffs, it was overtime and the incredibly dramatic nature of the play, I'll never forget it. It is probably the most exciting play I've seen in 25 years of going to Broncos games.

Broncos fan Jean-Pierre Brunel, seen here Tebowing on Castle Rock in front of Mount Erebus sometime near the end of the regular season, was living at McMurdo Station in Antarctica when he watched the playoff game vs. Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Brunel)
Broncos fan Jean-Pierre Brunel, seen here Tebowing on Castle Rock in front of Mount Erebus sometime near the end of the regular season, was living at McMurdo Station in Antarctica when he watched the playoff game vs. Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Brunel)

Around the World

Jean-Pierre Brunel, a fan living at McMurdo Station in Antarctica

When the game was happening, I was actually in McMurdo. … Over there we get the AFN, which is the Armed Forces Network. Pretty much all my life, I've watched pretty much every Bronco game — in my adult life anyway, I can say. Same for the Avs. But when you're over there, all this goes out the window. Having said that, in the playoffs, the games are on [live]. So I was able to watch that game. …

In Antarctica, McMurdo is on the same time zone as New Zealand, which is one of the first time zones in the world, one of the earliest ones. So they're actually 18 hours ahead of us. When the game was happening at 4:40 or 5 o'clock … at the start of the game on Sunday, it means in McMurdo, it's actually Monday at 10 or 11 o'clock. I remember it being morning, but I didn't care.

My boss … he's a huge Alabama fan. Alabama was playing the very next day, I believe. And he had told us, I'm taking the day off on Tuesday. Bama's playing in the national championship against the LSU Tigers! So I went and told him, I don't really care about college football, but as much as you like Alabama, that's how I feel about the Broncos, and we're playing the Steelers on Monday, so I'm taking the day off Monday! He's like,Yeah, that's fine, man. No problem. So he actually gave me the day off, which was really cool. Over there you work six days a week; you only get Sunday off. …

I remember the first half was so awesome. We were dominating. We were taking it to them. I was having a great time. I was having my early beer and everything, and then the second half hit and I was like, Oh, boy. It was a completely different tone to the game, as far as for us. It was totally different, and then at the end of the game, it was tied, you know? And they were outlining the new rules and it was like, _If you score on your first possession a touchdown, it's game over _and blah, blah, blah.

And I remember there was one other person who was there with me. He had watched the other game before, which I think was the Giants against the Falcons, and I'm pretty sure he was a Giants fan. They had won against the Falcons, and he was the only other one with me in the lounge — because we don't have TVs in our rooms. You've got to go to the lounge; every dormitory has a lounge, and he was there and he was the only one in my dormitory that was watching football that day because everyone else had to work. Maybe he was on the night-shift or maybe he had gotten the day off. I didn't know him, but we got to know each other a little bit. And I remember, I was like, Man, we might just score right away. It's not like I had a feeling, because that would be a lie, but I remember saying something out loud like, If we make a play and we score, it's game over, and I think we can do it! I had no idea it was going to happen on the first play just like that.

I was sitting on the couch leaning forward. And as soon as D.T. caught the ball, I was literally standing and as he was running toward the end zone, I was literally standing on the couch jumping up and down and hootin' and hollerin'. I just couldn't believe what I had seen.

[The other guy in the room], he understood. He probably would have done the same thing if it was his team. I don't remember exactly, but I think this might have been the first time it ever happened in the NFL. …

It was just unbelievable. They say it's The catch heard 'round the world. In my case, that is definitely true. I was at one of the most remote places in the world and I saw it live. It was pretty awesome. …

I know we didn't win the Super Bowl and, whatever, I guess some cynics would say that in the end it amounted to nothing, but I don't know about all that. … It's definitely [in my] top five [plays] for sure.

Michael Silveria, on deployment in the Middle East for the U.S. Navy

Deployment in the United States Navy, months away from your loved ones can be trying; the hours are long. Days blend into weeks, weeks blend into months. Some days, you need a break from the day to day routine.

Football, specifically Denver Broncos football, has always been one of those breaks from life aboard a United States Aircraft Carrier. I have been deployed five times so far in my career and I remember Jan. 8, 2012.

I was deployed on the USS John C. Stennis attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 41 (VFA-41). We were underway somewhere in the waters of the Middle East. I was scheduled to stand watch on this evening as game time was somewhere around 4-5 in the morning. While some watches onboard would have you walking security patrol around the ship away from a TV with working AFN, I had the luxury of being in a location with a working 60" projector screen and a surround-sound system as I was standing the Assistant Squadron Duty Office (ASDO) watch.

I remember one of my pilots in the command came into work early decked out in Steelers workout attire, off shift and ready for the game. Details of the first four quarters of the game are a little fuzzy, but I do remember Denver losing a 10-point lead and in my younger days, I would be vocal with every point and overly confident only to get the same back as the leads dwindled away.

As I was working nights, typically my last meal of the day would be a traditional breakfast, but there was no way I was leaving, as the game was going into overtime. Armed with likely some beef jerky and some form of energy drink, I made a quip that it was Tebow time, and Ben would never see the ball. The Steelers fan came back with, This isn't the SEC. The Steel Curtain has this game.

One play, 80 yards later ... Tebow to Thomas, and the rest is history. So thank you, Demaryius. Thank you (again), Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, for giving me a great sports moment that I will never forget.

Bryce Parker, a fan living in Australia

For Broncos Country, hearing the words "Denver's going on to New England; they've won it on the first play of overtime!"immediately puts a smile on their face, it capped a triumphant playoff return after a tumultuous period under Josh McDaniels.

For Denver this was a return of the team they were used to, [and] for me, a 16-year old in Australia, it was more than just a measly playoff win. It gave me a distraction in a time where I desperately needed it.

During January of 2012, my grandmother was in the final stages of her life after being diagnosed with a terminal sarcoma. It was a relapse after she had successfully beaten it a year prior.

This time it was not a battle she could win. It had spread to the lungs, and at 76 years of age, there was nothing doctors could do.

Summer in Australia is as stereotypical as it gets — friends, family, beach and sun — but for me that year, it was understandably different because it involved just one thing: hospitals.

Denver wasn't a regular fixture on Australian television, so I wasn't able to watch a lot of "Tebow Mania." Because of this, I relied on the internet for my Broncos coverage, often sitting on the NFL website watching the live scores tick over.

Although my parents didn't really understand my affinity for the NFL, they knew how much it meant to me, so for Christmas they surprised me with my first piece of Broncos merchandise, a white Tim Tebow jersey — a gift I still have nearly 10 years later.

Much to my joy, Tebow had miraculously steered Denver into the playoffs, so the wild-card game was not only the first time I was able to wear the jersey, but it was the first Broncos game I was able to watch on my TV. I couldn't believe it; I was stoked.

I don't remember much from the game itself apart from the Eddie Royal touchdown, Champ Bailey coming close to ending the game with about three minutes remaining and, of course, that overtime touchdown.

But looking back on that day, what stands out to me the most was my parents sitting down trying to learn this sport, which at that stage was very foreign to them.

It's cliché to say sport can be used as a distraction, but for those fleeting minutes after Demaryius Thomas streaked up the tunnel, all the woes and pain were briefly forgotten, replaced with jubilation and happiness.

My grandmother passed away during Super Bowl week, [and before that] I watched the divisional round blowout loss to the Patriots from a palliative care hospital.

Despite being over 8,000 miles from Denver, the Broncos effectively became a part of my family that summer. They provided me with a much-needed escape, albeit for it three hours.

Like many, I cannot explain the magic of 2011 or how the Steelers allowed Ike Taylor to be on the outside without any help underneath but one thing's for sure: The joy the Broncos gave me on that fateful day in January will never be forgotten.

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