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Mile High Morning: Five of the best pranks from Broncos history, featuring Peyton Manning, Randy Gradishar and more


The Lead

It's April Fools' Day, but I have no tricks to play on you, so instead let's take a look back at five of the best pranks I could find from Broncos history:

Gradishar starts a prank war

Late in the 1983 season, a memo on Broncos stationary appeared in each player's locker.

It read:

The Mapelton Market is having a 'Randy Gradishar Day' this Thursday, Dec. 8th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In honor of the team's last home game and Randy's retirement Mapelton is offering a free sandwich and drink. There is a limit of two order per person.

See You There!

The Mapelton Mart

Deli Manager

The players didn't know, though, that Gradishar himself had penned the note and had gotten the store's clerk to go along with the gag. When Thursday came around, The Denver Post's Gene Wojciechowski reported, he was waiting in his car in the parking lot, eager to watch who showed up, including rookie quarterback John Elway.

Upon arrival, the players would make their order and then see a sign: Welcome to Mapleton Market. You have just had the Randy Gradishar Special. No sandwich. No drink. No free lunch. Randy is truly sorry for any inconvenience to your lunch hour this week. He is working hard on next week's special, free lunch. Stay tuned.

From his car, Gradishar wrote down the names of the dozens of players who took the bait and then gleefully honked his horn when they left the shop.

Revenge came quickly. His teammates dumped his clothes out on an artificial turf field, locked him out of the afternoon team meeting and later parked his station wagon in the middle of a practice field. But they weren't done. They had locked all of his keys in his car, except for the ignition key, which was placed in a pot of clam chowder.

The pranks continued a few days later, though. Gradishar brought in a dozen glazed doughnuts one day — glazed with paraffin wax. In return, a couple of teammates convinced the equipment manager to make an alteration to his jersey.

Instead of "Gradishar" on his nameplate, it read "Meatball."

The Pope visits practice

In August of 1993, Pope John Paul II was scheduled to come to Colorado for World Youth Day at Cherry Creek State Park, and if you weren't looking too closely, he showed up early, unannounced, to visit a Broncos training camp practice.

"Before they started practice Wednesday, the Broncos were greeted on the field by a man dressed like the pope," the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph’s Mike Burrows wrote. "Robes and all. Lang was among those, including several fans, who fell for the prank."

In actuality, it was an actor that a local radio station had hired to inject some levity at practice, Burrows reported.

"Don't tell Le-Lo," then head coach Wade Phillips said. "He's trying to get healed."

The 'Ham Scam'

For some time, it was annual tradition for late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to deliver turkeys to players at their lockers every Thanksgiving. So, it's understandable then, that when there was a sign-up sheet for free hams, as well, new players would hardly blink. All they had to do was go to a nearby hotel to pick it up.

Except that's not what was waiting for them at the hotel.

"When the players arrive at the hotel on Thanksgiving Eve looking for their free ham, they're met by Broncos director of operations Bill Harpole, who laughingly gives them a can of Spam," Burrows wrote in 1998.

And if that's not bad enough, it was taped, and the team would later watch their version of "Candid Camera" together.

It always seemed to get at least a handful of rookies, including Brian Griese that year after some encouragement from veterans John Elway and Bubby Brister.

"We told him we needed ours and told him he had to go get it for us," Brister said. "John had him going pretty good. He was the first one over there."

Footing the bill

During Peyton Manning's nearly two decades in the NFL, he built more than just a reputation as one of the best quarterbacks of all time; he also was one of its best practical jokers. And after joining the Broncos in 2012, he continued to have some fun with his teammates, especially the wide receivers.

In 2013, he hosted an offseason workout at Duke University with some Broncos players, including wideout Eric Decker. At the end of the weekend, Decker got a bit of a shock and a heck of a story.

"We went out there just for a workout for a weekend, and at the end of the workout, we all went out to dinner," Decker later recalled in a conversation with the Denver Post. "It was Eli and the Giants, us from the Broncos, the coaching staff from Duke. We're having a good time, all of a sudden these letters are handed out, and assume they're 'Thanks for coming, it was a pleasure having you on campus,' whatever. And it was an invoice of getting your laundry done, getting picked up from the airports, the coaching fees that they charged to you. On everyone else's bill it said, 'Decker's getting pranked, play along.' And on mine it was like $3,500. I still have it. It was my wife's birthday that week and I was gonna take her to Napa. First year with Peyton, I figured I needed to kinda do what he asked. Once I saw that bill, I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me,' and he played it for a good five minutes, and they finally told me it was a joke. And at that time — I still am — pretty frugal, so I was like, 'Ohh, you gotta be kidding,' like I wouldn't even ask the coach to help coach me if it was gonna be this much."

Revenge on Manning

Decker and his fellow Broncos receivers would be able to get their revenge months later, when they faked a Sports Illustrated photoshoot.

"Sports Illustrated's doing this story on Welker," Manning later said. "They wanted a photo. I said I'm not doing it unless you put Decker and [Demaryius] Thomas in there too, a group shot. These three guys come out. I mean, they looked like Chippendales. They looked like Patrick Swayze and Farley in 'Saturday Night Live.'"

Except the three receivers showed up shirtless, and Manning wasn't having it.

"Foxy — they got me bad yesterday," he admitted to then head coach John Fox at practice.

The Unclassifieds

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