The Denver Broncos head to Santa Clara Sunday with a great sense of family.
Every team says that, and I would never disparage the emotions of any other organization, but not many have the tight bond that we all share in Denver.
The reason everyone in Denver feels that way is because it really is so.
The Broncos' Ring of Fame honors those who have most impacted the franchise. Here are photos of all 34 members, arranged in order of their selection from when the Ring of Fame was created in 1984.
John Elway, the Broncos' Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, is the first man to ever go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a 16-year quarterback with just one organization, then come back to be the general manager of that same team and take it to the Super Bowl.
And beyond that, Head Coach Gary Kubiak is the only head coach in Super Bowl history to go to the game as both player and head coach of the same team.
We could even take that to another level of factoid craziness by saying he is the only head coach to go to the Super Bowl with the same team as quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach.
When John and Gary (I know that journalistic style demands that I refer to them by their last names, but really, I have known and worked with both for 34 years, and my "family sense" make them John and Gary to me) put together their coaching staff, it was all about coaching ability but felt so much like family first.
Check out photos of new Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak.
When Gary was hired, he was not the only Kubiak on the payroll, as his son Klein was already a player personnel assistant with the Broncos. There are not many times when a new head coach gets hired somewhere and literally can be given the grand tour of his new facility by his own son!
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has spent more years with the Broncos, as player and coach, than any one else in franchise history. And to top it off, he went to Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins and then to Colorado State University.
That is a local angle that is going to be very difficult for anyone else to match as the years go by.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who recently was named Co-Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association, is one of the most popular coaches in team history.
Just after Christmas, I was in the offices and a couple of coaches said Wade was looking for me. I found him and inquired as to whether he needed to see me. He said yes and to come to his office, where he proceeded to give me a Christmas gift of a homemade coffee that his wife Laurie makes during the holiday season.
Check out photos from Wade Phillips' coaching career, including a stint as the Broncos' defensive coordinator from 1989-1992 and head coach from 1993-1994. All photos from Associated Press.
When they came back to Denver a year ago, I kidded to Laurie that I sure did miss her coffee, and it was a gift that did not come from a coach and his wife as much as from deep friendships.
Our third coordinator, Joe DeCamillis, is a Denver native who started here as a young assistant under Dan Reeves. When he was hired by John and Gary he returned home not just to Denver but also to his parents' Arvada home. He stayed with his folks until he and his wife, Dana, bought their new home here.
Really, how often does a veteran NFL coach get a new job and move in with his parents?
Nothing says family any tighter than that, but Dennison can actually match it. He still had a home in Denver and was able to move into his own residence!
Of course, Tight Ends Coach Brian Pariani had the same role on the back-to-back World Championship teams in 1997 and 1998.
Defensive Assistant Chris Beake is the son of former general manager John Beake and a young man whom I have known since he was a middle school student in Fort Collins.
Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Marc Lubick is the son of Sonny Lubick, a state legend for the great job he did coaching for the CSU Rams before his retirement, and Marc might not even be aware that his family connection with the Broncos goes back two decades to when his sister, Michelle, was on my staff as a public relations intern.
And sometimes family is best measured by the guys who never left, like Steve "Greek" Antonopulos, the only person heading to Santa Clara who has made that trip for all eight Denver Super Bowls.
This goes all the way to the top, as I remember the day--the actual day--when team President and CEO Joe Ellis was hired--not in his current role but in 1983 in his first stint with the team.
And at the very top, Denver Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen not only has had his team go to more Super Bowls than any other owner in NFL history, but he has forged a tight bond with the city, state and Broncos Country that only comes from the outpouring of true emotion on all sides.
I have written this with an eye toward just the facts.
For now, it is enough to say that the family sense which we all share is real, and forged over decades of mostly highs, a few lows, and plenty of passion all the way around.
Now, on to the Super Bowl, once more with feeling.