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Sundays with Sacco: The Greatest Fans

With the 2016 Denver Broncos training camp underway and thousands of orange-clad fans coming to watch the team get ready for the season, I never cease to be amazed at the fervor of our fans.

Naturally, we will be sold out for all home games once again. This is something that the fans and local media take for granted, but they do so perhaps without being fully aware of if significance.

Every Broncos home game from 1970 to the present has been sold out, both at Mile High Stadium and at the team's beautiful new facility.  Even the replacement games of 1987 were completely sold out before the strike. The Broncos thus have sold out 349 consecutive regular season games, and including playoff games the total is at 30. But those are mere numbers, and we are all jaded by numbers.

So consider it this way: The Broncos' current sellout streak began with the exact first game of the 1970 season, which coincides with the beginning of the franchise's membership in the National Football League. Thus, the Broncos have sold out every game they have ever played as members of the NFL, spanning 46 seasons coming into this campaign.

While the streak began in 1970, its genesis came in 1967. After Denver voters turned down a stadium bond issue to build an all-purpose metropolitan stadium in 1967, a non-profit group called the DOERS--of which I was an active member, as a college freshman--began a fund-raising drive with the goal of purchasing the stadium for the city. In February 1968, the group bought Bears Stadium from Rocky Mountain Empire Sports for $1.8 million and presented it to the city of Denver.

A 16,000-seat upper deck was immediately constructed over the west stands, raising the capacity to more than 50,000 for the 1968 season.  One of the terms of the merger between the NFL and American Football League was that all AFL teams had to have a stadium which seated 50,000 in order to be admitted into the NFL. In December of 1968 the stadium was renamed Denver Mile High Stadium, and the famed sellout streak began in 1970.

The passion of Bronco fans reminds me more of the fan bases in major university towns than in most NFL cities. While I give full credit to all fans everywhere, my opinion is the closest comparison to Denver in terms of fan passion exits in Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Expansion of Mile High Stadium was completed for the 1977 season to give Denver the seventh-largest home facility in the NFL, and of course the Broncos continued to fill it. Denver voters had passed a $25 million bond issue in 1974 to expand and improve the stadium from its capacity of 51,706 to 75,000. The stadium actually held 63,532 for the 1976 season, which was halfway through the project. Of course, the team and its passionate fan base moved next door to the new stadium in 2001, and the sellouts have continued without interruption.

Our fans love the Broncos, and love can never be assumed or taken for granted. What the team can give back is making every effort to be a championship contender at all times. Under Pat Bowlen, without question one of the greatest owners in professional sport, the team has done just that, and then some.

Practices are under way, the fans are as fervent as ever, and head coach Gary Kubiak has told the team and press that the Broncos are not defending their title, but are chasing a new one.

That is the only goal Pat Bowlen's Broncos have ever had, and it perfectly matches the championship passion of its fans.

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