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Sundays with Sacco: The Meaning of Preseason

This shapes up as the busiest week of the preseason for the Denver Broncos, who have open practices Monday through Wednesday, with Wednesday morning's session being a joint practice with the 49ers.

The two teams then hook up in the Broncos' first home game of 2016 on Saturday night.

Denver comes into the San Francisco game fresh off that 22-0 shutout of the Chicago Bears, which happens to have been the ninth shutout by the Broncos in team preseason history. Three of those came with the 49ers as the victims, 20-0 in 1977, 21-0 in 1978 and 34-0 in 2014. The Broncos and 49ers have played each other in 38 previous preseason games dating back to their first meeting at the University of Denver's Hilltop Stadium before 22,254 people in 1968.

In the early years they played in venues such as Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon (1970) and at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Washington (1971) before the preseason gained enough sophistication for teams to actually play before their own fans regularly.

The two teams actually played each other in consecutive games in 1995, first in Mile High Stadium and the second week at the Tokyo Dome in the National Football League's American Bowl series. That game in Tokyo was the first in which Ring of Fame running back Terrell Davis made his mark with the public and the press, making a hard hit on special teams and subsequently at running back. Davis went on to rush for 1,117 yards and catch 49 passes for 367 more that year, with those 1,484 total yards an indicator of what was to comer for the future Hall of Fame candidate.

But it has hardly been all fun and games in this series, as the August 20, 2005 game marks the only one in Broncos history that turned tragic, as San Francisco rookie offensive lineman Thomas Herrion collapsed in the 49ers' locker room immediately after the game.

It turned out that Herrion had a heart condition which I could not even pronounce, and it was the most sobering postgame I ever experienced personally. No injury had been sustained on the field, it was just one of those things that can happen.

Herrion was pronounced dead at St. Anthony's Central Hospital moments after arrival, and it was known that he was in dire straits when Herrion was taken from the locker room. That was the only game of my career which I did not spend in our own locker room postgame.

I assigned the Bronco postgame public relations tasks to my staff and went to the San Francisco locker room to offer assistance to their young PR man, who it turned out welcomed my arrival. I crafted the team's initial statement and went with him to get it approved and released in our press box, by far the most serious moment I ever experienced on an actual game day. It was the kind of moment that reminds you that anything can happen in any game, preseason or not.

I doubt that anyone other than 49ers teammates and personnel there than night even remember that it happened, but it is not a moment that will ever leave my memory bank.

Meanwhile, this week's focus for Broncos fans and media naturally continues to be the development of the Denver team in advance of opening day. In particular, the always exciting quarterback position will draw attention.

Last week at Chicago, 42 players suited up as Broncos for first time and 31 of those were rookies playing in their first pro game. Even though the Broncos rolled to that win, playing well overall in all aspects of the game, head coach Gary Kubiak knows one game is no more than that and the challenge of building a roster continues each week of preseason.

The Broncos have a long history of practicing with a preseason opponent the week before the game, both at home and on the road, and the fabulous new field house now affords on-site locker room facilities for the visitors, making the 49ers' visit easier and aiding Denver's ability to schedule more such visits in future years.

When the week ends these old rivals will face each other for the 39th time in preseason as each moves the rock forward toward those final rosters.

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