Broncos try to bring back Rocky Mountain Thunder at Invesco
ENVER – The last time the Denver Broncos hosted a playoff game, the stadium shook. Literally.Time, progress and the inevitable financial realities of the NFL forced the Broncos to bulldoze their creaky, lovable old home, Mile High Stadium, along with the significant home-field advantage that went with it. In its place is the new Invesco Field, which until this season has not given the Broncos the same kind of edge they enjoyed when Mile High was standing.”It’s taken longer than I thought it would,” said owner Pat Bowlen, roundly lambasted when he made the decision to turn Mile High into a parking lot. “I guess I was daydreaming when I thought we’d just move from Mile High to Invesco and it would all be the same.”Bowlen concedes it hasn’t been, although with the Broncos going 8-0 at Invesco for the first time this season and getting ready to host their first playoff game at the new stadium, Saturday night against New England, there’s reason to believe things are changing.”It’s like moving into a new neighborhood,” Bowlen said. “It takes you a while to get comfortable. But I think fans are getting used to it.”Comfort. It’s the reason owners are willing to pay millions of dollars out of their own pockets and hold cities hostage for new stadiums.
Invesco, built for $400 million with the help of Denver taxpayers, has 132 comfortable luxury suites, which greatly increase the amount of revenue Bowlen can bring in. Meanwhile, seats in the general sections are wider, bathrooms and concession stands are more abundant and the whole experience of going to a game is more – well – comfortable.Of course, cushy surroundings don’t always translate into loud, raucous crowds – a reality that a miffed John Elway pointed out last season, while the Broncos were on their way to their fourth straight season of two or more losses at their new home.”That place ain’t loud anymore,” Elway told the Denver Post. “It might be too comfortable.”At Mile High, comfortable was never an issue.Cold, steel bleachers with flimsy, plastic backrests were the rule.Opposing teams hated going toward the “South Stands,” a stand-alone section above the locker room from which snowballs, beer cups and insults were routinely hurled at visitors.The other end was no bargain, either. That was the enclosed end of the stadium, which is where the noise really collected and became unbearable.
Meanwhile, the entire east side of the stadium was set on runways covered by 0.003 inches of water, part of a hydraulic system that allowed the stands to be moved back and forth to configure the stadium for baseball in the summer and football in the fall.The setup produced what was called Rocky Mountain Thunder, the result of thousands of fans stomping on the steel bleachers, causing them to actually shake and sway. It was in part because of Broncos fans that the NFL put in a rule allowing road teams to essentially ignore the play clock when crowd noise made it impossible for their offenses to hear at the line.”I always wondered if it was going to fall down,” Bowlen said of the old stadium. “I could feel it in my box. It felt like the stadium was moving about six inches either way. You could just feel it swaying.”It’s hard to reproduce what was essentially a design flaw, but in an attempt to assuage fans who were angry and upset about razing Mile High, the Broncos tried. They built the stands on metal risers to reproduce some of the noise. But because they were set in concrete, not on the hydraulics, there was no way the stadium could shake the same way.”The reverb noise is nowhere near as loud as it was at Mile High, but the fans are catching on,” Bowlen said.Defensive lineman Gerard Warren agrees. He’s in his first year with the Broncos, so he has nothing to compare it to. But when asked if the so-called wine-and-cheese crowds at Invesco have sounded too quiet to him this season, he laughs.”It hurts us, man,” he said. “I mean, it helps us, because the offense can’t make as many checks on the line. But on the reverse side of it, sometimes I can’t hear my linebackers when they’re making their checks. That’s how loud it is. But we want it to be as loud as possible.”
As does Bowlen.The flap he created with the stadium caused about the same emotional outpouring as his decision to dump Denver’s traditional orange uniforms after the 1996 season for their more modern, blue threads with orange stripes down the side.The next season, the Broncos won the Super Bowl.”Nobody complained anymore,” Bowlen said. “Now, everyone’s knocking those uniforms off.”And if Invesco Field is noisy and the Broncos win their first playoff game there on Saturday, Bowlen figures people won’t miss Mile High quite so much.”This is obviously a big game for us, as far as going on in the playoffs,” he said. “But it’s also the first playoff game at Invesco Field. It’s kind of historic. We want to win that one.”
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