You're now tuned in to a lot of things including but not limited to: Sports memorabilia, collectibles, the origin of my DNA, Denver Broncos football and how I got those cards signed, Los Angeles, my first NFL experience, something else, other stuff most likely but most importantly how the Oakland - Los Angeles - Oakland again - Las Vegas Raiders and their fans are toilet decor in 3.. 2..
1989, Darren Carrington's rookie year. He began his NFL career returning kicks for the Broncos, six years later retired a Raider of all things, he plays a significant role in this.
I would've been either seven or eight years old in '89—first live NFL experience. My mothers side of the family are all from Colorado, where Denver is. I'm from California but was born and raised a Broncos fan. The first game I went to it was just me and her, Broncos vs Raiders at the L.A Colosseum.
Eight. I stood between three and four feet tall at that age and weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds soakin wet. I'm decked out head-to-toe in Broncos gear; navy sweat pants that say Broncos in big orange letters down the legs, a Vance Johnson #82 jersey and a Broncos hat. Had either myself or my tiny little 27 year old mother known Raiders fans disrespect and physically assault children I would've worn something else.
I was terrified before she parked the car. Colosseum parking lot in South Central Los Angeles looked like a wild dog fight. I remember not wanting to leave. My mother dismissed it, said I had nothing to worry about, "they're just playing" she said.
Immediately upon exiting the car that wild dog fight surrounded me. They were screaming and yelling, pointing fingers and cursing at me, they called me so many names that day, names I'd never heard before. My mom locked the doors and got us the hell out of there.
It didn't get any better as we approached the entry gates. I wasn't the only Broncos fan anymore but the number of Raider fans was overwhelming. They had painted faces and chains around their necks. A lot of them had spikes on their shoulders. They were growling and barking like dogs, stomping their feet as hard as they could against the pavement, threatening everyone in orange.
src The closer we got to the field the louder they got and they're multiplying exponentially. I remember stopping at a concession stand and grown men pushed me around; first from the back, pointing and cursing at me, then the side, shoved my back again, repeat. My mother started screaming and cursing and pushing the whole crowd back by herself until security surrounded us. Concession stand was a one time thing, we didn't do that again.
We made it to our seats and sat down, it didn't get any better. Tension only intensified. Games on TV were nothing like this.
I don't remember if it was before or after the coin toss, game hadn't started yet, might've been in the middle of player introductions when the first beer hit me in the back. A full beer emptied on my neck. It happened a second time and then a tray of corn dogs hit me. It was full of mustard. Grown men in silver and black make-up are throwing shit at me. My mother tried situating me on her lap for awhile but the seats were too small. It didn't take long before she completely lost it.
src She's pissed! Screaming, pushing back against a mob of drunk ass silver and black painted people all by herself, curse words are flying from every direction. Now grown men and women are throwing stuff at both of us.
Security charged our section. Then cops rushed in and defused the situation before anyone got hurt. All that action in the seats and I don't think the 2nd quarter began yet. I'm a mess, soaked in beer, dressed in ketchup and mustard. Now there's a police officer standing at the end of our row. My mom took me back toward the concession stands before halftime.
She got me a different shirt, I don't remember what it said. I found a men's toilet and turned my sweats inside out so they didn't have bright orange letters on them. We went back to our seats.
It's halftime now, most the area around us cleared out, all but a few people were somewhere else. A gentleman behind me to the right knelt toward me and cautiously whispered:
Are you still a Broncos fan?
'Yes I am.'
Know who Darren Carrington is?
'Yup, #21, rookie. He returns kicks and punts for us.'
You're a Broncos fan alright. Darren's my son, would you like to meet him after the game?
My eyes probably grew bigger than footballs, yankin at my mom like 'Can we??' She smiled, "of course," and thanked the man.
The Broncos won that day. Rick Karlis, the Broncos kicker for more than 10 years kicked a game winning field goal. One of those long range last second kicks where the clock expired with the ball in the air. "The kick is up.. It's good!"
Darren's dad escorted us around the back of the Colosseum where the visiting team exits the locker room to board the buses. He must've explained to Darren how terrible the fans were to me because he was exceptionally kind. "I hear you're a Broncos fan," he said "wanna meet some of my teammates?"
Again I stared at mom with football size eyes. "Go ahead, have fun." He led me onto one of their buses, there must've been five tour buses parked there. I went on the one with Dan Reeves, he was the head coach, got to meet him and shake his hand. Knowing what I know now, I was on the running back/wide receiver bus. I met Sammy Winder, Gerald Wilhite, Mark Jackson, even Vance Johnson, and a few others.
We went back where my mom was. I showed Darren my '87 Elway football card and asked if I could meet John Elway. "No, I'm sorry. I can't get you on that bus" he said. I didn't realize what I was asking. "Let me see your card." I pulled out my Elway along with a Karl Mecklenburg who played defensive tackle and a Dennis Smith—strong safety.
How about this? Give me your cards and your address. I'll get them signed and mail them back to you.
Of course mom agreed. I gave him my cards, she gave him our address, everyone shook hands, thank you thank you thank you. We went home.
I don't remember how much time passed. It wasn't long before a package arrived in the mail from the Denver Broncos training facility in Englewood, Colorado, addressed to me.
What I can not show you is the game ball they sent me with the entire teams signatures on it as well as a hat. One of those old hats with an elastic strap. They were stolen from my storage locker several years ago. They stole all of my mothers things that day too.
Not my cards though! I was already a Broncos fan but that game etched a permanent place in my heart for Denver Broncos football. Mecklenburg signed Phil 4:8 alongside his name.
I watched them play all over the place the next 30 years, even went to a couple training camps. Scouted college recruits like I was on payroll, wished for season tickets, painted my softail blue and orange, etcetera. Off-season was my least favorite time of year.
I haven't watched a fraction of the NFL since 2017 but I still have two favorite teams—Broncos and whoever's playing the Raiders. Only thing better than a Broncos win is a Raiders loss.