I feel you, Panthers fans.
I’m not just saying that because I must live, work, and maneuver amongst you for an undetermined length of time. I’m saying this because I hear the bitter denial (it wasn’t you, it was us!), see the sad gazes, know that feeling of watching your team lose a game and sometimes its innocence on the biggest stage of all.
This understated Broncos polo I wear today? It’s older than some of you and belonged to my dad.
I chose it from his closet just weeks after he died. Not to make this a sob story, but it’s a big deal to me. The last game dad saw was Denver winning its second straight Super Bowl, against Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII. The win was more relief than jubilation, which is crazy to say about a championship.
That’s what the Super Bowl is, though.
Because the loss is devastating.
I know it isn’t life or death. I thought of none of Denver’s Super Bowl losses – then five, to become six – the day I stood in my dad’s closet. I pulled polo shirts from hangers and took his running shoes before I stopped in the middle of the closet and cried.
I don’t know how long she was there, but my sister hugged me from behind right then.
Gamedays bring dad back to us. The Denver Broncos have been that constant force in my life, that way of life or even religion I rebelled from as a kid, but to which I turned with all my heart as a teenager. I was born again.
Leading up to Sunday, electricity crackled in Charlotte. My phone blew up with memes declaring Denver’s inevitable doom and Carolina’s coronation. If you don’t know what it is to dab today in Charlotte, I wish I knew which rock you’ve been resting under.
Do they deliver pizza there?
When I was 6, we bought “Rolling to the Dome” orange T-shirts and gathered at malls to see backup quarterbacks and treat them like rock stars. Denver lost to Dallas, 27-10.
When I was 16, my parents went to a Super Bowl party and I had friends over and also a girl, Tina. We snacked like champs and I even kissed Tina which was a big deal. Denver lost to the New York Giants, 39-20.
When I was 17, we’d just moved from Colorado to North Carolina. Pre-Panthers, this was Redskins country. The new kids in town for less than two weeks, we had to hear all the junk and watched the game alone. Denver lost to Washington, 42-10.
When I was 19, we watched Denver miraculously beat Cleveland again, and immediately dreaded what came next. Another Super Bowl. Against a better team than we’d ever faced. We trailed 35-3 at halftime and ate a solemn dinner.
“I guess the game’s going to be back on soon,” my dad said. We trudged to the living room to endure 30 more minutes of carnage. Denver lost to San Francisco, 55-10.
When I was 42, the favorite team of my youth, the Seattle Seahawks, made it to the Super Bowl to face Denver. I hated it. I dreaded it. The game got out of hand early and I threw my Broncos cap across the room and topped a set of Russian babushka dolls.
Denver lost to Seattle 43-8.
Thing is, I remember the score of each of those games without looking them up.
Belief, so strong
Denver has now won three Super Bowls, but that’s not what today is about.
Today is about knowing what it feels like.
Not just to lose … but maybe more, to believe something will happen in a day so strongly in your heart that you don’t even consider the alternative. How it scoops a chunk right out of your heart like some kind of demented melon scooper.
What’s that next day supposed to feel like?
I had my moment of jubilation. Inside, I’m all fourth of July and New Year’s and the first day the new Star Wars figures come out, rolled into one.
But today, also? I feel you, Panthers fans.
Good luck next year.
I tried. But right before I posted this, I talked some trash.
Excuse machines on lock
ESPN posted its list of top teams for 2016 – with Carolina, Seattle, and New England at the top. Already.
Sports talk radio here bemoans missed receivers and blown calls. I didn’t get my headphones on in time to block out the excuse machines in the desks around me. It was the refs.
It was a lousy Carolina performance, nothing to do with Denver.
It was bullshit. I get it. It sucks to lose. It Super Sucks to lose a Super Bowl. You don’t win championships with dances. You don’t win them before they’re played.
If you’ll excuse me, I’ll put on a little Oscar De’Leon in my knockoff Sony headphones and revel in a little orange celebration of my own.
Sorry, Panthers fans. Maybe next year.