I work next to a Denver Broncos fan, but I can take it.
Drinking from her Denver coffee cup, wearing her Elway jersey, she’s predicting victory over the Ravens tomorrow afternoon, as are all the odds-makers and everyone else on the planet. But here in Baltimore, we know our team has the key to pop open this presumed mortal lock.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” I told her serenely on Monday, pumped from Ray Lewis’ last game in Baltimore and what looked like a team reborn.
“Keep hope alive!” she quipped. But not even this snarky use of a Jesse Jackson quote could get me down.
Backs to the Wall
As a city, we know all about keeping hope alive. We’ve taken down Goliath before. We beat the British in 1814, the New York Giants in 1958 and 2000, the Dodgers in 1966 and the Big Red Machine in 1970.
Last year, we missed the Superbowl by a fingernail and the Orioles, picked to finish last, emphatically did not.
“You’re facing a junkyard dog with its back against the wall,” I tell her.
I love my purple and black underdogs. But what, I wondered, does my officemate Beth Windsor see in this Denver team? And I really wondered how someone who grew up in Glen Burnie could root for them.
“I Paid Out a Lot of Ones”
Windsor knows her way around the gridiron. The 35-year-old production manager predicted the Broncos would beat the Ravens a few weeks ago and has followed the Orange Crush all her life.
At ten, she had her first Super Bowl party, though it is not exactly a happy memory. The Redskins clobbered Denver 42-14 and she was devastated.
“I had made so many one-dollar bets at school and I tried to tell my mother I was sick on the Monday after the game,” Windsor recalled. “Mom saw through that one. I paid out a lot of ones.”
But how did the Anne Arundel County resident start following the Broncos?
Turns out, her father lives in Denver and she spent two years there in high school. They watched all the games together and John Elway was her favorite player. She liked the way he didn’t let his raft of detractors rattle him.
“Elway would wear a t-shirt for post-game interviews that read, ‘Elway Sucks,’” she recalled with a smile. “There were a lot of people who didn’t like him in Denver for a long time.”
Not until he won a Superbowl. Sound familiar?
Wrath of a City Spurned
John Elway, now in charge of football operations, and his starting quarterback Peyton Manning are far from favorite sons in Baltimore.
Elway turned down the Colts in 1983 and some believe that they would still be here if he had said “yes.” Windsor thinks we shouldn’t take it personally.
“It wasn’t the city of Baltimore,” she said. “It was the Colts franchise that Elway didn’t like.”
Hmm. That’s splitting some fine hairs on a colt’s mane. Trust me, the Mayflower vans still sting for some of us. At six, I carried #19’s helmet and shoulder pads off the practice field.
I guess Windsor has that feeling for Elway. The moment when he proved his critics wrong – the year he won his second Superbowl – is what sold her on him:
“I’ve never seen anyone want something so badly.”
She should look over at the next desk to me!
So, the Ravens are nine-and-a-half-point underdogs and no one is giving us a chance to pull off the upset in the Mile High City—except maybe ourselves. Manning is 9-0 against us. There’s the altitude issue and the Denver defense.
But we have a healthy defense for the first time this year, a quarterback with something to prove and a playoff-tested team that may not have shown us their best.
(Peyton’s performance was far from perfect in their 34-17 regular season victory over us. Baltimore was decimated by injuries and training a new offensive coordinator.)
Finally, we have the relentless eyes of #52 peering over the center, trained on that NFL poster child, Peyton. He leads a team and a city yearning deeply to spoil a perfect season for Elway and Manning.
Imagine, a purple (and black) haze over the Rockies.
If we can keep hope alive, Beth will be bringing a roll of dollar bills for the office on Monday – and peeling one off for me.