Today bites. But that’s always the case after a long weekend. Especially one so chock full of good times and amazing memories.
Our adventure began Friday afternoon. After a morning that dragged so s l o w l y it felt like the minute hand on the clock was moving backwards, my dad showed up at 1 PM to drive us to the airport. We checked in and grabbed a quick bite to eat (and alcoholic beverage to drink) before boarding our plane. Once upon a time I was afraid to fly, but those days are long over; the flight was smooth, the Bloody Marys tasty, and we witnessed a stunning sunset over the snowcapped Rocky Mountains from 30,000′ in the air. We landed about 6:30 Mountain time, and were giddy with excitement. “I can’t believe we’re in Denver, Colorado!!!” I exclaimed excitedly. It felt surreal. I hadn’t been in Colorado since…hmm, 1986? Tara was too busy giving me an impromptu pole dance to bother answering. You should have seen the looks on the other passengers’ faces. Hell, you should have seen the look on mine. I like when my wife is buzzed and her inhibitions go out the door.
After retrieving our luggage, we hopped a shuttle to the rental car pavilion, about ten minutes from the airport. Tara had booked a pickup truck, because once upon a time she was a country hick, and she missed the ride. They had a nice looking black Ford pickup, but noooo, she insisted on a Chevy. After scouring the lot they emerged with a red Silverado, which made her very happy. Hey, this was the girl who just pole danced on public transportation. I was not about to give her a hard time over her insistence on a Chevrolet. The airport is a good half hour east of Denver, so it was about 7:30 by the time we arrived at our hotel, a Hampton Inn two minutes from downtown. It turned out to be a great location central to everything we had planned, and within walking distance of the stadium. Speaking of, the first time we saw the hulking steel frame of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, we screamed in unison, like a couple of little kids who have just spied Santa. It was right there. We checked into our room and then took off, our first stop the aforementioned stadium. Even though it was dark. It didn’t matter; we had to see it up close. I had goosebumps on my arms that had nothing to do with the slight chill in the air.
We headed into LoDo – lower downtown – next. I had come up with an itinerary for the trip earlier in the week, and we ended up staying very true to it; hence, the Blake Street Vault that first evening for drinks. The trendy brick building was originally a boarding house and saloon in the 1860s, and is now a hip restaurant and bar known for their Moscow Mules. Neither of us had ever tried one, but our attitude was, “When in Rome.” Figuratively speaking of course, as we were in Colorado rather than Italy, but we are always eager for new experiences. Our server informed us they were made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime; Tara went with the classic, while I opted for a Prohibition Mule made with whiskey in lieu of vodka. They were served in traditional copper mugs, and were icy cold, refreshing, and quite delicious. We were starving by now, so we ordered burgers and fries and mostly just chilled out, enjoying the loud music and people watching as the crowd grew larger. First impression: Portland has more hipsters than Denver. There were a handful here, but the crowd was more yuppie-ish than anything else. We had a great time and ordered another round of Mules before heading back to the hotel. Almost immediately, I was affected by the altitude; I found myself winded walking the short distance from the restaurant to the truck, and then from the parking lot through the lobby to our room. Whew.
Saturday we had a full day planned, so we were up and at ’em early. Our first stop was the state capitol, where I remembered from my childhood a marker on one of the steps that marks the exact point where you are one mile above sea level. The weather was perfect; nothing but blue skies and sunshine until the morning we left, with temperatures in the 60s. After the capitol, we drove back to LoDo, and wandered around the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. The place is chock full of souvenir shops and restaurants. Then it was on to the Molly Brown House. You know, the wealthy and “unsinkable” gal who was aboard the Titanic when it sank. Her old Victorian has been restored to what it looked like when she lived there from 1890-1910, and is beautiful. We learned a lot about her and Denver society around the turn of the century and, of course, the Titanic. It turned out to be a great tour. Afterwards, we had plans to meet up with a friend of Tara’s at Duffy’s Cherry Cricket, a popular burger joint that was featured on Man v. Food. That’s kind of our thing, checking out places Adam has been. Kelly showed up and we had a great visit, whiling away a couple of hours while enjoying made-to-order burgers. After parting ways we headed back to Sports Authority Field for a shopping spree at the official Broncos Team Store. I’ll admit, walking across the parking lot for the first time, I got a little choked up. I joked about kissing the ground, but restrained myself. Barely. We killed a good hour inside the store and loaded up on souvenirs: I ended up with a couple of t-shirts, a hoodie, and a cap. And could have spent twice as much easily. Next we drove west, to Red Rocks. By now it was pushing 5:00 and the sun was already sinking behind the mountains, so the lighting wasn’t great, but the rock formations (and amphitheater) were very impressive. We continued on Lookout Mountain Road past the city of Golden and the Coors Brewery, before turning around right at sunset to head back into town. An already-full day wasn’t over yet: we had dinner reservations at Elway’s in the Ritz Carlton downtown. Yes, Elway’s as in John Elway, my football hero. This was the big splurge of our trip; we had looked at the menu in advance, and knew that the steaks ranged from $40-$55 ala carte. We got all dressed up and, as expected, the restaurant was gorgeous, dimly lit with a subtle blue-and-orange theme, naturally. Dinner blew us away. My $49 bone-in ribeye was expertly seasoned and cooked to perfection. It was all good: the cocktails, oysters, steaks, crab fried rice, sauteed asparagus, and chocolate Ding Dong. It also turned out to be the most money we’ve ever spent on dinner, but the experience was worthwhile. We were stuffed to the gills after, so we basically crashed when we got back to the room. It had been a long and full day.
The moment I opened my eyes Sunday morning, I sat up excitedly and declared, “Game day!” This was it, the day I had dreamed of for many, many years. After a quick breakfast in the hotel and a trip to Target for essentials (essentials included more Broncos gear, because you can never have too much), it was time to head to the stadium. As I said, it was less than a mile south of our hotel, within easy walking distance. We left about 10:30, joining a crowd of other Broncos fans dressed in orange. We had about an hour and a half to kill before the gates opened, but we kept ourselves busy wandering around the parking lot, checking out all the tailgaters. What an amazing sight and a fun experience! We positioned ourselves by the south entrance, where the players were wandering in for the game. I got close-up looks at a bunch of my faves: Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, and more. Then at 12:30 the gates swung open, and we were INSIDE! Walking through the tunnel and spotting the field for the first time, in person, was a moment I’ll never forget. I got chills. I have been following this team basically my whole life, and seeing everything up close and in person was sensory overload. I just could not believe I was actually here! So many times over the years I had fantasized about attending a game, but never actually thought it would happen. Tara MADE it happen, and I love her so much for that. We walked around the perimeter of the stadium and got as close to the field as possible without actually touching the grass. We grabbed ourselves hot dogs and drinks – Bud Light for her, vodka-spiked lemonade for me – and settled in to our seats. Which, by the way, were amazing. We paid a steep price for them, and they were worth every penny; right around the 20-yard-line, 100 (first) section. The stands filled up with fans dressed in orange, a bunch of skydivers made a stunning entry onto the field, the National Anthem was sung, and suddenly it was GAME TIME!!!
Washington won the coin toss, chose to receive, and went a quick 3-and-out. Then it was our ball, and Peyton Manning did what he does best, drove us downfield for a quick score. 7-0, just like that. It looked like it was going to be a blowout. But the Redskins defense stepped up, and at halftime we were down 14-7. Then it was 21-7, and for just a moment, things were looking bleak. And then a thought popped into my head, strong and reassuring. There is NO WAY your team can lose after you’ve waited your entire life to catch a game. It just can’t happen. It WON’T happen. They’re coming back. And I believed that voice. When Peyton drove the team in the direction of the end zone but was stopped on 4th down, I was not surprised when they went for it. Made the conversion, scored a touchdown, and the crowd went wild. The energy in the stadium picked up, so intense you could feel it in your bones, and we scored again. Tie game. Then we scored again. And again. And again. Every time there was a touchdown, we were high-fiving everybody around us, strangers congratulating other strangers because of the shared bond forged by a beloved team. It was awesome. I loved being surrounded by fellow fans; in Portland, there aren’t a whole lot of Broncos faithful. The final score? Denver Broncos 45, Washington Redskins 21. In many ways, it was the perfect game: a quick score to get us excited, and then a grudge match with both teams duking it out for dominance. We fell behind, and then fought back for a beautiful and deserved come-from-behind victory. The defense was sharp. The running game was decisive. And Manning was Manning. Despite throwing three interceptions, he never gave up, and found a way to rally back for the win. Best football game ever.
A few observations from our first-ever NFL game: the football field looks smaller in person. When the ball is kicked, it flies higher than it looks on TV. And watching a game without hearing a play-by-play from the announcers was jarring at first. A play happens, and you don’t immediately know who moved the ball to which position on the field or who made the tackle. But before long you get into the groove, aided by the Jumbotron, and you realize that football in person is about a thousand times better than football on television. I’ll never look at an NFL game the same way again. I know what it’s like to be there in person, and will always remember my Rocky Mountain high.
We took our time leaving the stadium, wanting to savor every moment of our experience, because – even though we are both sure we’ll be back someday – it won’t be anytime soon. Years, probably. Already I can’t wait. As we exited the gates, a brilliant sunset painted the sky the most vibrant shade of orange I have ever seen. How utterly fitting.
By the time we made it back to our room, we were exhausted, so we ordered in pizza and then lounged in the hot tub for awhile before crawling into bed. I was already feeling the sting of our vacation coming to an end all too quickly. We’d had perfect weather the entire time, but Monday morning dawned cloudy, windy, and cold; it was 34 degrees and felt like snow. We had breakfast and drove to the airport. Departed Denver a little after noon, and landed in Portland at 1:30.
Just like that, our trip was over.
Naturally I’m a little bummed out today. Those first 24 hours that you’re back are the roughest. Hard to believe that yesterday at this time, we were in Colorado. And less than 48 hours ago, were enjoying a Broncos football game. It already feels surreal.
But it was real. And it was the best trip ever. Here’s a little slideshow with some highlights.
- PHOTOS: Denver Broncos vs. Washington Redskins (photos.denverpost.com)
- Mile High Monday: Broncos Back On Track After Big Win (predominantlyorange.com)
- Washington team meets ‘Change the mascot’ protest in Denver (washingtonpost.com)
- “A Moscow what?” – Longmont & Denver, CO – September 25-27, 2013 (adventuresofthetravelingtigerkiger.wordpress.com)
- A Moscow Mule Love Story (abeautifulmess.com)
- Colorado (roadtips.typepad.com)