There may be only one man who can end this Denver Broncos’ losing streak.
He's capable of living for weeks on a billboard 40 feet above ground with little more than a sleeping bag and a safety harness.
He is willing to contract bronchitis and pneumonia – Bronco-itis! – for the greater good. He will surrender sleep while his sports hostage situation draws motorists honking their horns and yelling up at all hours of the night.
He will risk his health, his sanity and his lifestyle, all to help the Broncos end their losing streak and win a game.
So, how about it, G-Man. Want to pull off another publicity stunt for your new radio station, for Broncos fans, for the city of Denver and state of Colorado, and climb back up to unlivable heights until the home NFL team ends its long, often embarrassing losing streak?
“Should I dust myself off and get back up there?’’ Rich “G-Man” Goins said this week. “Well, you know I’m getting up there. This would be one where I go out in a blaze of glory and it takes me out. I could die up there this time because I’m in my mid-50s. I’m not as young as I used to be. But I’d consider it.’’
If it didn’t almost kill him the first time, it made him seriously ill. It was 27 years ago Tuesday -- November 14, 1990. Goins had recently been hired as the part-time sports director for a fledgling morning talk show called Lewis & Floorwax on 103.5 FM The Fox.
The Broncos were coming off a 1989 season in which they were blown out in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, but it became evident halfway through 1990 they wouldn’t get a chance to lose the Big Game again.
The Broncos had just lost at San Diego, their second loss in a row, to fall to 3-6.
“We had a bet with the Chargers station, Lewis & Floorwax called some D.J. in San Diego and said, ‘We’ll make a bet,’" Goins recalled. “'If you guys win, our guy goes and lives on a billboard. If the Broncos win this guy had to shave his head,' because this guy had a big head of hair."
“So they lose to the Chargers and we had just started a billboard campaign. My program director said, 'Why don’t you go live on our billboard?’ I said, 'I don’t know if I want to do that,' but he got all the OKs and they craned me up there.’’
Before they played the Chicago Bears at Mile High Stadium on Nov. 18, the G-Man was up on a Fox billboard near the corner of West Colfax Avenue and Julian Street.
“We seriously thought it would only last a week,’’ said Lewis, who now hosts the Rick Lewis Show on the Fox after Michael Floorwax retired for health reasons to end their 23 ½-year on-air partnership. “Because they had been to the Super Bowl the year before so we thought they were a good team and they would win the next week.’’
Instead, it became a publicity stunt of historical and national proportions as the Broncos didn’t win the next week. They lost in overtime to the Bears.
Uh oh. Goins called home to Walled Lake, Michigan and told mom he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving because he had to stay up on a billboard.
That’s fine, son. Mom hung up without really paying attention to what Rich had said.
The Broncos then lost to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, to the Los Angeles Raiders, 23-20, and to the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 3-10 before they finally beat the Chargers at home.
Goins was up on the billboard for 33 days, his stunt gaining more and more attention with each day.
“For some reason, Costas (who was hosting NFL on NBC) took a liking to me,’’ Goins said. “That was when O.J. Simpson and Will McDonough were on the show. And then it just blew up. It was a decent local story before that.’’
As the cameras rolled, Bob Costas interviewed G-Man on Thanksgiving Day, following the Broncos’ loss to Detroit. Goins’ dad was in mid-bite when he heard his son on TV. Witnesses later relayed the look on his face would have brought down a full house.
Oh, mom said, so that’s what Rich was talking about.
“I got a call from some producer and he said, “Hey, I’m sending out a TV camera because Bob Costas wants to interview you,’’ Goins said. “And I thought it was one of my buddies B.S.-ing me. I said, ‘Yeah, right’ and I hung up on the guy. He called back and said, ‘No, no, no, don’t hang up, Costas is really going to send a camera out there.’
“And that’s when he interviewed me and called me a sniveling wimp, because I said, ‘It’s cold up here. I’m hungry I want to go home.’ And he called me a sniveling wimp. And then it just blew up.’’
Every morning, food, coffee and the day’s newspaper were placed in a bucket and G-Man hoisted it up. The stunt wasn’t all for laughs. The Fox had T-shirts made up of Goins’ likeness with the words, “I moved in till the Broncos win.’’
Goins used his bucket and sudden fame to sell the T-shirts for $10 with all proceeds going to the Colorado Coalition of the Homeless. T-shirt sales wound up raising $10,000 for the homeless.
They almost had to call off the escapade within two weeks of Goins’ billboard stay as he became ill in his lung and chest area.
“They sent Dr. Dave out there and he did a physical on me and he said, ‘This guy is going to die. He’s got to go home,’" Goins said. “My boss was like, ‘he’s not going anywhere.’"
Instead, the radio station built him a doghouse-like structure. OK, so that’s an exaggeration.
“Seriously, it was like the size of a coffin,’’ Goins said. “I thought I was going to die in there. It was about 3 feet wide – it was as wide as the billboard plank – and it was about 2 ½, 3 feet tall and it was about 6 feet long. It had a heater in there and I should have been able to sleep at night, but there were so many people coming out to honk their horns. They wanted me to come out and take their picture.’’
As the Broncos’ losing streak grew longer, and the publicity of Goins’ situation aggrandized, local restaurants started delivering food. Some of the best cuisine in Denver, too.
And as the November overnight chill turned into a December freeze, Brambilla Clothes & Apparel sent him 10 winter coats.
“And even Pat Bowlen felt sorry for me so he sent over a big box of winter clothes,’’ Goins said of the Broncos’ owner. “It was really cool. They were big Bronco jackets that they wear on the sidelines when it’s cold. And some hats and gloves.’’
Whenever he wasn’t in his sleeping box, the G-Man had to wear a safety harness hooked up to a wire that ran the length of the billboard to comply with OSHA regulations.
There was an RV parked below the billboard where Goins could spend 15 minutes a day – and only 15 minutes according to the station-imposed agreement – to use the bathroom and take a sponge bath.
Finally, on December 16th, Day 33 of his billboard adventure, the Broncos defeated the Chargers, 20-10, at Mile High.
By then, Goins’ billboard sit-in had generated enormous game-day parties. There were big-screen TVs set up in the parking lot below. The event was catered.
After the Broncos had won, G-Man waited two hours after the game to take the crane ride down so it could be announced live on the Costas’ Coast to Coast radio show. It was Costas’ interest that made G-Man a national household name.
“It took me, I’m not kidding ya, four or five months to recover, till I got rid of that chest cold,’’ Goins said. “It was the first two weeks that killed me. I was sleeping outside when it was – it was nice during the day but then it was below zero at night and I was completely exposed. I’m not a big camper or anything like that. I thought I could throw a hat on and a sleeping bag and I’d be fine. It almost killed me.’’
Through sacrifice came reward. A part-time employee when his stunt began, the Fox quickly gave him a contract as its full-time sports director, a position he held for 19 years. He is currently playing music for 99.5 FM The Mountain from 8 p.m. till midnight, Monday through Friday. He also does Broncos pregame and postgame reports.
Lewis & Floorwax became the No. 1 morning show in the Denver market for 20 consecutive years.
“The station was losing money and they were not in the top 10 when we started our show,’’ Lewis said. “And then the first ratings book, which came out at the end of ’90, we were No. 1. So certainly G-Man was a factor.’’
Lewis & Floorwax became one of the funniest, most successful morning shows ever in radio, not just in Denver. But it was the G-Man billboard stunt that helped bring new listeners to them.
Lewis now has a second, evening drive time show, Lewis & Logan on KOA NewsRadio. Dave Logan is the Broncos’ radio play-by-play voice and Lewis is in his first year as the color commentator.
“They estimated the billboard stunt was worth like $1 million in free publicity through television and newspapers,’’ Goins said. “Obviously, Lewis and Floorwax were good. But it definitely propelled those guys and gave them a boost and they became No. 1 in the market and had a nice long run.’’
The billboard is no longer there. It was removed a few years ago to make room for the Girls Inc. building. The mission of the place is to help empower girls and seek an equitable society.
But the Cheltenham Elementary School is still across the street and a new generation of students still come out for recess.
“The kids were great,’’ Goins said. “That whole school wrote letters to me. You know, ‘Hang in there, G-Man.’ I still have a whole box of little notes from all those second and third graders whose teachers had write me inspiring letters to keep me pumped up.’’
Goins did one more live-in stunt only this time with a twist. The 1997 Broncos started 11-2 but then suffered losses at Pittsburgh and at San Francisco, which featured Bill Romanowski spitting in the face of 49ers receiver J.J. Stokes.
At that point, the Broncos appeared to be a long way from the Super Bowl, and again it was G-Man who urged the team to greater heights by agreeing to live at a rarefied height.
This time Goins was craned up in a Tuff Shed and placed atop the roof of the Viscount Hotel (now Turntable Studios) that sat near the old Mile High Stadium.
The Tuff Shed was equipped with heat and a couch to sleep on so Goins’ living conditions were palatial compared to the billboard. Still, the commitment was strong as he vowed not to come down until the Broncos won the Super Bowl.
He was up there 44 days as he didn’t take the crane ride down until Denver’s first Super Bowl parade brought the Lombardi Trophy to Mile High Stadium. Again, the stunt drew plenty of publicity although it didn’t carry quite the same buzz.
“Yeah it was like, Jaws 2,’’ Goins said. “Not quite as big as Jaws 1. But we still got a lot of publicity. Obviously, the first one kind of made my career. I thought to myself if I could do this every seven years I could keep a job in radio.’’
And now, here we are again. The Broncos aren’t just losing, they are losing big – by an average of 19 points in their past five games.
“I actually think this team has a lot of talent,’’ Goins said. “I just think that they’re completely underperforming for whatever reason. I don’t know if it’s the players have tuned out, or it’s the coaching or what. But there’s just a lot of mental mistakes and that’s not the Broncos I know.
“It kind of (ticks) me off, actually, because I’m a Bronco fan at heart.’’
Besides his gig with The Mountain, Goins is also the membership director at the Bear Creek Golf Club in Morrison. He is happy. And yet, the Broncos are mired in the type of deep funk that only the G-Man can address.
“If they lose to Cincinnati, they would be completely depressing for Bronco fans,’’ Goins said. “And people will definitely be calling for me to do something. But I kind of like my life right now. You’ve got to pretty much give up everything for a couple of months. I guess I’d consider it if the price is right.’’
He laughed at that. G-Man has a great laugh and self-deprecating humor which is why he fit so well as a Lewis & Floorwax sidekick.
When the 33-day billboard stay had ended, Lewis and Floorwax and their boss, Jack Evans, took Goins to Strings, a formerly popular, eclectic restaurant on 17th Avenue.
By coincidence, Broncos head coach Dan Reeves was there with his wife Pam. The Reeves’ were leaving as the Fox gang was coming in.
“And you know how Dan is, 'Hey, that was a good stunt there, G-Man. Glad we got you down.’ I said, ‘Hey, thanks, coach.’ And he said, 'Hey, why don’t you have a bottle of wine on me.’ I thought that was really nice.’’
Reeves was furious come Monday morning when he got the bill. Evans took advantage of the coach’s kindness by ordering a $250 bottle of wine. This was back when NFL head coaches were lucky to make a $500,000 salary, not the $5 million annually most are drawing today.
“And so Dan walked into Charlie Waters’ office,’’ Goins said, referring to the Broncos’ defensive backs coach and regular Lewis & Floorwax listener. “He said Dan came in and just blasted him. ‘You hang out with those guys? You know those guys?’ Charlie said. ‘Well, you know, I listen to them.'"
“’Well, I offered G-Man a bottle of wine and he ordered a $250 bottle!" Reeves said.
“And so after he got fired, he became the head coach of the Giants and he came on our show and Lewis & Floorwax were talking to him and he said, 'Now you tell that G-Man, he owes me $250 for that bottle of wine he bought when he came off the billboard.'"