Santa Clara, Calif. - In many ways football players, even those good enough to play in Super Bowl 50, are no different than children attending a private grade school.
They pour out of buses wearing their Sunday best. They smile and joke but in the end they do what they’re told. They walk up the steps and enter through the door.
The suits worn by Denver Broncos for their trip to the Bay Area are more expensive, of course. And more colorful.
And instead of walking through a brick, school building, these Broncos were climbing aboard a United Boeing 767-400 Model. Instead of instant mashed potatoes with packaged gravy, these Broncos had the option of wild mushroom sauce with their pan-seared New York steak, Anna potatoes (Anna?) and haricot verts and carrots.
(Soon after boarding, there was loud laughter from the back, where the players sit. No doubt caused by the suggestions offered to the question: What’s a vert?)
Peyton Manning was among the most conservatively dressed in the group as he wore a Bronco blue suit and orange tie.
This is an NFL quarterback who always understood he is the face, and suit, of the franchise.
Vance Walker, Omar Bolden, Kayvon Webster, Aqib Talib, Andre “Bubba” Caldwell and Owen Daniels would get most votes for most fashionable look, depending on one’s taste.
Walker, a backup defensive lineman, wore a dark suit with matching top hat and lavender shirt with dark tie. Webster wore a hot pink jacket with blue bow tie. Talib sported a rose-wine colored ensemble.
Bolden dressed in dark green that only he could get away with. Caldwell was in various shades of blue. Daniels, a tight end who is modest by nature, surprisingly wore a garish-bent, all lavender suit.
More than a couple dozen players took turns posing for group photo shots with Manning. Privately, Broncos players believe Super Bowl 50 is Manning’s “last rodeo’’ as he said was possibly the case to New England coach Bill Belichick following Denver’s heart-stopping, 20-18 win in the AFC Championship Game.
Manning is trying to be careful with his future plans. If he has decided to retire after the Broncos’ Super Bowl meeting here next Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, players asked say he has not informed them. Most of Manning’s teammates are certain of it, anyway.
Before the team-filled buses arrived, Captain Robert Zettel was in the cockpit going over flight instructions with his First Officer, Troy Myers. Myers is a devoted Broncos fan from Arkansas. When his flight became open, he jumped at it.
Zettel is a Racine, Wis. native who was wearing a Broncos tie and ball cap.
“We’re not going to do anything different as far as what we normally do but when you’re flying the AFC champions to the Super Bowl, it’s definitely an honor,’’ Zettel said. “We have a fantastic flight attendant crew in the back. They’re the ones that do the heavy lifting today. We’re flying an airplane just like we do day-in and day-out. They do a great job.’’
Stephanie DeSantis is the flight attendant crew chief. While the others on her crew wore some version of the United navy blue flight attendant uniform colors, DeSantis dressed in a Bronco blue blazer, orange blouse, white skirt and gold heeled shoes.
The Broncos’ hand-selected her crew three years ago.
“So you really get to know them, the coaches, the staff, media, the players,’’ DeSantis said. “Every trip you feel the importance that it is to them. But there’s no denying the Super Bowl, Super Bowl 50 at that, is special to them.’’
There are cameras and photographers outside the plane at Signature Airport near the main Denver International Airport. By request, DeSantis stepped outside to pose with the new “Barrel Man,’’ Todd McKernan, who is the son of the late original, Tim McKernan.
The heir to the barrel was wearing an orange cowboy hat, orange boots and orange suspenders that thankfully held up an orange barrel that had painted on the back in white, “Miss Ya Dad.’’ For a son to do that, the original Barrel Man must have been quite a guy.
Her photo op completed, DeSantis returned to her routine.
“You do feel like you have to be more on top of your game,” she said. “There’s a nervous, exciting feeling that you have. Most importantly you want to make sure everyone feels relaxed and comfortable.’’
The traveling media and sponsors sit in the middle cabin. The first class is for “essential’’ personnel like John Elway and his football operations staff, and head coach Gary Kubiak and his staff.
The players board in the back. If the non-essential travelers aren’t sitting by the windows on the left, they never see them.
A few minutes into the 2 hour, 13-minute flight, the food arrives. (Anna potatoes thinly-sliced, roasted with parmesan-garlic seasoning. Verts are thin green beans).
After eating a chicken parmesan sandwich that was served as a pre-flight snack and tasted so good, I wasn’t all that hungry. But what was I supposed to do, waste a New York steak? And if my mom were sitting next to me instead of John Kuhrt, the 9NEWS’ photographer/director/producer/softball manager, she would have said, “eat your verts.’’
Next came an assortment of cheese and crackers (pass), bananas and purple grapes (pass), hummus (pass), cold veggies (pass), candy bars (two aren’t going to kill me), peanut butter and jelly sandwich (one for the hotel) and assorted chips (tough to pass on Fritos but I’m on a diet).
Upon landing, former Broncos running back great Terrell Davis was waiting at the bottom of the players’ stairs, where he would welcome each player with a Super Bowl cap.
T.D. is suddenly the Broncos’ Mr. Presenter. He was on the AFC Championship stage last Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High presenting the Broncos with their Lamar Hunt Trophy.
The best part about the Broncos’ travel is the police escort the five or six buses get from the airport to the team hotel, and again from the hotel to the stadium on game day, and again from the stadium to the airport following the game.
This Super Bowl-arrival escort was anticlimactic, however, as the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel was not 10 minutes along side streets from the San Jose Airport. The Broncos’ hotel has a huge picture on the outside showing Manning in handoff or play-action motion flanked by action visuals of Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas.
Upon the team’s arrival there were a good 150 to 200 fans standing near the hotel grounds, wearing orange jersey of various number, cheering, waving signs.
Soon after the players got off the bus, the fans started chanting: “De-fense! De-fense! De-fense!’’
Intelligent fans, these Bronco supporters in Northern California.
(© 2016 KUSA)