DENVER - The images flit through my mind like a personal highlight reel, a mix of things I saw in person and moments I experienced through the screen of a television.

Floyd Little taking a pass in what would be his last game in Denver and dashing 66 yards to the end zone … and then meeting him a quarter century later and finding the Broncos' first superstar to be just as graceful and gracious in person as he was on the field.

Tom Jackson stepping in front of a Bert Jones pass and taking it 73 yards to seal Denver's 10th win in 1977 in a game that began with the Broncos and the Colts both sporting 9-1 records.

Kicker Fred Steinfort, following a difficult stretch in 1981, booting a winning 30-yard field goal in overtime to nip the Cleveland Browns, then turning and sprinting all the way to the locker room without looking back.

John Elway catching a touchdown pass right in front of me against the Raiders. Champ Bailey coming off his man and breaking up a pass headed for a receiver he wasn't covering. Peyton Manning working at the line of scrimmage like an orchestra director, then lofting a perfect pass to receiver Brandon Stokley in the corner of the end zone.

Breaking out the Trivial Pursuit at halftime of more than one Super Bowl to take our minds off the disaster unfolding on the small screen.

It isn't always easy being a Broncos fan. There were those five Super Bowl losses and there were playoff flameouts – against Pittsburgh in the 1980s, Jacksonville in the 1990s, and Manning's Colts in the 2000s – and there were the dark years without a whiff of the postseason (2006-2010), the longest sustained run of futility since Denver's emergence as an elite franchise in 1977.

But it's always been fun and at times it's been truly special.

And not because of those two Super Bowl wins, amazing as they were. But because my love of this team is wrapped up in moments that also play like highlights in my mind.

Laughing with my dad during a bitterly cold game in the ‘80s as we ate nachos and realized the jalapeno-induced tears were freezing on our cheeks.

Watching my daughter dance around in her little Broncos cheerleader dress, completely unaware of what was actually happening on the TV but thrilled to be part of the ride.

Seeing my mom in an orange sweatshirt, intense.

Remembering the smiles on each of my sons' faces the first time he saw the Broncos play in person.

Locking eyes with my wife during a close game and knowing exactly what she's thinking – and realizing she knows exactly how I'm feeling – each of us trying to ease the tension.

Later this afternoon, the Broncos will take the field against a Carolina Panthers team that looks awfully tough in a game the oddsmakers expect my team to lose.

But whatever happens today, the experience – the plays and the emotions – will find its place in the highlight reel in my head.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4 

Chapter 5 

Chapter 6 

(© 2016 KUSA)