DENVER -- The thing I regret most is having been resourceful enough to get to Denver in the first place.
After covering a Steelers-Browns football game in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon, and bound for an NFL game here on Sunday, I figured it would be more sensible to press on that night than to check into a Pittsburgh hotel.
So, I flew to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for a connecting flight scheduled to arrive in Denver at 11:25. Taxi to the hotel, little expense-account room service, no problem. Sunday's game wouldn't begin until 2 p.m.
One problem. The connecting flight was delayed two hours. Another problem. By 1:30 a.m., most of the baggage handlers had left Stapleton International Airport and gone home for the night, so we waited an hour for luggage. Another problem. It had been snowing madly for more than six hours, and all the taxi drivers in the city were stuck or smart enough not to go to the airport.
Five taxis showed up at 3:15 a.m. and fought over 10 people who were going sking in Colorado Springs and were willing to pay $75 a head to ride 75 miles. To go downtown, about eight miles, you had to match what the skiers were offering.
Finally, at 4 a.m., I bribed a bellman at my downtown hotel to pick me up in the limo. We arrived at about 4:40. Another problem. The heat wasn't working in the first room I checked into.
I checked into a new room about 5 a.m. and woke up 5 1/2 hours later to find that there were no taxis available to take anybody -- writers, VIPs, players' families -- to Mile High Stadium, three miles away. A limo, scheduled to take some San Diego VIPs, was freed up when the Californians decided they wanted no part of the snow -- 14 inches by noon.
The limo driver wasn't going to take me to Mile High out of the kindness of his heart, however. So, I gave him $50 plus a tip for the 12-minute drive. (No receipt, for those of you checking my expense accounts.)
After the game -- 10,000 or so of the 76,000 who purchased tickets found some pressing reason to attend a game played in minus-10 degree, blizzard conditions -- I promised a cabbie a $15 tip over the meter fare if he'd take me back to the Westin.
He wanted $25, we settled on $20. (Again, Accounting, no receipt.)
Back at the hotel, the cable television had been wiped out by the storm (for sportswriters, ESPN on Sunday night is a nonnegotiable must), and the heat was fading fast. So, I caught the same cabbie, who got lost only once and stuck only twice in taking me 30 miles to the nearest hotel with cable, the Embassy Suites -- the second time he got stuck was about 100 yards from the hotel.
I carried my bags -- still no boots -- through 20 inches of snow to the door.
The cable was working, the heat was on. One problem. No room service. The kitchen staff couldn't get through the snow. I carried a tray of prime rib up to my room.
About 5 a.m., four hours into my first full night of sleep since Dec. 23, the front desk called and said, "We have to evacuate the hotel because the fire alarm-sprinkler system has gone off by mistake, flooding the entire first floor." This, by the way, in a hotel that has been open for only 15 months.
After standing in ankle-deep water -- still no boots -- until 6:30 a.m., the hotel staff rounded up enough four-wheel-drive vehicles to take all 50 or so guests wherever they wanted to go. Five guests didn't want to leave without their free breakfasts. I was one of them.
A staff member said he'd take me wherever I wanted to go, so I said, "Let's hit the airport," even though it was 7 a.m. and my flight wasn't until noon. Little problem, though. Hundreds of people had slept overnight at Stapleton because the airport had closed on Sunday. As a result, it took two hours to get a ticket.
One elderly lady kept trying to hop into the middle of the line. Most people just stepped ahead of her, but a guy wearing a New York Giants football jersey said he'd crush her ribs if she tried it again. People kept wishing each other Happy Holidays, and no ticket agents were threatened, which meant I had to be west of the Mississippi. The guy in the Giants jersey kept saying that the people in LaGuardia wouldn't put up with this.
Another problem. No food. Several of the coffee shops had run out of food. Should have held out for that Embassy Suites breakfast after all. There were people headed for the Red Carpet Club, United's plush VIP if-you-have-three-hours-to-kill-at-the-airport club, prepared to pay the $175 new membership fee just to get coffee, danish, a USA Today and access to a telephone.
I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix. A woman in front of me said she overheard a ticket agent say the flight was overbooked by 40 people.
My stomach was growling, I was now in a line to get a hot dog (the danish were sold out) and it was still only 9:45 a.m. Mountain Time. The hot dogs ran out when the guy in front of me, the one wearing the Giants jersey, bought the last two.