SAN DIEGO, JAN. 29 -- Straight from the Happy to Be Here Department comes Denver Broncos center Mike Freeman.

After being on the field for two scrimmage plays during a three-year career as a reserve lineman, he didn't make the final cut before this season, and the Bronos waived him at the end of training camp. "The absolute furthest thing from my mind was starting in the Super Bowl," he said this week.

"I was looking for a job. The strike-replacement issue came up, and I said there was no way I would play during the strike. But things got tight {financially} and I had to rethink my position. I majored in accounting in college, but I'd never actually worked as an accountant and I didn't even have contacts in the business.

"All my relatives thought I should go ahead and play. My uncle Bob, who played in the NFL as a defensive back, said I should at least write down the pros and cons on a sheet of paper and then make up my mind.

"I did that, and the cons were basically things like, 'Negative feedback and peer pressure.' The pros were things that had to do with the welfare of my family."

He said he hasn't felt any tension from the union players in many weeks. "I never anticipated problems. But right at the point where I got to the locker room on the first day after the strike was over, I did feel the tension. I'd try to poke fun at myself and ease the situation. I get along with everybody, or at least I'd like to think so." . . .

Changing Colors

Tony Lilly, Denver's veteran safety, grew up in Alexandria in a Redskins-crazed family. In fact, the first NFL uniform he ever wore was the burgundy and gold of the Redskins. He was 9 years old and in the league's punt-pass-kick competition, representing the D.C. area. He grew up a Cowboys fan, though; his given name is Robert Lilly, just like his Cowboys hero . . .

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen pulled up in front of the team's hotel headquarters in La Jolla, Calif., and parked his red Jaguar convertible.

"You can't park there," a bellman said.

"I'm the owner of the Denver Broncos," Bowlen said.

"Okay," the bellman said. "Got any tickets?" . . .

Denver Coach Dan Reeves was completely disappointed in his team's practice Thursday. "But maybe I expected too much," he said.