DENVER -- Ho hum, just another Super Bowl. Nothing for the good mountainfolk of the Rockies to bellow about. This stuff is as common in these parts as knee-deep blizzards and crestfallen presidential candidates.
The mountainfolk are so unfazed by the Broncos' appearance in Super Bowl XXII against the Redskins that they didn't even give them a sendoff. Last year more than 60,000 well-wishers launched the Broncos to Pasadena with a giant pep rally at Mile High Stadium.
This Gramm-Rudman stuff has even cut into the passions of Broncomania, because when fans began to suggest another rally, the politicians responded: "Who's gonna pay for it?" Nobody, as it turned out. Coach Dan Reeves explained that his football team didn't need any sendoff, but could sure use a welcome home party, especially if it wins the first Super Bowl in the franchise's 28-year history.
Just going to the Super Bowl is no big deal anymore. The operative word all season among the Broncos is winning the Super Bowl.
"Last year, it was like 'Alice in Wonderland,' " said Broncos owner Patrick Bowlen. "This year we're more mature. We won't be happy unless we win."
So nobody's making a big deal out of the Broncos becoming only the third franchise in AFC history to achieve back-to-back appearances in the Super Bowl. Or even that they are the first AFC team of the 1980s to repeat. The last NFC team to do it, of course, was the Redskins.
Still, let's not foster the notion that Broncomania is dead.
The Broncos are still playing to sellout crowds, as they have been for 131 games and 18 years, excluding a brief two-game interruption during the 1987 NFL strike. There is a season ticket waiting list of somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000.
But, hey, Redskins fans know about that stuff. There is no "Hail to the Broncos" theme, but every year more Broncos songs emerge. This year's ditties include a ripoff of the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler," called "The Scrambler," paying homage to John Elway; and "La Broncos," inspired by the Richie Valens tune, a tribute to "The Three Amigos" and "Juan" Elway.
Some enterprising fans are trying to hang the nickname "Duke of Denver" on Elway because Vance Johnson once said the Broncos quarterback walked out of the huddle like John Wayne. Even Elway feels that's a bit of a reach.
So Broncomania is alive, although perhaps a bit dormant.
People still paint their houses, as well as other belongings, orange or blue. Including their bodies.
The week of the AFC title game against Cleveland, a 29-year-old woman named Linda Kirchner became a self-styled Lady Godiva in blue body paint and rode horseback in the buff down the 16th Street Mall, the main shopping drag of downtown Denver.
So even normal isn't so normal for Broncos fans.
A Denver TV station even located a new headstone in a cemetery bearing the inscription: "Denver Broncos Season Ticket Holder Number 41."
Today, there will be thousands of orange cowboy hats dotting the crowd at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. One of them will belong to Tim McKernan, a United Airlines mechanic, who will be wearing only an orange barrel. He is "The Barrelman," a regular feature of Broncomania, and he is on his 11th barrel. He claims that's all he's got on.
Colorado probably leads the world in consumption of orange toilet seats, orange telephones and Orange Crushes, the soft drink. Last year on a Thursday before Super Bowl XXI, Mr. K's Bronco Heaven sold $40,000 worth of souvenirs, attire and other orange paraphernalia.
The Orange Crush theme is a holdover from the 1977 Super Bowl XII appearance, but nobody is pretending that Joe Collier's defense is even a mere facsimile of what it was 10 years ago.
If you want to pick a flavor for these Broncos, Rocky Road would be appropriate. They've been scrambling in their quest to return to the Super Bowl and win it since the Giants dismembered them in XXI at Pasadena, scoring 30 second-half points to win, 39-20. After losing to Buffalo and falling to 4-3-1, the Broncos needed to win eight of their next nine games to earn passage to San Diego.
Dan Reeves achieved his 70th victory in just his seventh year as a head coach, and that includes a 2-7 strike year in 1982. He did it with a patchwork lineup, because no fewer than 10 key Broncos suffered major injuries and wound up missing significant playing time. Three will miss the Super Bowl -- center Billy Bryan, defensive back Mike Harden and running back Gerald Willhite.
Yet, if the Broncos lose to the Redskins, this season will be considered a failure by the coaches, players and the owner.
And the Broncos will move into next to last place among Super Bowl participants with an 0-3 record, topped only by Minnesota, 0-4. With that kind of record, they might be lucky if Coloradans allow them back in the state -- let alone spring for a "Welcome Home" parade. Buddy Martin is an assistant managing editor and sports columnist for the Denver Post