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21 Super Facts About the Denver Broncos

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The Broncos are a team whose history has more ups and downs than the Rocky Mountain skyline. This Super Bowl Sunday, they will be making their eighth appearance on the NFL’s biggest stage. Before kickoff, let’s all take a quick look at the wild world of Denver football.    

1. Founded as an American Football League club on August 14, 1959, the Broncos participated in the AFL’s first regular season game, beating the Boston Patriots 13-10 in 1960.

2. Financial woes forced the young team to spend its first two seasons wearing hand-me-down uniforms from an All-Star college game. Yellow and brown with vertically striped socks, the hideous duds were destroyed in an organized bonfire during the 1962 off-season.

3. Gene Mingo—professional football's first African-American placekicker—was a Bronco from 1960 to 1964.

4. North Platte, Nebraska, celebrated the Cornhusker State’s 100th anniversary by inviting the Broncos over to serve as their “home” team in a special 1967 exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders.

5. Playing football a mile above sea level has some interesting effects on the ball itself. At Denver’s altitude, kickoffs usually go about 10 percent farther than they do in other NFL cities. Unsurprisingly, three out of the four longest field goals in league history took place there. Among these is the all-time record-holder, a 64-yard kick made by Denver’s Matt Prater against the Tennessee Titans in 2013. How much Denver’s thinner air contributes to longer field goals is a topic of much debate among football fans, given that accuracy is still paramount.

6. Number 18 was retired by the Broncos in 1963 to honor the club’s original quarterback, Frank Tripucka. But once Peyton Manning came to town in 2012, it was promptly un-retired (with Tripucka’s blessing) on the former Colt’s behalf.

Peyton Manning

7.  “Birmingham Broncos” sure has a nice ring to it. When Colorado taxpayers voted against a proposal that would grant $250,000 for a stadium expansion in the late 1960s, the team’s ownership considered moving the franchise to Alabama. A grassroots campaign raised the necessary funds from private contributors.

8. Who was the first male cheerleader in Denver Broncos history? Robin Williams. At a 1979 home win, the actor showed up in boots and a glittering mini-skirt. With pom-poms waving, Williams rallied 74,000 fans as Mork—his extraterrestrial character on ABC’s popular sitcom Mork & Mindy. Fourteen days later, footage from the stunt appeared in a season two episode.

NFL Films

9. Once a coveted Major League Baseball prospect, legendary Broncos QB John Elway spent the summer of 1982 as the right fielder for a New York Yankees farm team in Oneonta, New York. Over 42 games there, he put up a .318 batting average. Not bad.

10. Denver’s current mayor is an ex-Broncos mascot. In the 1980s, the NFL decided to come out with a series of characters, called Huddles, that represented each team. Denver’s anthropomorphic pony was played by 17-year-old Michael Hancock; he was paid $25 per game.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

11. Elway’s come-from-behind victory in the 1986-'87 AFC championship game—a.k.a. “The Drive”—is one of the greatest wins in franchise history. That day, the visiting Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns, whose fans had tried to keep Denver’s players awake the night before by driving around the squad’s hotel and honking.

12. On January 28, 1990, the orange and blue lost the single most lopsided Super Bowl ever played, nabbing just 10 points to San Francisco’s 55. “The 49ers did what every expert said they would do: dominate us,” Broncos head coach Dan Reeves said.

13. Historically, the big game has been a mixed bag for Denver. They have won two, but the team has also lost a league-high five Super Bowls, by a cumulative score of 206-58.

14. At first, fans didn’t take kindly to the team’s present horse head logo. After the emblem was unveiled in 1997, somebody drove past the Broncos’ training facilities and fired paintballs at it.

15. Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis was temporarily blinded by a migraine headache during the game. “I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “Nothing.” Undaunted, coach Mike Shanahan sent his sightless running back out onto the field, where Elway faked the ball to him before jogging into the end zone for a touchdown. That night, Denver finally claimed its first world championship—though Davis had to miss most of the second quarter.    

16. Along with Brett Favre, Peyton Manning of the Broncos is one of only two NFL quarterbacks who’ve managed to beat all 32 teams.

17. Between 1977 and 2007, super-fan Tim “the Barrel Man” McKernan attended every single home game while wearing nothing but boots, suspenders, a cowboy hat, and an orange barrel. 

Broncos Die-Hards (With an Eagles Fan).

18. Long before the NFL came knocking, running back Ronnie Hillman played youth football in a Los Angeles league owned and operated by Snoop Dogg.

19. Super Bowl XLVIII was a gut-wrenching nightmare for Bronco fanciers, with the Seattle Seahawks smashing the team 43-8. On a positive note, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas set a record for most Super Bowl receptions, with 13 catches.

20. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are both die-hard Broncos fans. Three years ago, the pair offered John Elway a free ticket to see their hit musical The Book of Mormon when it opened in Denver, only to discover that he’d already watched it on Broadway. Apparently, the Duke of Denver gave them a rave review.

21. By dismantling the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, Elway—who was 38 at the time—became the oldest starting quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. Now the vice president of Denver football operations, he’ll be watching 39-year-old Manning try to break his record on Sunday. 

All images courtesy of Getty Images

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

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As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

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You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

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It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
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If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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