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Dear Denver Broncos

Nearly six months ago, I wrote a post I never published. The Denver Broncos had just won the first game of the 2015-16 season. I was ambushed by my emotional reaction. My dad’s death was still new and grief was still a mysterious intruder with a rich life of its own.

All season, I watched the Broncos out of the corner of my eye. I can’t think of them without thinking of my dad. I can think of my dad without thinking about them, though.

I had no idea how far they’d go and didn’t bother speculating. Recent events made me focus more on getting through each day. To think about February 2016 would make as much sense as thinking about June 2361.

Here is what I wrote, but didn’t share:

Dear Denver Broncos,

Thank you for winning your first regular season game yesterday. I had no idea how much it would mean to me until I saw the final score. When it popped up on my phone, I was away from home. I cried, which surprised me. I didn’t watch the game because I had other plans, but you were on my mind all day because he was on my mind all day.

My dad, January 1998, on the day the Broncos won their first Super Bowl

My dad, January 1998, on the day the Broncos won their first Super Bowl

My dad was one of your biggest fans. He never missed a game. In fact, on my parents’ honeymoon in Vail he retreated to the car to listen to a game on scratchy AM radio, leaving my mother in a resort hotel room. This might seem like a shabby thing to do, but she knew who she was marrying and when she married him. A beautiful October Saturday wedding led to a beautiful October Sunday honeymoon in the mountains. When that story came up, they’d laugh. Of course he had to go listen to the game in the car! Their room didn’t have a TV.

I grew up believing Sunday mornings were for church and Sunday afternoons were for football. Sunday nights were for dreading school the next day. Without fail, my dad watched every one of your games through the years. I watched too, but football never captured my interest as deeply as it captured his. Over the decades, parades of quarterbacks, coaches, safeties, kickers, and linemen came and went and he had opinions on each. A bum! A genius! A braggart! Another genius! He knew statistics, injuries, history.

He knew you.

He wore your shirts and hats. He got new ones when you changed your logo to be more fashionable, but he always preferred the old. When he died, his shirts and hats were sprinkled amongst family members. We considered them treasures, not because of you but because of he wore them so often and so proudly.

When you won yesterday, I took it entirely too personally. You managed to put the football in the end zone of a giant stadium more than the other team. It wasn’t a message from my dad to me from beyond because I’m sure the other team has a bevy of its own deceased fans and their families hoping for the honor and wink of a win.

Your “W” in the column got to me because I could picture my dad in his brown rocking recliner, happy. Healthy. I could imagine him talking to my brother on the phone about how it was an ugly win, but “we’ll take it!” I could picture him standing during commercials to go outside to smoke or refill his glass of iced tea. I could see this scene clearly. I could smell it and feel my own body in the cushions of the couch across from him. I could feel my throat hurt from yelling at the screen.

Had you lost, I would have seen him throwing is hands in the air with an eyeroll and some choice words. He’d shake his head and move on.


That’s where I ended. Today, my conclusion:

Dear Dad,

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl. broncojohn_1

Yeah, I’m amazed too. It was all about defense, defense, defense—maybe the best in history, some say. You saw a lot of football over the years. You’d know. I can’t ask you, though.

Mom wore one of your sweatshirts last night. She watched the game with your old neighbors, Bill and Shirley. I wished we were together, but she wasn’t far from our thoughts because you weren’t far from our thoughts.

I wore a jersey Lee bought for me. He had your name printed on the back. The number on the jersey is zero. I think of it as a crooked halo, which is fitting. Can I confess something? When the Panther’s kicker was going for that field goal in the third quarter, I reached around and touched your name and said, “Miss it!”

He did. It hit the right upright. I jumped around like a kangaroo and screamed like a howler monkey and scared the little ones.

I’m not saying you or me caused anything to happen in the game. It was a funny moment, one of those winks I sometimes catch when I think of you. I even did one of those cheesy things where I kissed my fingertips and pointed up. I winked back.

Since you’ve been gone, I do stuff like that. I weep over football games. I see sunflowers and think of you. That never happened before. Weird, right? I’ve learned, since you’ve been gone, that grief is a bizarre maze of memory and emotion. I’ll be going through a normal day, happy enough, then I’ll hear the tail-end of a Willie Nelson song and suddenly I’m hurting or soaring; sad you’re gone, thrilled I got to be your daughter.

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