On a summer day in 1983 — could that really have been 27 years ago? — it was my luck to witness, and cover, one of the most amazing non-events that any sports journalist could ever imagine.
Others can talk about what it was like as a fan when John Elway arrived at his first training camp for the Denver Broncos. Some of us saw every bit of it from a few feet away.
It began with him parking his SUV (although that term hadn't been invented yet) outside a dormitory at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, opening the back and pulling out his belongings — as the breathless media took notes and pictures. We chronicled his every move, from stretching exercises to throwing drills, water breaks and even the food he put on his tray in the cafeteria buffet line.
From that Day One, everyone called it the Elway Watch. And no matter how many stories were written that summer, they weren't enough. Colorado desperately wanted a superstar to lead the Broncos to their Promised Land. Little did they realize he would take them through football's wilderness for 15 years before finally reaching the pinnacle in the Super Bowls of January 1998 and 1999.
Those of us who shared in that summer of 1983 assumed we'd never see or hear anything like it again.
We were wrong.
Now the Broncos have come full circle, after suffering through an entire decade (plus an 11th year) of withdrawal since Elway's retirement. Suddenly they have another bright young coach from a National Football League dynasty (Josh McDaniels out of New England, three decades after Dan Reeves out of Dallas).
And now comes another bigger-than-life quarterback who already has captured the state's fascination (and its pocketbooks, if sales of his No. 15 jersey are any indication) even before his first training camp.
Tim Tebow won't have to endure the amazing scrutiny that Elway did, because times have changed. Training camp no longer takes place in Greeley. Everything revolves around Denver's Dove Valley headquarters in Englewood. There, the team can control and limit access to outsiders.
Yet Tebow's first rookie minicamp last week attracted the same kind of media throng, reporting the same kinds of mundane details from the most basic drills. And the fans obviously want to believe Tebow can be the next Elway, starting with the 310 online responses (yes, 310) to the Denver Post's Tebow story from that camp debut — a debut that featured 32 players and 47 cameras.
Nobody cares about the many NFL observers who insist Tebow won't ever become a great pro quarterback. They just see the Bible-thumping guy from Florida who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and helped the Gators win two national titles with Scripture verses scrawled on his eye black. They see the strapping athlete, the smiling natural leader who outworks everybody, and they go into dream overload. They also see how he embraces his religion, and something tells them the Broncos will turn into God's Team.
Someday. But nobody knows how soon, or whether Tebow can deliver even half of the boundless expectations. My first thought was to start checking in with media outlets back in Florida, where I was for Tebow's last high school season and first year of college. But the information coming out of there so far hasn't had anything to do with football. Just about Tebow the person.
For instance, Colorado Springs might expect to see a lot of Tebow, because his ties to Focus on the Family might run deeper than that Super Bowl TV ad with his mother. He's apparently telling people he intends to be involved with Focus when possible. Really.
I'm also hearing that he's excited to start his own foundation to help underprivileged kids around the world, after NCAA rules prohibited him from doing that. And finally, Tebow's unsure if he'll have the time this year to do what he's done for part of every recent summer — go to the Philippines (where he was born) and work for his father in his ministry there.
You can't make that stuff up. And the Tim Tebow Era is just starting.