Eagle’s Dan McCauley works on the chain gang at Denver Broncos games
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EAGLE — When the Denver Broncos play at Mile High Stadium, Dan McCauley, of Eagle, has the kind of view that makes his fellow fans salivate.
But ironically, McCauley has to record Broncos games so he can really watch what happened.
That’s because when the game is underway, McCauley isn’t a fan. He is part of the eight-member Broncos chain gang. He mans the marker that represents first down.
“It’s a lot of fun, but yeah, you do get hit sometimes,” McCauley said. “On game day, I am just trying to follow the ball and stay the heck out of the way.”
A fan’s dream gig
McCauley has lived in Eagle for nine years now, but he is a Colorado native who grew up in the Denver metro area. Not surprisingly, he is a lifelong Broncos fan. He shares that passion with a number of buddies from his school days, including one friend who’s father was an original member of the Broncos chain crew. When his friend’s dad decided to step down, he handed his marker to his son. And when his buddy couldn’t make it to a game, McCauley started substituting. Eventually, he became a full-time member of the Broncos chain squad 15 years ago.
But it takes more than just knowing someone who knows someone to earn a spot as a chain man. A marker holder has to have some serious football bona fides.
“All the people on our chain crew were high school football referees, and we also have some college referees,” McCauley said. In McCauley’s case, he officiated high school games in the Denver area for several years. He eventually gave that up, however, because it was so time consuming. High school officiating can also be very thankless, due to insulting parents.
“I don’t think parents these days understand the impact they have on their kids when they act like that,” McCauley said. “They should just let their kids play the game.”
Life among the legends
Serving on the Broncos chain crew isn’t an opportunity for McCauley to indulge his fan-boy impulses.
“You don’t ever approach a player,” he said. “They have their job to do, and I have my job to do.”
That job involves working with the officiating crew. At times, the chain crew will point out a flag that the referee doesn’t see or offer other assistance. The idea is to run a tight, professional officiating squad.
“It is no nonsense down there on the sidelines,” McCauley said.
But like a proverbial fly on the wall, McCauley gets to truly experience what life on the sidelines is like. That includes sharing space with not only the current team members but also with many of the Broncos’ legendary players.
“Randy Gradishar is down on the field every week,” McCauley said. Rod Smith is usually there, as well, and McCauley even exchanged a few words with Floyd Little before a game.
Sometimes there are game-time interactions with various players or coaches. One time, Mike Shanahan inquired if McCauley’s spot was dead on because he wanted to go for it on fourth and inches. Another time Reggie Bush plowed into McCauley at the end of a play, cutting his arm. On a lighter side, during one preseason game, Shannon Sharpe pretended to take over McCauley’s marker stick.
One of the cardinal rules of being on the chain crew is you really don’t want to show up on television. But at times, that’s unavoidable.
“At a Raiders game three years ago, I got plastered into the bench. Everyone saw it,” McCauley said.
Bronco fans often complain that Sports Authority Field just isn’t as loud as the old Mile High Stadium. McCauley begs to differ.
“People have no idea how loud it is down there. I seriously don’t know how teams communicate,” he said. “It is organized chaos down there.”
A couple of years ago, after he underwent knee surgery, McCauley couldn’t work the chain crew for a game so he watched from the stands.
“Watching a game from the stands and watching it from the sidelines is a whole different perspective. That’s why I have to record the games to watch them,” he said.
That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy what’s happening as it unfolds. Asked about his favorite Bronco memory, McCauley doesn’t even hesitate before citing the AFC Championship game in 2015 when the Broncos beat the Patriots on their way to victory at Super Bowl 50.
“That was the loudest game I have ever been to in my life. It was awesome,” he said.
Not for the money
While he is paid a small salary for manning the chains, McCauley said crew members do the job for the experience, not for the money. That experience includes everything from hearing Peyton Manning chew out Ronnie Hillman for dropping a pass to being on the field when the confetti rained down after the aforementioned AFC Championship game.
The Broncos chain crew is a very long-serving and loyal corps.
At 51 years old, McCauley said he is one of the youngest members of the crew. Some members are in their 70s and have been serving for decades.
“It’s something that if you give it up, you won’t ever get it back,” he said.
That’s why McCauley doesn’t have any plans to step away from the gig, even when the trip to Denver and the trip home to Eagle can be a nightmare, like it was Sunday, Oct. 1. He was carpooling with some local fans and they ultimately had to get a hotel room in Frisco because Vail Pass was closed. It was Monday before McCauley got back to his wife Erin, in Eagle, and his regular job as a sales rep for Mountain Beverage.
But even when it’s inconvenient, McCauley relishes his chain-crew time.
“It’s a lot of fun, until you get hit,” he said.
And when he does, McCauley tries to pop back up and grab his stick to mark the yards to first down.
“I love being down on the field, being part of the action,” he said.