Super fans abound in the valley | VailDaily.com

Super fans abound in the valley

EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado is a place where lots of us are from somewhere else, which means there are plenty of sports loyalties to be found. But first and foremost, Colorado is Denver Broncos country. Here are some of the stories of the team's Vail Valley fans:

The tailgating pro

Shawn Meineke grew up in Aurora, in the Denver area. He went to his first game as a 5-year-old.

After moving to the valley as a young adult, Meineke, a manager at Vendetta's in Vail, wasn't making a lot of money, but about a decade ago, scraped together the funds for season tickets. In the years since, Meineke said he's missed one game because of weather.

Heading to Denver for games has always required a bit of trip — that trip's gotten more difficult throughout the years.

"It used to be that you could leave by 11 (a.m.) and make it," he said. "Now, you have to leave by about 9."

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A day at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium is mostly about football, of course, but that's only part of the experience. Longtime season-ticket holders get together before games for tailgate parties.

Since most fans at games have season tickets, every section of the stadium is a little neighborhood of its own. But, Meineke said, most of the people in his section come in from separate tailgating neighborhoods.

"Before the games, people tailgate with their high school or college buddies or co-workers," Meineke said. "But there are people in-and-out all the time."

Meineke's tailgate neighborhood is a pretty delicious place to be. Everyone brings something, but there's usually a fryer and a grill or two along with other snacks.

Once a season, though, Meineke's Vail contingent does all of the food for their pre-game party.

"We usually end up feeding about 100 people," Meineke said. "We'll get an extra parking spot to set up a kitchen."

For this year's party, the Vail group brought a flat-top grill, an infrared fryer and regular grills, along with chafing dishes to keep the food warm.

The Vail crew's tailgate has earned an award — a choice spot with extra space.

But the game is the centerpiece of any football Sunday, and Meineke is a true orange-and-blue fan.

That fandom led him to New York in early 2014 for Super Bowl XLVIII, when Denver faced the Seattle Seahawks. That day didn't end well — the Seahawks won, 43-8 — and we will never speak of it again.

While the game was a disappointment, Meineke said the trip was still "the experience of a lifetime."

"The whole experience was fantastic," he said. "It seemed like the city was about evenly divided between Broncos fans and Seahawks fans."

Meineke, like any true fan, doesn't hesitate when asked who will win Sunday.

"We have a dominant defense," he said. That squad will bottle up Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning will have his best game of the season, Meineke said.

"We can take ’em," he said.

A fan from the 1960s

Singletree resident Neland Kissinger grew up near Nucla, which is about as far west as you can go in Colorado, without actually being in Utah. It was an isolated spot in the 1960s — and remains a long way from anywhere today. There wasn't a lot of TV programming beaming into Nucla back then, and none of the three available channels carried the Broncos games. That put Kissinger and his dad in the family truck most autumn Sundays, listening to games on the radio.

The team wasn't very good back then, with fans often saying that some of star running back Floyd Little's best runs barely got him back to the line of scrimmage.

But Kissinger was hooked, and has been for decades.

Colorado's a big state, and it's fairly common for people to travel a long way to the stadium in Denver. But few fans put miles on the family car the way the Kissingers did the one year they held season tickets.

"My son was playing football at Mesa State that year, so we'd go to Grand Junction on Saturdays, then turn around and go to Denver on Sunday," he said. "These days, we kind of pick and choose what games we go to."

To celebrate the team's success this year, Kissinger, a foreman for Holy Cross Energy, spent a number of his off-hours in his workshop, building the Broncos' familiar horse-head logo, then lighting it up with about 300 LED bulbs.

Like Meineke, Kissinger is confident of a Broncos win on Sunday.

"That defense is something (Newton's) never seen before," he said.

Building new fans

Shelli Fullhart, of Edwards, grew up in Indiana. That means her football loyalties were split for several years.

As a youngster, she often came to Colorado on family vacations. That's when she fell in love with Vail and the Broncos.

Then Peyton Manning came to Fullhart's home-state to play for the Indianapolis Colts. Even from Colorado, Fullhart fell in love with Manning. Her fandom coalesced in 2012, when Manning signed on with the Broncos.

"I was running around the school that day, saying 'We got him! We got him!'," Fullhart said.

That school is Brush Creek Elementary School in Eagle, where Fullhart has been the physical education teacher since the building opened 15 years ago.

Fullhart's never shy about wearing her fandom on her sleeve and her team gear to school. This season, though, she's gotten the kids involved.

Before the team's Jan. 17 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fullhart invited the students to wear their Broncos' gear for a "go team" Internet video. Most of the kids dressed for the occasion. Most of the kids also dressed in orange before the Broncos' Jan. 23 conference championship game against the New England Patriots.

For the Super Bowl, though, Fullhart got nearly everyone.

"I told the kids there's only two teams playing — pick one," she said. All but a handful donned orange and/or blue.

Those videos do more than just show team spirit, Fullhart said. They also help build community in the school.

If the team wins, then that fashion theme will continue for Fullhart.

"I've worn my Broncos stuff to school every day since the playoffs started," she said. "If they win, I'll wear it the rest of the year."

'I'm watching the game'

Derrick Jaramillo owns Western Slope Towing. That means he works when there's work to do. The exception to that rule is Broncos Sundays.

"I'm watching the games, either in person or on TV," Jaramillo said. "I just can't listen on the radio, and I'm not going to (record) games, either … I have a guy who helps me out on those days.

A lifelong Coloradan, Jaramillo's love affair with the Broncos started at an early age. The game that hooked him was the conference championship game against the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 11, 1987.

That day, young quarterback John Elway led the Broncos on a 98-yard touchdown drive with time ticking away in the fourth quarter. Elway's touchdown pass to Mark Jackson tied the game, which the Broncos won in overtime. That earned the team a Super Bowl matchup against the New York Giants.

And we will never speak of that game again, either.

Jaramillo's tow truck is decorated with team logos, and the bands for his braces are orange and blue these days.

"We've had a lot of fun at games," he said. "I've been able to take the kids, and my wife goes occasionally."

For several years, Jaramillo bought season tickets from a woman he knows who didn't use her seats. Those days provide opportunities for getting to know other fans.

Football stadiums can be rowdy places, especially regarding drinking. Jaramillo doesn't imbibe, but said the experience of the games tends to erase differences between fans.

"We're all the same when we're there," he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

The big game

Super Bowl 50 is Sunday, of course. Here are a few details:

• Some sort of pregame show has probably already started.

• The game itself is on CBS, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the broadcast booth.

• You can stream the game on CBSsports.com

• Kickoff is at 4:35 p.m.