The Museum of Denver Sports History

Stan DyerCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2010

The Mile High Parking Lot

For long time fans, it’s a bit sad to walk around Invesco field.  The field is nice enough, and still retains the “Mile High” part of its name, but it’s not quite the same.  The ghosts of Denver sports past live all around the stadium, and make this new place seem “different” to those of us who lived some of the old history.

When the new stadium was built, they just put it on the south side of the old stadium.  I still have some pictures of the two stadiums together as one was being built, and the other was on life support.  When the new stadium was completed, they tore down the “old” Mile High, ripped up the turf, paved over the history and made themselves a parking lot.  Younger fans may not realize, or don’t remember, but we older fans know everyone is parking in a sacred burial ground of Bronco memories. 

With a good, imaginative eye, an old fan can walk around that parking lot, and almost feel Floyd Little breaking off a long run as the crowd explodes in approval.  Anyone standing on that spot in the early 70’s would have been run over.  Personally, I can look to where I was sitting when Denver played its first ever Monday Night game at Mile High Stadium against the Raiders.  I can still feel the cool, night air, the bright lights, and my disappointment as Mike Siani pulled in a Ken Stabler pass and ran it about 50 yards to end the Broncos’ hopes of a win.  The game ended in a 23-23 tie.

If I stare long enough, I can almost go back to that cold, January first in 1978 when the Broncos were playing in their first AFC Championship game again against the Raiders.  My toes were cold as I spooned black-eyed peas into my mouth while gazing down at the “stickum” on Fred Biletnikoff’s socks.  I can walk to the place where Rob Lytle fumbled but didn’t fumble, and Jon Keyworth ran the ball into the end zone on the next play to seal the victory and a trip to New Orleans for Super Bowl XII. 

Many Hall of Famers played many games on that field turned parking lot, and fans don’t even realize they are walking where the Greats of the NFL once tackled, defended, passed, caught, ran, and kicked.  If you listen closely, you can almost hear the clang of a Rich Karlis barefoot field goal attempt hitting the upright and bounding harmlessly to the ground, or half-loaves of bread flying out of the South Stands just to make the point that a half loaf is not better than the whole thing.  And, the Ghosts of Football aren’t the only spirits that haunt this section of land. 

On the southwest side of the stadium there is an RTD bus stop where McNichols Sports Arena used to be.  That’s where David Thompson and the Denver Nuggets played Julius Erving and the New York Nets in the final ABA Playoff game played in Denver.  Dr. J was unstoppable.  Outside that stadium, fans used to gather after the games, and players would actually mingle, signing autographs.  I once stood face to face with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who scribbled an unintelligible autograph on a ticket stub to make a young fan happy.  Abdul-Jabbar was notorious for not signing autographs, but I actually saw him accommodate one young fan without really signing anything.  All the greats of both the ABA and NBA played in that Arena, (there was an All-Star Game played there in 1984 - Isiah Thomas was the MVP), where people now wait to catch a bus. 

Yeah, unwitting people now stand simply waiting for a bus where players with “Afros” once soared with basketballs, and football fans now tailgate, throwing their trash on the pavement that once was the manicured field of the hallowed ground that served as the Sunday altar for Bronco fans.  Not me.  Every time I walk by, drive by, or go by, I smile and remember.  A lot of history took place in that small area of ground, and I was fortunate enough to have witnessed a lot of the best of it.  For me, and others like me, it will never ever simply be the parking lot at Mile High.  For us, it will always be our unofficial museum of Denver sports memories.