Growing up in Denver I had several encounters with a few great Denver Bronco players over the years.
My first face to face meeting with a Bronco was when I was in high school in the mid 1970’s. We lived near I-25 and Yale in Denver, on a street that bordered the Highline Canal. It’s hard to imagine now, but the area had an almost rural feel to it then. There was a frontage road along I-25 (then known as the Valley Highway), and one of our pastimes in winter was to throw snowballs at cars on the frontage road. If a driver stopped to chase us down, he was out of luck because we could run across the dry canal bed and the driver would be unable to get his vehicle across the canal. This worked well for many years until one day we ran across the canal bed and came met Bronco linebacker Joe Rizzo. It turns out Rizzo lived down the street from my family and we had sought refuge from an aggrieved driver in his back yard. Joe was none too happy with the snowball throwing and made his feelings on the subject clear. After that he was very nice to us and sometimes paid my brother and me to shovel snow from his driveway. He sold real estate in the off season and sometimes we would see him knocking on doors asking people if there were interested in selling their home. Joe may be the only NFL player ever to graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point. He may also be the only man to ever play linebacker and punter in college. He had a 90 yard punt in one game while at King’s Point.
My next encounter with a Bronco came a few years later when I was in college. I worked in the kitchen at a pizza place in Glendale one summer. This was a great job because I could eat all the pizza I wanted and drink all the beer I wanted. (3.2% beer was legal for 18 year olds at the time). Sometimes I delivered pizzas and on those nights I could not drink beer.
One night in the summer of 1978 I delivered a pizza to an apartment off of Leetsdale Avenue. When I approached the apartment I detected what police officers usually describe as “a strong odor of suspected cannabis.” My eyes almost popped out of my head when a famous Bronco great opened the door. There were a bunch of other guys seated around a large table and they were playing poker. I was bulked up at the time (It was the age of Arnold, Franco Columbu, and Lou Ferrigno) and I said something to the player along the lines of, “You’re not as big as I thought you would be.” He just got a big old smile on his face, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “I’m big enough, my man.” He made me eat a slice of pizza and gave me a big tip. I still love that guy. (And he’s still famous).
My third and final encounter with a Bronco was a year or two later. I was still in college, but that summer I worked as an armed guard at night at the Colorado State Bank Building in downtown Denver. I loved that job because I could read all night (and I liked to read) and go up on the roof and look out over the city.
One of my duties was to lock most of the doors at 6:00 p.m., and on the remaining unlocked door was a sign indicating that after hours visitors had to sign in at my desk.
One night I was reading at my desk when Bronco Defensive End Lyle Alzado walked briskly through the unlocked door, did not even look at me, and strode straight to the elevators like he meant business. He had veins popping out of his neck and a very determined look in his eyes. He was wearing a polyester shirt that showed off his massive chest and arms.
This is a dude that I knew bench pressed more than 500 pounds. This is a dude that had fought an 8-round exhibition bout against Muhammad Ali at Mile High Stadium just a few weeks ago. Humans are born with a survival instinct, and mine told me to not mess with Alzado that night, so I did the smart thing — nothing. Alzado went on to play for the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders. He died of brain cancer at the age of 43 arising from his admitted use of anabolic steroids.