SANTA CLARA, CA - As the orange confetti shot into the air after our Denver Broncos cemented an impressive 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers here in Super Bowl 50, I thought to myself: "I'm one lucky Stiff."
Because despite the Broncos' thrilling victory - their third Super Bowl win in an NFL-tying eight tries - I've known more hardship than celebration as a Broncos fan (and Denver sports fan in general).
I was at there at Mile High Stadium in 1996 when the 13-3, one-seeded Broncos were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL Playoffs' first round.
I was there at "Invesco Field at Mile High" in 2005 when the Broncos lost in the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And I was there in New York / New Jersey in 2014 when the Broncos got hammered (and supremely embarrassed) in Super Bowl 48 by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8.
Throw in my in-person experiences watching our beloved Denver Nuggets lose a home Game 5 to the Dallas Mavericks in 1988, a home Game 6 to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, a home Game 2 to the upstart Golden State Warriors in 2013, and the Colorado Rockies dropping both home games to the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series ... and I've seen a lot of misery as a Denver sports fan.
This isn't to say we haven't had some great successes in Denver sports. Certainly both the 1998 and 1999 Super Bowls (1997 and 1998 NFL seasons, respectively) won by the Broncos and the 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cups won by the Colorado Avalanche were epic moments in Denver sports history, but I wasn't fortunate enough to attend those in person.
In fact, other than being lucky enough to attend both Games 3 and 4 of the Nuggets versus Seattle Supersonics epic 1994 first round "David versus Goliath" series, on my watch in person we've had more post-season losers than winners.
But those crummy memories were erased last night as I stood among the countless Broncos faithful (the Broncos-to-Panthers fan ratio had to be at least 20-to-1) while watching one of the best defenses in NFL history hammer the Panthers.
And seeing the Broncos deliver Super Bowl Number Three for Denver and Colorado sports fans, I had to wonder: "Could the Nuggets be next?"
I've always looked at our four sports teams in Denver as follows: the Broncos are our first born (arriving in 1960 as a member of the American Football League), the Nuggets our second born* (arriving in 1967 as a member of the American Basketball Association), the Rockies as a newborn (arriving in 1993) and the Avalanche as our adopted foreign child (arriving in 1995 via Quebec, Canada). And being our first born, the Broncos have always been the star of the family, boasting only four sub-.500 seasons since John Elway's arrival as quarterback in 1983, an NFL-tying best eight Super Bowl appearances since joining the NFL and now three Super Bowl wins.
Meanwhile, our "second child" Nuggets - raised in the deep shadows of their star elder sibling - have never been able to get it together. Since joining the NBA in 1976 after the NBA/ABA merger, our Nuggets have appeared in just three Western Conference Finals and no NBA Finals, making them the only ABA holdover to never appear in an NBA Finals. Even the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets appeared in two NBA Finals. Give the Nuggets a little credit as they've been to the playoffs in more seasons than they haven't since joining the NBA (24 seasons in the post-season versus 15 out), but among those 24 playoff appearances the Nuggets have only advanced past the first round eight times and there's no championship parade in sight.
In fairness to the Nuggets, winning championships in the NBA is much harder than the NFL. In the NFL you can go from 3-13 one season to 13-3 the next with the right coach, free agents and draft picks. In the NBA, without a superstar you're probably not going very far, hence why just 10 franchises have claimed NBA Championships since 1980 in the NBA versus 15 for the NFL in the same time period.
But if the Broncos can teach the Nuggets and their fans anything, it's that consistent leadership from the top begets winning. Since buying the Broncos in 1984, owner Pat Bowlen has only experienced four sub-.500 seasons and team President/CEO Joe Ellis has been with the franchise in an executive role since 1998. After years of tumultuous ownership from the late 1980s through the 1990s (chronicled by my colleague Jeff Morton in 2013), the Nuggets were bought by Stan Kroenke in 2000 and have appeared in 10 post-seasons and one of their three Western Conference Finals since. But while Kroenke and his son Josh have steered the Nuggets from the ownership box consistently since the turn of the century, the Nuggets haven't (yet) had their version of Joe Ellis. Since Kroenke's purchase of the team in 2000 the Nuggets have had six general managers: Dan Issel, Kiki Vandeweghe, Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman, Masai Ujiri and now Tim Connelly. But with the hiring of Pete D'Alessandro - a former assistant GM for the franchise who had a brief detour in Sacramento - as senior vice president of business operations in 2015 and just recently extending Connelly and his staff, the Nuggets may now have the stability at the top to produce winning basketball for years to come.
With a world class defense and a young but capable quarterback in waiting, the Broncos are closer to their fourth Super Bowl victory than the Nuggets are to their first NBA Championship. But even though Nuggets fans (including this one) probably can't envision winning a championship anytime soon, we must remember that there was a time when Broncos fans couldn't envision winning a championship either.
And now we have three of them.
*It should be noted that Denver had a Nuggets franchise for one season only in 1949-50 in the NBA, which had nothing to do with the current franchise.