Helen sat down next to me in the front of the bus after the game. Her old-school, faded Denver jersey carried the number 44, and the name “LITTLE” on the back. Honestly, Helen was probably a grandmother when Floyd Little was added to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984. This Sunday, her hair was neat and thin, with a blue-gray tint. Seattle fans streamed past us, looking more to ridicule our orange jerseys than to find a seat. Seattle had come prepared and fired up with the 12th man, and they had beaten us in every way possible.
They were the best team, no doubt. Super Bowl 48 was a low moment for Broncos fans like Helen and I. But you knew that. Many Seattle fans wanted to remind us of our beaten status. They weren’t threatening or mean, really, but they were very, very loud and persistent. We in orange were the enemy.
And then it happened. In this moment just before leaving the stadium in a red FanBus, I experienced the high point of my trip to New Jersey. I learned the life lesson of Super Bowl 48.
Here’s how it unfolded. Helen and I were the only Broncos fans on the bus. Still, she quietly smiled as she heard too many “Manning sucks!” and, “We own you!” rain on us in the bus. “Sea-Hawks! Sea-Hawks” resounded in surround sound. I sat quietly, stunned. But not Helen. She nudged me, “Head up, son. Follow me.” She stood up and faced the Seattle fans on the bus.
“Hey, can I have your attention for a moment?” she shouted. The noise settled down, everyone unsure of what the 5-foot tall geriatric woman would say. I stood behind her, silent, preparing to be pounded bloody for her coming words. “Jesus, please, I don’t want literally to be thrown under the bus…”
Into the silence, Helen continued loudly, “I’ve been a Broncos fan my whole life. I’ve lost many hard games before. I feel that sharp pain now. But I also remember how great it was to win our first Championship. I’m happy for you. So relish this moment. Enjoy it. Soak in it. It comes very rarely to us football fans. Congratulations on a great, dominant game!” They cheered loudly. Then she turned to me. “Stay behind me.” Together, we then traveled down the center aisle, giving high fives to Seattle’s 12th man. I notice the mood had changed. We were now all “football fans.” We all knew disappointment and exhilaration. Some had won this game. Some had lost this game. But our love of football unified us. Super Bowl 43, although important, was too small a vessel to explain who we really were.
I learned that it is a great gift to seek and find common grounds with those who are different from you. It is a great gift to offer high fives to those who have been, only moments before, enemies. It comes from living with a secure heart. It is a life lesson for me. Jesus says it this way, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God.” Helen, this is you. I love you for it. Your name hangs in my Ring of Fame.