Broncos brace for black-and-gold invasion by Steelers fans
By Jeff Legwold
The Denver Post
Posted: 11/05/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
It may pay for the Broncos to watch the horizon this week, for the invasion may be coming.
Because in the NFL, there are a select few teams with coast-to-coast followings, rabid fan bases willing to pack and go, determined to beg, borrow or scalp their way into somebody else's stadium.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. They might even be the real America's Team these days. And even a franchise with a 40-year sellout streak like the Broncos' may not be immune.
"We always know when we come out of the tunnel, they're going to be there, no matter where we are, what we're doing," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said of Steelers fans. "And not just a few here, a few there, where you look up in the stands and they're way up high. They're everywhere in those stadiums.
"I don't know how they do it, but they do it."
Monday night at Invesco Field at Mile High, where the Broncos (6-1) will play the Steelers (5-2), the depth of the Broncos' home-field advantage could be determined by how many of their own ticket holders have sold their tickets, traded them or given them away to be distributed to those in black and gold twirling the towels.
"A lot of our fans have expressed those concerns to us, how some tickets are used," Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis said. "They would prefer to sit alongside other season-ticket holders.
"That said, we do recognize the right of season-ticket holders to resell their tickets to whomever they wish, for whatever price they desire. Our fans, how-ever, have made it clear what they would prefer and they would prefer our season-ticket holders be the ones in the seats next to them."
A quick surf of the Web on Wednesday indicated there were plenty of tickets to be had for Monday's game for fans willing to pay the price. One online ticket broker had 325 tickets available to the game, with seats in the upper deck going for $185 to $246 each. Another online broker had 158 tickets available going for $185 to $250 each in the upper deck.
That doesn't include myriad legalized sellers with tickets that will be exchanged between friends, neighbors and co-workers, or tickets that will be lustily scooped up on the streets and sidewalks around the stadium Monday by Steelers fans west of the Mississippi River who have one of the few opportunities to see their team play in person this season.
The Dallas Cowboys once were dubbed "America's Team," by NFL Films, and the tag has stuck through the years. But the Steelers, the league's only six-time Super Bowl winners, may have wrestled that title away, both in championships and nationwide fan support.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney often attributes the passionate following to the local interest in the team spreading when difficult economic times in the steel industry during the 1970s forced many fans in western Pennsylvania to seek employment elsewhere. They left the state but kept their love of the Steelers.
There are now believed to be 72 formal Steelers fan clubs around the world, including one in Denver. Lt. Col. Mike Fincke, a Pennsylvania native, has carried one of the team's Terrible Towels to the International Space Station.
From April 1 to Oct. 29 the Steelers were the NFL's top seller in team merchandise, with three players — safety Troy Polamalu (second), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (eighth) and wide receiver Hines Ward (16th) — among the top 16 in jersey sales.
The Broncos were among the league's top sellers, at No. 8 during the same period, but do not have any players among the league's top 25 in jersey sales. The Steelers, Broncos and New England Patriots are the only AFC teams ranked in the top 10.
The Steelers also have the highest local television ratings in the NFL this season, with an average rating of 42 for games and a 72 share, which means 72 percent of televisions in use during the game are tuned to the Steelers.
So the Broncos, who historically been one of the league's best home teams, take on what now may be the best team at making a home away from home.
"We love our fans," Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said. "We have no doubt they'll be ready (Monday), and we're going to be ready to play for them."
Jeff Legwold: 303-954-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org