Every September, the Grimm family opens the barn door and scrapes the dust off of the decades-old Winnebago RV painted in orange and blue.
They clean out the field mice that found a temporary home there. They turn the key and say a prayer. They hope the engine revs to life.
Like many things in Broncos football, driving the old RV to the Mile High Stadium every year is a tradition and an act of faith.
“It barely makes it,” said Joe Grimm, standing at his family’s tailgate early Sunday morning. “The brakes barely function. But we’re here.”
The Broncos’ 2017 season was rough for fans. There was the eight-game losing streak. The carousel of coaches. The constant swap of quarterbacks. The Broncos finished last in the AFC West with a 5-11 record.
But those statistics didn’t matter for the Grimms, or the other Broncos fans who gathered at the stadium Sunday for the team’s regular season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. By 7:15 a.m. Sunday, dozens of cars and RVs loaded with smokers and tables lined up outside the stadium parking lots waiting to claim a prime tailgating spot. Some fans cracked open a breakfast beer while they waited.
Larry Grimm, Joe’s father and the owner of the Winnebago, said he has attended every home game for the past 50 years. He timed both of his knee replacement surgeries to coincide with the off-season so he wouldn’t miss a game.
“Just like the players,” his son said as the two sat underneath their awning at about 8 a.m.
Joe Grimm has been attending Broncos games his entire life. He drove 14 hours Saturday from Austin, Texas, where he now lives, for the game. The family woke up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday to claim their traditional tailgating spot.
“My whole life, it’s always been the Broncos,” he said. “On Sundays, it’s what you do.”
By noon, the tailgate gatherings filled the parking lots with the smell of burgers and exhaust. The pop of opening beer cans punctuated the cacophony of Denver’s largest party.
Amid it all, a man in orange and blue robes wandered the rows with a staff and a cardboard tablet inscribed with the “Broncos Commandments.” He paused to chat with a Seahawks fan and deliver his good news.
“A Broncos victory is already foretold,” he said, patting the visiting fan on the back.
The Mile High Prophet, as he called himself, said the most important of the commandments on Sunday was No. 4: “Remember opening day and keep it holy.”
The self-styled prophet, whose name is John Buckley when the Broncos aren’t playing, said he got the idea “after a little alcohol.” Although he and his wife have been attending games for more than 16 years, this opener is special for the couple because it’s their first as season ticket holders.
Being a Denver sports fan is infectious, Kristin Buckley said. Even if that means sweating under Broncos-themed robes in the 88-degree heat.
“After 40 years in the desert heat, this is nothing,” the prophet said with a chuckle.
Under the shade of their awning, the Laughlin family mulled the previous season at their nearby tent.
“It was a rebuilding year,” Michele Laughlin said. “It was disappointing.
“It was an experiment gone wrong,” her husband, Michael Laughlin, added.
The family has lived in the area for more than 50 years and have been season ticket holders for the past five. They were excited about quarterback Case Keenum’s Denver debut.
“That’s the best part about today,” Matt Laughlin said. “Everything is new. We can be optimistic.”
But the team’s success and failures aren’t really the point, the Laughlins said. Being a Broncos fan becomes part of who you are, if you let it.
“We’ll be here no matter what,” Michele Laughlin said. “We’ve been here in rain, sun and snow. It doesn’t matter. It’s the Broncos.”