Donna Bryson and Pat Graham
DENVER — Tens of thousands of fans cheered the Denver Broncos as the Super Bowl champions paraded through downtown Tuesday, putting aside some big questions about the future of the team for now.
Fans packed deep along the route while others watched from balconies and rooftops as the players rode by on a series of fire trucks. The first was labeled No. 18, Peyton Manning’s number. Manning himself was on board, along with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Annabel Bowlen, the wife of ailing Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who held the Lombardi Trophy.
Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler signed footballs and threw them into the crowd as he rode by on another truck.
Manning avoided saying anything about whether he will return to play for another season at the rally after the parade. And it still remains to be seen whether Denver can keep its top ranked defense together.
The parade followed an outdoor concert by a trio of Colorado bands including Big Head Todd and The Monsters near city hall and the state Capitol. The sea of fans went crazy on the sunny morning as the music started. The smell of marijuana hung over the park, even though smoking pot in public is illegal in Colorado.
People gathered for hours before the concert and parade. Classes were in session Tuesday, but school age kids mingled in the crowd. Denver schools offered students excused absences if their parents let officials know.
Mark Bedenbender, who had a prime spot along the metal barrier near Union Station, said the event is not only a celebration but likely a farewell to Manning, too.
“I think he finished on top,” he said. “When he lost the game two years ago, you knew he was coming back.”
Judy Ayce drove nine hours with her 81-year-old mother Dorothy Ayce from the Chinle Navajo reservation in Arizona for the parade, arriving at the Denver home of Judy Ayce’s niece late Monday. On Tuesday morning, Dorothy Ayce’s wheelchair was parked against a barricade. A plastic bag of drinks and snacks dangled from the chair. The family was ready to spend the day celebrating.
“We brought our mats. We brought our food. We brought blankets for Grandma,” Amanda Ayce said.
Judy Ayce, speaking in Navajo, asked her mother whether she was there for all the Broncos, or especially for Manning.
“Peyton,” was the answer.
“She just likes watching sports, and she’s followed him for years,” her granddaughter said.
Officials won’t give specific turnout predictions, but the last time Denver won the Super Bowl in 1999, the downtown party drew an estimated 375,000 people. A year before that, when the Broncos won the Super Bowl for the first time, about 650,000 people showed up.
“We’re probably expecting hundreds of thousands,” said Mike Stott, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Hancock.
Fans began celebrating Sunday night as the clock ticked down on the Broncos’ win in Super Bowl 50.
The crowd became unruly at times, but officers for the most part watched from the sidewalk. Police reported a handful of arrests, mainly for criminal mischief.
On Tuesday, the mood was light. Even some people stuck in traffic near the parade route honked at fans dressed in Broncos jerseys walked on the sidewalk toward the event.
While many took the day off, Gary Baca, chief of security for a downtown building along the route, was working. He wore a bright orange tie with his white dress shirt, and took a moment to survey the crowds he said were sending a message to the Broncos.
“I want them to understand that we as fans truly love them. The love deep down is genuine.”