Updated: January 20, 2014 at 8:55 am
DENVER — The chanting and celebrating spread from the seats at Sports Authority Field, to the concourse, to the parking lot and through the arteries of public transportation and before finally joining up with madness already in progress throughout the state.
The Broncos beat the Patriots 26-16 in Sunday's AFC championship game, allowing fans to party like they haven't since 1999.
The euphoric throng broke out into choruses of "Super Bowl," the loudspeakers blared Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" (a reference to the Super Bowl's host site area) and a gorgeous January day in downtown Denver was made brighter by an army of orange shirts and pompoms and ear-to-ear smiles.
"It was amazing," Denver's Kelly Phillips said. "I had no idea what I was in for."
Drew and Amy Moore of Colorado Springs did know what they could be in store for, so they went out of their way not to miss it. They kept plans in Oklahoma City on Saturday but drove through the night to witness the game and the ensuing mayhem.
"It just rocked," said Loveland's Lara Martinez, a season-ticket holder and fan since 1978, who brought her mother. "It was a lot of fun. We really supported our defense and got after it and it was just a great game to watch."
The crowd was counted at 77,110 (second-largest in venue history), with just 40 tickets going unclaimed. That meant more than $15,000 went unclaimed, as tickets were being quoted at $400 and up for this one.
The penned-up excitement was understandable for a fan base and state that will play in its seventh Super Bowl but first in 15 years.
When that last appearance took place, championships were commonplace for the state. The Avalanche were in a stretch that brought Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001, the Broncos had won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 and '99 and the University of Colorado was just nine years removed from a share of the college football national championship.
Since then, there hasn't been much to cheer. The Colorado Rapids won an MLS Cup in 2010 and the Rockies clinched their first World Series berth at Coors Field on Oct. 15, 2007. Those were nice moments, to be sure, but nothing like the atmosphere on Sunday.
"The last time?" fan Scott Robinson pondered, thinking of the last time he was this excited about a sporting event. "The last time was when it was Elway's time. Now it's Peyton's time."
John Elway and Peyton Manning both thanked the fan base during on-field ceremonies after the game. Elway called them the "greatest fans in America."
Champ Bailey, who will finally play in his first Super Bowl, said he had never heard the stadium louder.
"They deserve it," the veteran cornerback said.
The fans seemed to concur, giving themselves a collective pat on the back in the form of high-fives, hugs and dances. It was a party that figures to continue for at least two more weeks.