NEW YORK - A passenger was soaring through the skies from Colorado to The Big Apple, enjoying a deep, blissful state of sleep. He was jolted awake by loud, impassioned celebrating.
"Broncos!" shouted Debbie, stepmother of tight end Julius Thomas.
"Yeah!" shouted several dozen fans in response. This jubilant back-and-forth chanting continued for a few minutes.
The airline passenger awoke to a Broncos party, led by Greg and Debbie Thomas. Broncos fans, who were plentiful, playfully taunted Seahawks fans, who were few.
At one point, a Seahawks fan announced he wanted this Broncos noise to stop. These words inspired Greg to stand up and face the Seahawks fan in a comically fierce way. Greg is 6-foot-6, and it's a broad-shouldered 6-foot-6.
The Seahawks fan immediately said he no longer had any problem with the Broncos party.
Greg serves as principal of West Campus High School in Sacramento, Calif., and he's taking a break this week from disciplining and directing teens to watch his son, one of the NFL's unlikely stars. Julius already ranks among the league's top tight ends, and he's still learning to play his position.
Julius, who concentrated on basketball in college, has little idea how dominating he could become.
"Oh, that's the truth," Greg said with a long laugh. "That is the truth."
As Greg walked off the plane at LaGuardia Airport, he encountered Gilbert Rodriguez, a devout Broncos fan who lives in Fountain.
"Who can cover Julius?" Rodriguez asked Greg.
"Nobody!" Greg answered.
Rodriguez, who calls this Super Bowl adventure "the trip of a lifetime," agrees.
"He's too big for safeties to cover," Rodriquez said of Julius. "And he's too fast for linebackers."
Rodriquez speaks the truth. When looking for a breakout hero in Sunday's Super Bowl, consider Julius. The most intriguing plot line of the game is the Broncos receivers vs. Richard Sherman and the Seahawks secondary. This is the NFL's finest collection of receivers tangling with the most violent and stingy group of defensive backs.
Julius expects his crew to win this matchup.
"If a team wants to focus on taking out one guy, we have so many weapons who can go out there and make big plays," Julius said.
Julius caught 64 passes from Peyton Manning this season and scored 12 touchdowns. He rescued the Broncos in the final minutes against the Chargers with a tough catch on third and long. If Thomas failed to wrap his hands around that throw, our statewide Broncos party might have ended with a thud.
Julius grew up in the Bay Area as a Raiders fan. Over the years, he watched a few dozen Raiders games in person, sitting beside his father at the lovable dump known as the Oakland Coliseum.
Greg remains a Raiders fan during 14 of Oakland's 16 games each season. He wears a black No.?24 Charles Woodson jersey as he cheers for the team beloved by his father before him. But when his son visits Oakland Coliseum, Greg wears a white No.?80 and roams the parking lot proclaiming the wonders of the Broncos.
"I'm dripping orange," Greg said.
Greg pushed Julius to play football, but his son kept wandering to the basketball court. Greg had studied the numbers. He knew it was far easier to earn a football scholarship, but Julius would not budge.
Julius played power forward for the basketball team at Portland State. He was a solid player who competed in two NCAA Tournaments.
But he wasn't special.
He finally followed his father's wishes and played one season for the football team. He instantly showed flashes of the gifts that would carry him to the NFL. He was, no doubt, special.
Now, it's Pete Carroll's job to try to stop Julius. Carroll, of course, is the bombastic coach of the Seahawks. He's a gifted motivator who understands how to inspire supreme effort.
Just ask Greg. He played receiver/running back for Carroll at the University of the Pacific.
"Pete's magic is his philosophy toward the game," Greg said. "It's all positive. When you play for Pete, you're not uptight. You're not afraid of making a mistake. You're not afraid he's going to be screaming at you in front of teammates. He realizes players are human. His enthusiasm is contagious."
The Seahawks play defense with a joyous fury. Still, Greg believes the Broncos will wear down his old friend.
"Probably around the middle of that third quarter," Greg said. "The Seahawks will realize what they're up against. They may get a little angry out there when they can't contain that Bronco machine."
Don't worry about Julius getting a big head. Greg often speaks of his disappointment about Julius' height. Julius is a mere 6-4?.
"What happened?" Greg shouts at Julius. "You were supposed to be 6-foot-8!"
A proud father stands next to his son and looks down a bit at a future NFL superstar.
"Dude," dad says to son, "you're a runt."