At the nadir, he went home, cracked open a beer and watched a tape of the 1977 AFC championship game.
This was April. Jamie Teumer had just finished a shift in the emergency room at UCHealth in Greeley, a front-row seat on the apex of COVID-19’s merciless first wave.
“It was just overwhelming,” Teumer recalled. “I came back after a horrible shift and I remember telling my wife, at one point and time, that we had 20 beds in that ER and three-quarters of those beds had COVID patients. I remember admitting three of them absolutely knowing they weren’t going to walk out of the hospital alive. Their families weren’t allowed to see them. They were never going to see them alive ever again.
“And I remember coming home that day just very bewildered. And for whatever reason, I came home and I had a bunch of tapes of Broncos games and I just threw one in the machine. I thought, ‘Ya know, I just need something.’ I got an ice-cold beer and sat down with the Broncos.”
Haven Moses. Craig Morton. Denver 20, Oakland 17. A victory that punched the franchise’s first ticket to the Super Bowl, a moment that turned the corner for generations to come. After hours drowning in reality’s abyss, Red Miller helped Teumer swim back to daylight again.
“And I thought, ‘Do you know what? They’ve got to play,’” said Teumer, medical director at UCHealth’s Medical Center of the Rockies and a Broncos season-ticket holder for two decades. “Because we desperately need this.”
This one’s for Jamie. Monday night at Mile High is for the first-responders, for the doctors, the nurses, the firefighters, the police, the community organizers, the teachers, the shelf-stockers. Without you, none of this happens. Without you, none of this matters.
Pandemics. Protests in the streets. A state on fire. We’ve spent six months re-living the greatest hits of 1918 and 1968, haymaker after haymaker. Broncos-Titans is for everybody who sacrificed souls and sanity to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, while everything we took for granted went to Hell in two handbaskets.
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This one’s for Emily Garner. Most of you know her as Broncos fan “Rescue Rob” Garner’s better half. But in a year that saw Rob honored with a display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, it’s Emily, a registered nurse with UCHealth and manager of the emergency department at Greeley Hospital, who’s been the household’s true 2020 MVP.
“In the days between April and June, I was at work all the time,” said Emily, whose shifts that ran as long as 16 hours in the spring. “I would stay late and get up early and go back. There were times I didn’t see my family for days. During April and May, it was a blur. Just a total blur.”
As of Sept. 10, Weld County ranked sixth among Colorado counties in coronavirus cases (4,245) and in COVID-19-related deaths (149). Among Garner’s duties were traffic-copping more than 50 staffers. Despite the volume of COVID positives from April through June, not a one under her watch contracted the virus while on duty with the emergency department.
“And that was so important to me, because we did so much to make sure they were safe,” Garner said. “That zero of my team members got it, I was so proud of that.”
She’s proud of the Broncos soldiering on, nose swabs and all, even if being away from Empower Field on Monday feels like about 17 levels of wrong. So much of what makes Mile High Mile High is you. Phillip Lindsay pushing for an extra yard. An opposing coach, enraged, forced to burn a timeout. A rookie quarterback looking up into all that orange, all that chaos, and wondering what he ever did to deserve this.
“It’s different,” she said. “I feel really bad for the players, not having the loud stadium cheering for them.”
And for one player in particular. En route to Miami by plane for Super Bowl LIV, Emily and her son, Cannon, recognized a tall, strapping fella a few seats over. Drew Lock.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m looking forward to seeing you this season,’” Emily said. “He was like, ‘Thanks, yeah, I’m so glad you watch us.’ He was so nice. He’s just down-to-Earth. He’s just a cool guy. He was playing with my 9-year-old.”
Cannon Garner now owns a Lock replica jersey. Loves it. Fan for life.
“I can’t wait to watch the game,” Emily said. “I’m so pumped to see it. It’s just a peek at normalcy, you know what I mean? We need that right now. We want that normalcy.”
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This one’s for Jason Mantas, a captain with the Poudre Fire Authority and another Broncos lifer. Dude got the bug at old Mile High at the age of 10, during a Broncos-Raiders game in which Lyle Alzado got so incensed over the names and debris tossed in his direction that he started crawling up into the crowd, like one of the Hanson Brothers in the movie “Slap Shot.”
Denver police surrounded the field on horseback and Jason’s mom suggested that they leave early to beat the postgame chaos. The kid was having none of it. They were staying. He was hooked.
“2020, man, it’s just one of those years,” said Mantas, a season-ticket holder for 20 autumns now. “We finally put everything together and it looks like the defense is going to be great and (Von) Miller gets hurt, and Courtland Sutton gets hurt. I’m like, ‘Man.’
“I’m so excited that the NFL has been able to figure this out and manage a way to play the game. It’s just something that, for me, personally, I feel like this whole year, since March, has just been really weird.”
The weirdest came in July, when Jason, his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Mia, all contracted the coronavirus. They spent 14 days in quarantine. Mantas missed 22 consecutive days of work. Fortunately, everyone’s symptoms were mild — chills, fever, fatigue, with no serious complications.
“You’d come home (from work) every day and you’d think, ‘God, I hope I didn’t catch it,’” Teumer said. “And I was scared because one of our grandkids lived in town. We babysat her two days a week, and for a while, I had to keep my distance. And that was really frustrating.”
His granddaughter will be 1 soon. The Broncos are back. The world finally makes sense again. If only for a few hours.
“I’ve been through three epidemics and a pandemic,” Teumer said. “I always tell the younger people here: ‘You will never see something like this ever again.’”
Thank the stars for that. Thank every last, beautiful, blessed twinkle.