Kiszla: The inside story of Broncos president Joe Ellis’ bizarre, unnerving journey through COVID-19

During a relentlessly weird NFL season fraught with COVID-19 danger, Broncos President Joe Ellis got the virus for his birthday. Scary things. So what does a 63-year-old soccer manager do with the worst B-day gift ever?

“You stay away from a woman who is sick of you and kneel down because she will never forgive you if you give her this virus,” Ellis said, joking at his own expense.

After being decked out by the coronavirus three weeks ago, Ellis is now smiling because he can. It’s good to be alive. One of the more powerful men in sports in Colorado feels humbled and blessed to be back on his feet in a year in which more than 250,000 Americans were killed in the pandemic.

It’s grim. You can throw out any stats about strong recovery rates or low death rates, but you have to take this seriously. This virus is the real deal, ”said Ellis during a phone interview with The Denver Post on Friday.

“In many ways it has been a difficult year for so many people. I feel lucky to see another day, with a chance to improve in so many ways. “

While still tired of wrestling with the ‘Rona, the chief executive officer of a struggling soccer team will return to Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday for the first time in a month, as Ellis watches quarterback Drew Lock and the 3- 6 Broncos are trying to get back on track against Miami.

With the number of cases and hospitalizations across the state, and Gov. Jared Polis warning Coloradans “not to play Russian roulette during Thanksgiving,” this will be the last home game of the season to allow 5,700 fans to enter the stadium.

“I feel bad for our fans. Maybe you can poke fun at it and say, “Who the hell would want to see this team play?” But our fans are very loyal and support us. We’ll never take that for granted, ”said Ellis, already hoping for a vaccine that will allow the Broncos to resume their legendary home sales in 2021.

“All COVID data and the route tell us: not allowing anyone into the stadium, not even a handful of friends and family from the team, is the right choice. There was never a financial aspect to the decision, as 5,700 fans didn’t move the earnings needle. We must be good partners in this fight against a virus that has affected so many people and businesses. “

A nefarious, invisible enemy with the ‘Rona’s evil punch can cause fear to any of us – mothers, grandsons, and businessmen – that comes crudely in the middle of the night.

While the virus has only hit a handful of Broncos players and staffers, from security guard Graham Glasgow to defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, each case has been handled very personally by Ellis. He has regularly woken up at 3:30 am during the season to check for updates on the test results from lead athletics coach Steve “Greek” Antonopulos.

“I don’t get much sleep,” Ellis said with a chuckle. “So I have nothing better to do at 3:30 in the morning than start working with Greek to find out if everything is okay.”

However, over Halloween weekend, he woke up in the cold sweat of the paranoia that had arisen by 2020. “This is not normal,” thought Ellis as he sat up in bed, every fiber in his body exhausted, but unable to sleep.

Despite there being no sign of the virus in his test results, he skipped Denver’s thrilling 31-30 comeback win on November 1 against the Chargers out of an abundance of caution, missing a game for the first time in two decades.

Hours before sunrise on election day, Ellis recalls reaching for his cell phone and seeing “the dreaded words from the Greek: You have to call me. I turned to my wife; we exchanged some unpleasantness and prepared for bad news. “

It was no good. Ellis had COVID. John Elway too. The top man and football manager in the organization, who is simultaneously fighting the virus.

“In the beginning John was worse than me,” said Ellis. “But he recovered much faster than I did.”

Its unpredictability makes this virus a particularly unreliable enemy. Ellis has never had a fever or brain fog. His cough? Dry. . However, he added, “My body felt like it was shutting down.” Night after night, during his birthday on November 16, the virus refused to let him rest.

“Bizarre” is the only way Ellis can describe it. He knows that the virus can have long-term adverse effects on the heart, lungs and brain. Dealing with that insecurity gives him “the same fear that thousands have suffered,” he said.

So Ellis will treat this NFL game day as a gift. Happy Birthday.

Yes, tough issues and tough decisions await the Broncos, with the fate of coach Vic Fangio debated by fans and a dispute between the heirs of late franchise owner Pat Bowlen to be heard in court.

“We are all frustrated with this season. But I give credit to our players, coaches and staff for the way they behaved, followed protocols, improvised and adapted to protect each other, ”said Ellis.

“The truth is, we’re lucky to still be playing games.”

In 2020, every survival, big or small, counts as a victory.