Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen called him “Mr. Bronco.” The congregants at Temple Sinai called him Mr. Goldberg.
And, as we get ready to watch Denver play in its first Super Bowl game in 15-years, we should take a minute to remember that without this unsung Jewish sports hero, the Seattle Seahawks might be - I cringe to say - facing off against Peyton Manning and the Atlanta Broncos this weekend.
Charlie Goldberg didn’t set out trying to be the savior of Denver’s football franchise. The owner of a successful demolition company, Mr. Goldberg was already a middle-aged businessman when Colorado acquired its first professional sports team - the Denver Broncos - in 1960.
Originally part of the startup American Football League, the Broncos had a promising start - winning the first AFL game ever played (against the Boston Patriots) and the first professional home game ever played in the Mile High City (against the Oakland Raiders in what was then known as Bears Stadium, home of Colorado’s Triple A baseball team).
Despite its early potential, the Broncos quickly proved to be among the worst teams in professional football. Unable to provide Denver a winning season (the best the Broncos faired in their first decade was the 1962 season - with seven wins and seven losses), and struggling to house a professional franchise in its very small baseball stadium of 35,000 seats, the team’s owners, in 1964, considered relocating the franchise to Atlanta.
At the time, business and civic leaders in Atlanta were looking to create a name for the city in professional football, and many saw a Broncos move to Georgia as a way to make the team more profitable and to help Atlanta enter the pro-football ranks.
Mr. Goldberg - who later served as president of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado (now known as JEWISHcolorado) and co-founded Shalom Park (now known as Shalom Cares) - was very much against the proposed move. A season-ticket holder since the Broncos’s inaugural year (he had priority number 39, in fact), Mr. Goldberg viewed the prospect of losing Colorado’s only major sports franchise as a major step-backwards for his hometown.
Facing potential apathy from the people of Colorado, Mr. Goldberg took action. Along with others who opposed the move to Atlanta, Mr. Goldberg conceived of and founded the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club. Using the slogan “Save the Broncos,” Mr. Goldberg managed to raise enough funds for Bears Stadium to expand by 20,000 seats and helped the Phipps Brothers become the Broncos’s majority shareholders, ensuring that the team would remain in Denver.
Mr. Goldberg subsequently played an instrumental role in helping the Broncos secure victories - both on the field and off. In 1971, he started “Orange Sunday,” handing out strips of orange cloth at Mile High Stadium (as Bears Stadium was called subsequent to 1968), encouraging game attendees to wave the strips during a game against the Chargers. The sea of orange served as a proverbial “12th man” in the game, helping the Broncos win and beginning an important fan movement.
Another antic saw Mr. Goldberg painting one of his giant wrecking balls orange, writing “Beat Pittsburgh” on it, and using it to demolish a local building ahead of an important scrimmage with the Steelers.
In 1974, Mr. Goldberg successfully helped spearhead the campaign to approve a $25 million bond to again expand Mile High Stadium by 20,000 seats - making it one of the largest arenas in the NFL.
It was during this period that William McNichols, then mayor, admitted that Mr. Goldberg - and not his honor - was “the Broncos’ number one fan.”
Mr. Goldberg died in 2001, days before the Broncos played their first game at the new Invesco Field sports arena (now Sports Authority Field at Mile High). At the time, Denver Post columnist Chuck Green lamented that Mr. Goldberg’s contributions to the growth of Colorado sports had gone largely unacknowledged in recent years. “Without Charlie,” he noted, “there would be no new stadium, because there would be no five-decade franchise to support it.”
So let’s remember this weekend the role that this Colorado Jewish entrepreneur played in carrying Denver - not Atlanta - to Super Bowl XLVIII.