ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos can’t seem to find a steady home. A steady name to their home that is.
When their new stadium opened for the 2001 NFL season, it donned the original name “Invesco Field at Mile High.” However, after 10 years, Invesco Ltd. vacated their naming-rights agreement. Shortly after, the Broncos found a new, almost too good to be true, name. A local Colorado company would brand the stadium “Sports Authority Field at Mile High.”
Five years later, in 2016, it turned out it was too good to be true.
Now, even with “Sports Authority Field” still bolted across Mile High’s stadium, the Broncos are in a seemingly endless search for a new name.
Well, the fans may not love it, but we may know someone who could be interested. Someone who has a keen appreciation for the stadium that sits off of I-25 and Colfax and sure has a lot of money. Someone by the name of Philip Rivers.
Since it opened in 2001, Mile High Stadium has been a daunting place for opposing teams and quarterbacks to play. Yet, Rivers consistently says it’s one of his favorite places to play for two reasons.
“I think it’s two fold,” Rivers said when asked why he enjoys playing in Denver. “It’s one of my favorite stadiums empty. It’s an awesome stadium. Few stadiums that we go to on the road that I’ve been in a lot of times. I don’t [typically] go out [on the field] beforehand or before warmups, but Denver is always one [that I do]. When we get off the bus, I like to go out there and look at [the stadium] empty.”
Don't be fooled, the 35-year old quarterback isn’t just an amateur stadium admirer, either. Although a business major at North Carolina State, in his early days, little Rivers was an architect—specifically of stadiums—at heart.
“I was one of those kids when you grow up building sandcastles; I was building stadiums. I was always into that sort of stuff,” he reminisced about his childhood before quickly focusing his attention back to the stadium that he adores. “The look of the field, it’s about as perfect as it gets. From that standpoint already, you throw in the atmosphere and the crowd that it is, it’s pretty awesome…The crispness in the air plus the stadium itself is awesome.”
Rivers won’t quite have the crispness he enjoys in the Mile High City on Monday night—when his Los Angeles Chargers open their season against the Broncos—but he will have every bit of the stadium itself that he has played 12 meaningful games in, nearly a full season of NFL ball.
In his 12 career games at Mile High, Rivers has an even 6-6 record against the Broncos, including a winning 6-5 record in the regular season with a lone postseason loss against the 2013 Peyton Manning-led Broncos.
On paper, Rivers’ record in Denver doesn't seem so bright, but compared it to the 32.8 win percentage of every opposing quarterback in Mile High since its opening in 2001, the Chargers’ quarterback is quite successful.
Even the great Tom Brady is a measly 3-7 in his career in Denver—including 0-3 in the postseason—and has arguably had much better teams than Rivers.
“You mentioned we won some there, especially early in my career,” he said, recalling the sweet moments of taking the crisp air out of the crowd in past contests. “We won in ’06 on Sunday night with a come-from-behind victory. We won a handful early there in a row. We won that one on Thursday night back in ’13.”
Both of the performances that Rivers recalled were as impressive as it gets. In 2006, with Marty Schottenheimer at the helm, down 24-7 with 9:25 left in the third-quarter, Rivers led an epic comeback, outscoring Denver 28-3 in the final quarter and a half to win 35-27.
Seven years later, in 2013, the 6-7 Chargers entered a Thursday night contest as a 9.5 point dog to the 11-2 Broncos. Rivers’ 120 passer rating out-shined Manning’s 92.4 enough to take home a 27-20 victory, the last time the Chargers won in Denver.
“We haven’t been as good here as of late,” Rivers acknowledged.
After starting his career a mile high 5-1 in Denver, Rivers has come back to earth, or rather sea level, going 1-5, including a loss in the last four matchups.
While the beauty of the physical stadium tops his list of why he enjoys playing in Denver, he also enjoys the rowdy, yet knowledgeable, crowd but didn’t go as far to say the loud crowd actually benefits him, saying, “I wouldn’t necessarily say that,” with a laugh.
“I don’t know that they work in your favor. It’s loud and awesome, but it’s old school NFL. It’s big time football,” he said. “You love going places where fans know what they’re watching. That’s not always the case. It’s an awesome environment. One that’s challenging but fun to be apart of.”
Either Rivers truly appreciates his division rival’s fans, or he’s trying to soften them up—like butter ready to be spread across a warm piece of toast—before the season opener. Whatever his motive may be, if there even is one, his strategy has worked for him in the past.
“I think some of the success plus the pure beauty of the stadium and the atmosphere is one of the reasons why [I enjoying playing in Denver],” Rivers said with excitement in his voice. “I’m always thankful each and every time we can come here.”
In the rubber match for Rivers’ career, the goal for the Broncos, and their fans, for Monday night will be to have Rivers never be thankful to enter Mile High Stadium for the remainder of his career. But that will only go so far, for as long as the 16-year old stadium is standing, Rivers will find a peculiar enjoyment of the metal, concrete structure itself.