Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Manning, Omaha and a Personal Snap

Peyton Manning’s signal-calling has stitched together my life story.


Every time the Denver Broncos quarterback is ready for the ball, he shouts “Omaha.” In that short snap from center, Manning traces my life  from being born in Omaha to growing up in a suburb west of Denver where the original Broncos held summer camp.

Carrying the metaphor one step further, Manning and the Broncos will play the Seahawks in the Superbowl. Seattle is where I went to college and had my first car accident.

I only lived in Omaha until I was five. It would have been even shorter except for a spring flood on the Missouri River that inundated most of west Council Bluffs where my parents bought a new house with my dad’s GI benefits.

My memories of Omaha are slim, but not unpleasant. I don’t actually remember the South Omaha hospital where I was born, but it was close to Rosenblatt Stadium, which opened in 1947, the same year I was born.

After advancing beyond pablum, my parents introduced me to the edible delights of South Omaha’s Italian restaurant colony. To this day, I still daydream about a juicy, medium-rare steak accompanied by a heaping side of spaghetti.

When our family moved to Denver in 1957, my contact with Omaha grew increasingly distant. Initially, we drove back fairly often. Some of my aunts and uncles were afraid to visit us in Denver because they feared falling off a cliff. They had seen the Lucy and Desi adventure movie on Trail Ridge Road, which convinced them of looming danger.

Later, I only returned to Omaha to attend funerals.

Much later, when I worked on Congress, a youngish congressman who represented Omaha and served on the same House committee as my boss, chatted me up. He asked why I didn’t come home to Omaha. I never had the heart to tell him the brutal truth.

Life in Denver was sweet and became even sweeter in 1960, when the city’s minor league baseball owner was awarded  a pro football team in the new American Football League.

The Broncos held a tryout at Lakewood Junior High School, near my house. I went to the night-time workout to see professional football first-hand. As I watched the players trot onto the field, one burly and nervous lineman veered off the path and gave me a first-foot impression of pro football.

I went to the Broncos first regular season home game against the Buffalo Bills. Our offense featured a 165-pound halfback named Al Carmichael. On the first offensive play from scrimmage, Carmichael was tackled high and low, breaking both of his legs. His pro football career was over and it was downhill from there for the team. It took 13 years for the Broncos to notch a winning record.

In 1970, when Denver and the rest of the AFL “merged” with the National Football League, one hang-up was TV network concern about the Broncos drab brown and blue uniforms, capped by psychedelic vertical striped socks. That led to the Orange Crush, not  attractive, but at least didn’t cause television production boards to spin out of control.

By the time John Elway spurned an offer to play right field for the New York Yankees and developed as a superb pro quarterback in Denver, I was long gone. I continued to root for the Broncos, but I didn’t see them play in person until a college friend invited me to join him for a Bronco-Seahawk game in Seattle.

By the time the Broncos won back-to-back Superbowls, I lived in Oregon.

Back in the day, Denver and Seattle were in the same conference and played each other twice a year. It was a strong rivalry, but not as bitter as the Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Seattle was carted off to the National Football Conference to square off against the 49ers and the Rams.

Football fans trace their loyalties to geographies. I’m no exception. I root for the Broncos and hope the Seahawks do well. When they play each other, it’s Broncos all the way.

But Peyton Manning brings my football odyssey full circle. “Omaha,” snap, bullet pass for a touchdown. Eat your heart out, Richard Sherman.


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