You think Russell Wilson hates losing? You haven’t met Vicki Herrell. She’s 100 years old, a proud Broncomaniac who hears the clock urgently ticking. All Miss Vicki wants to do is win, win, win.
“We have to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Right now. Not later,” said Harrell, sick and tired of the Broncos’ 13-game losing streak to Kansas City. “We can’t wait to beat the Chiefs until it’s too late for me. You understand?”
Herrell has seen some stuff in her day. Well, 36,526 days to be exact.
She was born in August 1922, when Warren G. Harding resided at the White House and Al Jolson sang “Toot Toot Tootsie (Goodbye)” on a radio in the parlor of fine homes across America.
“I was scared of being 100 years old,” Harrell told me. “But you know what? It’s wonderful.”
I don’t know if Miss Vicki is the oldest living Broncomaniac, but am quite certain our local football team has never been blessed with a feistier fan.
“Is it OK if I call you Kiz?” Herrell asked, not five minutes after we were introduced at one of four birthday parties she enjoyed last week. “Well, Kiz … Have I told you I was engaged to three men at the same time?”
Say what, Miss Vicki?
During four decades of chronicling the adventures of Denver’s favorite sports team, I’ve had Broncomaniacs introduce themselves in all manner of ways, from offering to buy me a delicious steak dinner to admitting a powerful desire to punch my face.
Miss Vicki, however, was the first to open a conversation about football by discussing her love life. In 1947, at age 25, she was a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, which allowed her to meet delightful people from coast to coast.
Not long after World War II, as a twin engine DC-3 was touching down for a smooth landing in Phoenix, Herrell dug furiously through her handbag. Colleagues working the flight noticed her distress and asked what was wrong.
“I can’t find my Phoenix ring,” Herrell told them.
She was a jet-setting heartbreaker long before the Kardashians.
“I was engaged to men in New York, Kansas City and Phoenix,” Herrell confessed, giggling at the memory. “They never knew. And I didn’t marry any of them.”
Miss Vicki formally celebrated a century walking this earth on Thursday. That’s a remarkable achievement in the battle against Father Time, but not nearly as amazing as all the places she has been, from Rome to the Playboy mansion to Tokyo, crossing paths with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Peyton Manning along the way.
Want the definition of a life well-lived?
Herrell has chased Howard Hughes off an airplane he owned. “On a flight out of Los Angeles, this guy who looked like a bum, unshaven and wearing dirty tennis shoes, walked on the plane at the last minute and began barking orders at me,” Miss Vicki told me, lowering her voice to reveal a glimpse into the quirkiness of one of the more reclusive rich dudes in U.S. history. “I told him: ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Hughes.’ As soon as I said his name, Hughes looked like he had been shot and immediately bolted off the plane.”
Being abandoned by Mr. Hughes, however, was not nearly as disappointing as having her heart broken by Boston Patriots star Gino Cappelletti, who booted a field goal that proved to be the difference in a 20-17 defeat of her beloved Broncos during the first game at newly christened Mile High Stadium in 1968.
She once enjoyed cocktails with Johnny Cash, as June Carter gave her the evil eye. “I guess I was flirting with him a lot,” Harrell said.
Now throwing drinks back with the Man in Black was fun, but it paled in comparison to the hoot of seeing fellow Broncomaniacs dance atop the Oakland team bus, while spraying Raiders with beer after Randy Gradishar and the Orange Crush beat their hated rival 20-17 on New Year’s Day 1978 to earn a long-suffering Denver franchise its inaugural trip to the Super Bowl.
“Ken Stabler and John Madden were good sports about all those crazy fans,” Harrell recalled. “They knew it was the Broncos’ first time, so they didn’t seem to mind.”
During his first year in Denver, Wilson seems bent on taking the Broncos back to the Super Bowl ASAP. All the same, there’s no way the new quarterback can match Miss Vicki’s urgency to attend one more home game of a team she long cheered as a season-ticket holder with her late husband.
“Are you excited for Russell Wilson being the quarterback?” said Herrell, who adores John Elway and Manning. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m not excited. He has to prove it to me first.”
Miss Vicki is why the Broncos are a civic treasure. She demands excellence. Accepts nothing less. And takes great pride, as well as ownership, in every victory.
Earlier this summer, as part of her centennial celebration, Herrell landed a private audience with Manning before one of his speaking engagements. By all accounts, PFM was as blown away by Herrell with the force of any sack he ever endured from Jason Taylor or Khalil Mack.
Right after telling Manning she was once engaged to three men at the same time, Miss Vicki point-blank asked the Hall of Fame quarterback: “Are you going to buy a piece of the Broncos?”
He responded: “All that business has not been decided yet.”
Could Manning still get involved in the new ownership team of crazy-rich Waltons?
But may I offer a friendly warning to Adam Schefter and NFL insiders? Should Manning ever buy a piece of the Broncos, don’t be surprised if a 100-year-old Broncomaniac breaks the news.
Miss Vicki is a charmer with impeccable sources.