“We have to win now.”


LONDON – The Broncos have dragged a billionaire to the basement. How did this sorry excuse for an NFL team and a rich man who now runs it get stuck down here, 15 feet below street level, where the Broncos can barely see a ray of hope, much less sniff the playoffs?

“We’re not where we need to be,” said Greg Penner, the new Broncos CEO and one of the crazy-rich Waltons who purchased the team earlier this year for $4.65 billion.

At the bottom of a crooked, creaking staircase that led to the basement of a former London bank transformed into a tavern, Penner stood early Friday evening among stacked wooden chairs in a cramped storage room. I ain’t no Shakespeare, but as a fit and energetic 52-year-old man tried to offer reassurance that a football franchise that has forgotten how to win can somehow escape the 2-5 mess it’s in, the metaphor of a billionaire stuck in the basement was too rich to ignore.

In one respect, it doesn’t matter how much money Penner is worth. Once you start to live and die with the Broncos, a loss on Sunday can feel like a nightmare.

“You wake up on Monday morning and you wonder: ‘Did that really happen yesterday?’ ” Penner said. “You kind of go through the first day or two of  the week in a bit of a fog … Finally, on Wednesday or Thursday, you start looking forward to the next game. But it’s painful.”

As he talked about the team’s abject failure on the field, a party rocked above Penner’s head. Broncomaniacs who have staged a takeover of jolly old England danced to classic American rock and drowned their sporting sorrows with pints of cold British lager.

Die-hard fans entertain doubts Nathaniel Hackett can hack it as a head coach and have yet to see conclusive proof Russell Wilson is a quarterback capable of leading the Broncos back to Super Bowl relevancy.

But there’s an even bigger question for a Denver civic treasure that has endured unprecedented upheaval during this calendar year:

Do Penner and the crazy-rich Waltons care about winning football games with every fiber in their souls, with the same orange-and-blue passion the late Pat Bowlen did?

My feeling is you can trust Penner to treat this team as a civic trust, not just a toy share with family and friends.

Yes, he watches the team from a cushy seat in a luxury box high atop the stadium. But defeat wallops Penner like a punch to the gut.


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