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Rossi: Broncos share similarities with Steelers

| Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, 7:33 p.m.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak jokes with reporters after the team's practice Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Englewood, Colo.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the story goes about another Texan, Joe Greene wasn't keen on playing football in Pittsburgh. Then he caught a first glimpse of the city's skyline coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

At that point, Pittsburgh was the place for Mean Joe.

Gary Kubiak has a story of his own about Denver.

“When I came here in 1983, we were in a little building down north,” he said. “A little blue barn was our locker room.”

Some first impressions require a second look.

Despite lacking New York's marketing opportunities, Miami's party scene and the protective barricades the Patriots have set up outside of Boston, Pittsburgh and Denver are destination cities for NFL players.

Why is that, exactly?

Well, it can't hurt that neither Pittsburgh's Steelers nor Denver's Broncos belong only to their hometowns.

“I don't even know if I can explain how big it's become,” said Kubiak, the longtime John Elway backup whom Elway hired to coach one of the AFC's most storied franchises.

“Everything about the organization has always continued to grow.”

Kubiak observed that while walking the sideline of a compound-sized Broncos practice facility within a 20-minute drive of downtown Denver. A contemplative man who sometimes looks around while looking for the right words, he paused while contemplating the enormous task to lead a team “that basically raised me.”

He is a born Texan. He even coached the Texans.

But no matter where he has been since stepping foot into that blue barn, Kubiak has been a Bronco. And he knows what he's trying to do with the Broncos — win their first Super Bowl in 16 years — is a big deal beyond Denver.

Broncos Country stretches from North Dakota to Arizona. It's spread throughout the Rocky Mountains. Even into parts of Indiana. (Adding Peyton Manning a few years back was as big for the Broncos' brand extension as it was their championship pedigree.)

Football America is big.

In it, few teams are bigger than the Broncos.

And as an NFL franchise, the one in Denver is not unlike the iconic one the Broncos have faced most often in the playoffs — including again on Sunday.

“I agree with that,” Kubiak said.

Kubiak is only the Broncos' sixth coach since 1984, when Pat Bowlen bought the team in 1984. Since then, the Broncos have won more regular-season games than any NFL franchise. Their five losing seasons are the fewest.

Basically, they're the Steelers.

At least, they're what the Steelers have been since Art Rooney Sr. handed over control to his son, Dan.

Winning.

It's the “way” for the Steelers and Broncos, though their respective fans — the Steelers are a worldwide team, their fans able to take over football stadiums in even Denver — like to believe that “way” is about something else.

Maybe it is?

“There's something about that,” Kubiak said. “Something about the continuity, about things staying the same regardless.”

But things don't stay the same.

Bowlen has Alzheimer's disease. And that looms over his Broncos like Dan Rooney's age (83) hangs over the Steelers.

Neither the Broncos nor Steelers are guaranteed a Super Bowl berth.

It would be fitting if one of them made it, considering the 50th anniversary of the Big Game. The previous 49 have featured either Bowlen's or Rooney's team 14 times.

Beloved owners are getting harder to find.

Perhaps in a couple of the NFL's destination cities, they're even taken for granted.

“They shouldn't be,” Kubiak said.

“Those gentlemen are who have made this league great.”

Pretty good impression to leave everybody with, I'd say.

Let's watch some football.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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