Peyton Manning and Missy Franklin have more in common than one may think.
Aside from their obvious stellar athletic abilities, both Manning and Franklin can now add the title “Denver Broncos captain” to their resume.
Franklin served as an honorary captain alongside the 2007 Super Bowl MVP and his Broncos co-captains Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, Chris Kuper and Wesley Woodyard during Sunday evening’s season opener at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
It should come as no surprise that the Broncos won the coin toss and, eventually, the game, overcoming the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19. Franklin might have served as a good luck charm for the team after her impressive five-medal (four gold, one bronze) haul at this summer’s London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I’ve never been to a season opener before so this is so unbelievably exciting and I’ve gotten to know some of the players really well,” said Franklin, who first met several Broncos players at a mini camp in June. “It’s awesome to know them personally now and see them out there, I’m so proud of them and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season goes.”
In addition to selecting Franklin as the honorary captain, the Broncos honored a dozen Colorado Olympians as Broncos Country Heroes during the first quarter of the opening game.
The 12 athletes honored included modern pentathlete Dennis Bowsher, discus competitor Lance Brooks, wrestler Kelsey Campbell, bronze medalist wrestler Clarissa Chun, bronze medalist long jumper Janay DeLoach, Franklin, BMX rider David Herman, fencer Seth Kelsey, triathlete Hunter Kemper, road cyclist Taylor Phinney, gold medalist rower Taylor Ritzel, whose grandfather is former Broncos Head Coach Red Miller, and road cyclist Tejay van Garderen.
The group was presented with personalized footballs and brought on field during the game’s first timeout to a crowd of 76,823 Broncos fans, the fourth largest crowd in the history of the stadium, who cheered just as loudly for the Team USA athletes as they did for their beloved Broncos.
“It’s so crazy – a year ago I had no idea I’d even be at the Olympics and now I’ve competed in the Olympics and I’m on the sidelines of a Broncos game,” David Herman said. “It’s so awesome and I can’t thank the Broncos enough for inviting us here.”
Franklin, who started her senior year of high school just two days after leaving London, has been enjoying the perks of her Olympic success on the side. She has appeared on the Today show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and, earlier this week Franklin walked the red carpet at MTV’s Video Music Awards one day before answering phones at the third Stand Up To Cancer telethon.
“It was so moving and so inspirational and I was so happy I was able to be a part of it,” Franklin said of the telethon, her most memorable post-London event to date.
While Matt Damon and Julia Roberts were two of the many actors who took to the stage to explain how the disease has affected their lives, Franklin and fellow 2012 gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas were among the stars who were answering phones and taking donations backstage.
“It was hard because I really got to talk to people one-on-one and heard their stories first-hand and some of them were really tough to listen to.”
Two days later, Franklin was cheering on the Broncos with 11 of her fellow Team USA athletes.
The Broncos game was just one way the state of Colorado honored its Olympic athletes. One week after the Closing Ceremony, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper held an event in Centennial, Colo., where nearly 1,000 Coloradoans turned out to celebrate their hometown heroes.
Gov. Hickenlooper pointed out that Colorado athletes earned nine of Team USA’s 104 medals in London, accounting for 8.65 percent of the medal haul.
“I think the culture of Colorado, the quality of life – we are the healthiest state in America – is conducive for creating, training and attracting top athletes,” said Gov. Hickenlooper.
“The theme of the 2012 Olympics was to inspire a generation and these dedicated men and women did just that, not just here and not just in United States, but across the world.”
Georgia Gould is one of those athletes who inspired a generation. Gould became the first American mountain biker to earn an Olympic medal since 1996 when she earned bronze in London.
Though she was several thousand miles away from Colorado during the Games, Gould could feel the support of her home state.
“I could feel it through the computers and TV screens of people that got up early to watch my race and were cheering the whole time,” she said. “I know it’s out there and it helps me dig a little deeper.”
Another inspirational Coloradoan returned home to an exciting post-Games experience.
After earning an Olympic bronze medal in the long jump, Janay DeLoach, a Colorado State University graduate returned to the U.S. on Aug. 31, and has remained plenty busy. On Saturday, she married Patrick Soukup after a 16-month engagement.
“I planned [the wedding], it wasn’t really that hard, it was stressful yesterday and the day before but other than that, I waited long enough and he’s my soulmate,” DeLoach said while attending the Broncos game just one day after her nuptials.
DeLoach departs Monday for her well-deserved honeymoon in Mexico, but was grateful for the chance to celebrate with the state she calls home.
“Colorado has shown me so much support,” DeLoach said. “I’ve gotten the chance to see the Colorado Rapids and now Denver Broncos tonight, it’s amazing. It’s been such a great welcome home from all of Colorado.