Derek Johnson

After experiencing the gut-punch of Super Bowl XLVIII in New York, two Broncos fans made Super Bowl 50 a family affair and experienced joy in more ways than one

February 11, 2016

On Super Bowl Sunday, The MMQB noticed a family of Broncos fans in their seats nearly two hours before kickoff. The seats around them had not yet been filled, but the Johnsons were eagerly waiting for their team to take the field. We asked them, if the Broncos were to win, if they’d be willing to share their Super Bowl story with us. “I think you mean WHEN we win,” Derek Johnson corrected, showing a surprising amount faith for someone who had witnessed the Broncos’ last Super Bowl outing. Here is the story of Super Bowl 50, as told by the Johnson family from Parker, Colo.

Derek Johnson, 41

Seeing the Broncos play in Super Bowl XLVIII with my wife Meredith was a bucket list event. But the game didn’t play out as we hoped, and it was a somber walk out of MetLife Stadium after the 43-8 drubbing. On the bus ride back to Manhattan we decided we would take the boys—our sons Bryce and Cole—to the next Broncos’ Super Bowl. With sky-high expectations for the 2014 season, we booked our tickets to Phoenix in September. After a great start, Manning was injured and our offense sputtered. The season ended in disappointment and canceled flights.

We didn’t have similar expectations for 2015, because the offense struggled. But there was something special about our defense, resulting in a surprising 7-0 start. After dominating Green Bay, we started to believe and began looking into flights to San Francisco. A loss to Indianapolis the next week and the Manning injury quickly brought us back down to reality. It wasn’t until the come-from-behind victory over the Patriots that we decided to book our travel to the Super Bowl.

After disappointing losses to Oakland and Pittsburgh, I was convinced we would wind up canceling our flights again. We managed to back into the top seed for the playoffs, but I didn't think we had a chance of bringing our boys to Super Bowl 50. We managed to hold off Pittsburgh, but still had the Patriots coming to town. As we walked to the stadium full of doubt for the AFC Championship Game, I told Mer, “I hope we win so we can take the boys to Super Bowl.” It was no longer about the Broncos, it was about our boys.

Derek, Bryce and Cole Johnson cheer for the Broncos at the Super Bowl.
Meredith Johnson

The atmosphere that day was amazing and the stadium had never been louder. Even though we clung to the lead with our amazing defense, I was positive that Brady and Gronk would pull it out somehow. After the Patriots failed two-point conversion, we jumped up and down hugging and the first words I said to Meredith were, “We are taking our boys to the Super Bowl!”

When we returned from the game, Bryce, our 12-year-old, immediately asked if we would take he and his brother this time. Just for effect, we looked him in the eyes and told him that tickets were too expensive to bring them. We finally told them that we had tickets for them on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl. They were absolutely shocked and just stared at us. Once they processed what we said, they ran around the house screaming. They would get a chance to witness NFL history. 

I was more confident before the Super Bowl than any of our previous games, because our defense had finally convinced me. But the outcome of the game was not nearly as important as the experience our boys had this weekend. Whether it was watching the sea lions at the wharf or racing Torrey Smith at The NFL Experience, they had the time of their lives.

The Super Bowl was everything I could have hoped for and more. We had an amazing time yelling and screaming as our defense dominated once again. I will never forget the looks on my sons’ faces after Von Miller's second strip sack of the day, the play that secured the victory. We hugged and screamed and collected confetti after the final whistle. This time, the walk to the bus was the opposite of somber. As I watched them collect more gold confetti along the way, I couldn't help but imagine a scene 25 years from now where they will sit around a screen watching Super Bowl 75 and tell their children about Super Bowl 50 and what was likely Peyton Manning's last game.

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Meredith, 40

The AFC title for the Broncos meant dreams come true for the Johnson crew. The moment we witnessed the loss at Super Bowl XLVIII, Derek and I vowed to take our boys to the next Broncos Super Bowl. For us, the win or loss came second to the joy of the NFL experience (although the win made it all much sweeter). It was about fans, friends, and family, uniting together to support and celebrate their team. Derek has been a Broncos fan since he was our boys’ age. Super Bowl XLVIII was a bucket list check for him but I knew that Super Bowl 50 would be so much more than that. 

The boys wake up each day from football dreams and go to bed each night recalling what they did that day to get them closer to the NFL. No joke. They have more football knowledge than most grown men and their athletic drive is stronger than anyone I know. I have no doubt that will succeed wherever life takes them, in part due to values they have gained from football and youth sports.  

The game itself was nothing less than exceptional. San Francisco was a beautiful venue and the hospitality was superb. We took in about as much of the city as we could during our stay. I think it is safe to say that all of my boys (young and not-so-young) had a magical weekend. And Mama was pretty happy too! 

Bryce, 12

Bryce and Cole, ready for a Denver Super Bowl title.
Derek Johnson

What 12-year-old football player wouldn’t want to see their NFL team play for a world championship? I was in shock when my parents told me their trip to the Super Bowl was actually a trip for four. My brother and I were going with them to Super Bowl 50! Our first stop in San Francisco was Super Bowl City. I was nervous about the rest of the trip when I saw the huge crowds and long lines. The next day, we explored the Bay Area and spent the evening at the NFL Experience. There were tons of fun games where you could race or jump against real NFL players.

And then game day was here. As the NFL bus pulled up to the stadium, I was amazed at the size of the stadium. We spent several hours enjoying the awesome tailgate activities outside. It was really cool to see the players’ family members walking around in their jerseys. The tailgate games were cool, but it was great how all the fans got along.

Finally, kickoff… I was so excited, but really nervous. The game went on for a while without a touchdown. Then out of nowhere, Von Miller stripped Cam Newton and Malik Jackson recovered for the first touchdown. The crowd went crazy and I was so happy. It took off a lot of the pressure. In the end, we came home Super Bowl champs, 24-10!

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We stayed to watch the award ceremony. That was a great experience to see them launch confetti and announce Von Miller as MVP. I got to witness NFL history!

Cole, 10

First of all, I thought we were going to lose to the Steelers in the playoffs, but we pulled out the victory. I thought we were lucky to get by the Patriots. I knew my mom and dad were going to the Super Bowl, but then they told me that Bryce and I were coming too. I was so excited that I didn’t know what to say.

When we were at the Super Bowl, I was really nervous because Carolina had looked so good against the Cardinals. It was a good first drive for the Broncos and I thought we looked good. Our defense looked like a mixture of the best players in the NFL. I couldn’t believe it when we won the game. I couldn’t believe I witnessed history for the Broncos. I collected so much confetti. I know I will never forget that day at the Super Bowl.

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