Monday, December 07, 2009

RIP, Barrel Man

The Broncos may have won in Kansas City in December for what seems like the first time in decades, but the team lost something bigger than a game this weekend: their Superfan.

Tim McKernan, otherwise known as Barrel Man, died last Saturday at the age of 69 from lung failure.

I've never been the face-painting, body-painting, wig-wearing, costume-donning type of fan. Never did it once, even in college. It's not my style. And those types of fans may be few and far between, but we've all seen them. They could be an airplane mechanic, like Barrel Man, or lawyers, or teachers, or plumbers. But when game time rolled around, these ultrafans would take it to the next level. You might roll your eyes at their getups, or their insane dedication to grown men playing games, but deep down, from somewhere in your sports-loving soul, you admired them, respected them. Maybe even wanted to be them, just for one day.

Part of the fun of going to Broncos games was either seeing Barrel Man in person or on the JumboTron or spotting him in the stands; it wasn't really an "official" game until then. And it didn't matter if it was a 97-degree preseason tilt in August or a snow-blown blizzard of an icebox day in December or January - Barrel Man would be in the stands, shirtless, cheering on the Broncos. He may have hung up the barrel in 2007, but there was still a presence.

Is standing around in near-freezing temperatures for hours on end, a mile above sea level, wearing nothing but a barrel, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat good for a person's body? Probably not. But that's why we loved him. And that's why he'll be missed.