DENVER -- It was erected in 1948 on the site of a dump. Cynics might say the rusting, rotting structure has come full circle.
Good riddance? Not to the millions of fans who have filtered through Mile High Stadium's turnstiles for memorable, stomach-churning events ranging from Denver Broncos games to baseball games to a visit by Pope John Paul II.
With a $364 million, state-of-the-art stadium nearing completion next door, Mile High is ready for the wrecking ball, and Saturday's finale against San Francisco will be the last regular-season game there for the playoff-bound Broncos.
Once the new stadium is ready, Mile High will be demolished to make way for a parking lot and more than a half century of memories will be buried with it -- but not forgotten.
John Elway worked his comeback magic there, and the Broncos, once a laughingstock of professional football, went 4-for-4 in AFC championship games played there, beginning with a win over archrival Oakland on Jan. 1, 1978, and ending with a victory over the New York Jets on Jan. 17, 1999. The latter sent the Broncos toward their second straight Super Bowl title.
There also were occasional blizzards, the weather-resistant Barrel Man, the ever-vocal Bronco fans in the South Stands and the vertically striped socks that the Broncos wore in their first two seasons that somehow made their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Elway, who retired after the second of back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1999, will be in attendance with his family on Saturday.
''Usually if there's a home-field advantage, it's just because it's loud,'' Elway said. ''It's not because of the mystique of everything that goes with Mile High. I think that's what makes Mile High unique, because of all the different things, altitude, weather, turf.''
At a time when Denver had a population of about 350,000 and only one skyscraper, Robert Howsam and his family raised $340,000 and built Bears Stadium, an 11,000-seat minor league baseball stadium. Its original tenants were the Denver Bears of baseball's old Western League.
When the Broncos became a charter member of the American Football League in 1960, the stadium capacity was increased to 34,657 for football.
Efforts to scrap it were abandoned in 1967 after voters rejected a bond issue to build an all-purpose metropolitan stadium. Instead, a fund-raising drive was launched to purchase the stadium for the city, a $1.8 million deal.
A 16,000-seat upper deck was constructed over the west stands, raising the capacity to more than 50,000 for the 1968 season. That December, the stadium was renamed Denver Mile High Stadium.
Today, it has 76,098 seats.
Mile High Stadium became synonymous with the Broncos. One of the loudest outdoor stadiums in the country, it shakes when fans stomp their feet and proves intimidating for opponents, as evidenced by the Broncos' 155-52-1 home record since 1974 -- the best in the NFL.
Of Elway's 47 game-saving drives, 29 occurred at Mile High, including an improbable comeback in a playoff game against Houston on Jan. 4, 1992. Trailing 24-23 with two minutes left and no timeouts and the ball at the 2-yard line, Elway was twice successful on fourth-down plays during an 87-yard drive that culminated in David Treadwell's game-winning 28-yard field goal with 20 seconds left.
Mile High was more than just a football stadium.
In 1987, Joey Meyer of the Denver Zephyrs, successors to the Bears, hit a towering home run through Denver's thin air that was measured at 582 feet, arguably the longest homer in the history of organized baseball. The spot was marked by a solitary orange seat in a sea of blue.
The Colorado Rockies played their first two seasons at Mile High, setting attendance records that still stand, before moving into Coors Field in 1995.
A record 80,227 fans welcomed the team in its home debut on April 9, 1993, an 11-4 win over Montreal that featured Eric Young's leadoff homer. By season's end, the Rockies had attracted 4,483,350 fans.
Only the pope outdrew them. An estimated 90,000 people jammed into the stadium for World Youth Day on Aug. 12, 1993, when the pope greeted his flock in 15 languages.
The Denver Bears outdrew several major league teams in the 1940s and 1950s, and a crowd of 65,666 for the Fourth of July Fireworks Game in 1982 set a minor league record.
With naming rights to be awarded on the new stadium, there is strong sentiment to retain the name.
''I just hope they keep the name Mile High for the new stadium,'' said Derell Younger, who has had season tickets in the stadium's northwest corner since 1969. ''The name is known everywhere. It's a tradition.''
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