by Jason Janz
Eight years ago, Juan Pena and I, our families, and a small team of people banded together to start a church and non-profit work in an urban neighborhood in Denver. Juan and I have become a tag team as we’ve worked together on urban education, poverty alleviation, and community development. We’ve become great friends and have seen each other in the best of times and worst of times.
Our wives would tell you that sometimes our biggest challenge is unplugging from the work. Our staff team has discovered that there’s an “on-call” nature to the work coupled with an endless amount of work to be done. Without creating intentional spaces for rest and relaxation, one can develop unhealthy patterns pretty quickly. One of the ways, we both relax or “chilax” as my sons call it, is through sports.
I am a 30-year Denver resident and a dedicated Bronco fan. Juan lived in a Boston and is a die-hard Patriots fan. Both of our teams are competitive and both sit inside the same conference. So, since we started working together, our teams have been in the playoffs twelve times and actually have played each other three times in the postseason (Denver won twice, Pats only once).
So, we good-naturedly poke at each other all season long. I have plenty of fodder as long as Belichick is at the helm. And Deflate-gate. What a gift! More fun than I could’ve asked for. Of course, Peyton has plenty of chinks in his armor and so it comes back my way.
About three weeks ago, things took an interesting turn. Our teams were both in the running and looking strong going into the playoffs. As you know by now, we faced each other in the AFC Championship. But something was different this year. As the game approached, word got out that Juan’s 5-year-old son, Ezzy, was entertaining the thought of cheering for the Broncos. The parents put on a full court press and bribed him with ice cream and candy to be a true blue Patriots fan. You can see their manipulation played out here –
So, many of us Denverites banded together to “save him from the dark side.” We created a GoFundMe site (https://www.gofundme.com/5ekpeezg) and people pitched in from all over. $150 was given to purchase Broncos gear for him. After we purchased these gifts, we invited Ezzy over to our house to present the gifts. This is how that went down.
Well, as you all know, the Patriots choked and the Broncos went on to be in the Super Bowl. However, out of the blue, Juan received a call from CBS news asking if they could use his YouTube video from the Super Bowl last year where he recorded his family watching the game. It’s one for the ages and has received over 100,000 views. CBS will be using it in the pregame show to talk about dedicated fans.
Well, Antonio Johnson, Juan’s co-worker and friend, couldn’t let it rest. He reached out to local news stations and told them about the video and our journey with Ezzy. Could we use this to make him even more of a Bronco fan? Plus, Ezzy needed encouragement before the big day.
So, Antonio planned an event to further embed Ezzy in the Broncos cheering section for life. The Denver Post picked up on the story and arranged for a photo shoot with Juan in Patriots gear and Ezzy in his new Bronco gear. Antonio decided to plan an ambush of the photo shoot (which the Post was in on) by bringing a cheering section to the house. About thirty of us, decked out in orange and blue, gathered to spring the surprise. Well, when Juan saw us coming, he quickly commandeered a counter-offensive.
After our melee, we gathered in the house and celebrated Ezzy and our joint humanity. Sports has a way of bringing people together and bringing joy, light, and celebration into our lives.
Nelson Mandela once said that “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
Indeed, we have seen both here and around the world the important role that sports plays in this journey we call life. I’m thankful for Juan. I’m thankful for his friendship. I’m thankful that in the middle of serious work, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Oh yeah…GO BRONCOS!!!!!