For weeks, the hype over the Seattle Seahawks' winning season has been building throughout Western Washington. But as many in Whatcom County have been proudly flying their 12th Man flags, another legion of fans has been preparing to cheer for the team they believe will reign victorious come Sunday: the Denver Broncos.
It turns out, many Whatcom residents, both transplants from Broncos territory and others who grew up wearing blue and orange in a sea of blue and green, are just as hardcore about their love for the Broncos as many of their neighbors are for the Seahawks.
A few of these fans shared their favorite Broncos stories and described their best pieces of memorabilia for The Bellingham Herald.
HOME IS WHERE THE BRONCOS GEAR IS
Kyle Haan's family moved from Denver to Lynden when he was only 3 years old, but the few short years he lived near the Broncos' Rocky Mountain home turf was enough to instill a lifelong passion for the team.
Haan, now 28, married and dad of a 2-year-old daughter, has decked out his home office in Broncos décor. Pennants and a digital scoreboard hang on the wall near shelves filled with Broncos mugs, glasses, calendars and other memorabilia.
A few years back, Haan bought one of his most cherished items - a football signed by John Elway - after a fellow Broncos fan, tipped off by Haan's Broncos flag, mailbox and spare tire cover on his Jeep, dropped by his house and offered to sell him some gear.
Though he hasn't encountered too much trouble while wearing his orange and blue around Whatcom County over the past week, Haan said a few people have told him he's wearing the wrong colors for these parts.
But for as much grief as his friends and a few friendly Seahawks fans have given him, there are still other Broncos fans out there willing to share in Haan's team passion.
"I was at Walmart (Saturday, Jan. 25) wearing my Broncos gear," Haan said. "This lady stopped me and whispered she was a Broncos fan. It sounded like she didn't want to say it too loud, but she wanted to let me know I wasn't the only one around."
JAPANESE WOMAN EMBRACES AMERICAN PASSION
Mayumi Paluh moved to Bellingham from Japan two years ago to live with her husband, Zach. The two met at Whatcom Community College when Mayumi was studying there through an exchange program in 2006, but it wasn't until she moved to the United States permanently that Zach started to teach Mayumi about football.
"I didn't know anything; I didn't know what 'touchdown' means,'" Paluh said. "Back in Japan it wasn't really popular."
Zach grew up in Colorado, so in teaching Mayumi about the sport, the two were always sure to watch the Broncos games.
The first season was all about picking up the rules of the game. Now in her second season as a Broncos fan, Paluh enjoys watching the sport so much she'll tune in even when Zach is out of town.
"I go to Fred Meyer and will get beer and hot dogs and watch on my own," Paluh said.
As for the Super Bowl, the Paluhs plan to watch the game from home with friends who are "neutral" about who wins.
"I know it's going to be a great game," she said.
CHURCH AND CHEERS (OR BOOS)
Jason Manning, a pastor at Christ the King church in Sudden Valley, said on any given Sunday, the congregation of 100 or so people has six or seven Seahawks jerseys and another handful of Hawks shirts.
But Manning, whose parents are from Colorado, has been showing his Broncos pride recently, leaving his jersey in his chair when he goes up to preach.
"I have been booed up front for being a Broncos fan," Manning said. "All my Broncos jokes go silent, with crickets."
Perhaps it's the fact they have the same last name, but somehow Manning, 35, found himself following Peyton Manning's career with the Indianapolis Colts about a decade ago. Jason Manning drifted as a Broncos fan and even went to Indianapolis to watch the Seahawks play the Colts a few years back.
"What caused my man-crush? The way he played," Manning said. "My little brother was a quarterback, and I played myself. (Peyton's) not even one of the best athletes on the field, but he excels better than anyone else in his position because he's smart."
When Peyton signed with the Denver Broncos, two worlds collided and Jason found himself a Broncos fan once again.
Manning has a "man room" filled with a signed Peyton jersey and other Colts and Broncos memorabilia, including a signed John Elway football. He and his wife have spread the Broncos love to their three children, ages 8, 6 and 3.
But come Sunday, Manning's oldest child could be switching loyalties.
"My son just turned 8," Manning said. "His grandparents got him a Russell Wilson jersey. He was wearing a Peyton Manning jersey at the time, and I don't think it could have come off any faster."
Though he's worn the Wilson jersey often since then, Manning's son told his dad he would cheer for the Broncos on Sunday, so long as they're winning.
"But the Seahawks jersey will be nearby," Manning said. "He says, 'Whoever is winning, I'll be able to root for them.'"
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.