Your average sports fan will never understand the Barrel Man. The average fan will see an old guy wearing nothing, save for a pair of cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and a Barrel. But to Broncos Country, Tim McKernan is a beloved symbol of everything the Denver Broncos franchise has stood for since its inception.
From 1967 through the 2009 season, Tim attended each Bronco home game at the old Mile High Stadium as well as at Invesco Field. In 1977, Tim began wearing his iconic Barrel after making a $10 bet with his brother over whether wearing one would get him on television.
He did, wearing a barrel painted to resemble Orange Crush soda, which was also the nickname for the feared Orange Crush defense the Broncos sported during the 1977 season.
From that day in 1977 to 2003, the Barrel Man was a local icon at Broncos games and in Broncos Country, posing for pictures with young and older fans alike, as well as signing a number of autographs.
I remember meeting him as a young 10 year old, feeling completely star struck and let me tell you, there isn’t a feeling in the world quite like it. It’s almost like meeting a rock star, but one that shares the same passion as you and is extremely down to earth.
No matter the weather, every Sunday you could find Tim in the stands, wearing his customary uniform cheering on the team he loved. Tim attended many away games over the years as well, loving his visits to Oakland where the local Black Hole mascots protected him as their own.
Throughout his super fan career, Tim acquired 21 different barrels, one of which sold for $30,000 on eBay in 2006. In 2003, Tim began having serious health issues and was restricted to wearing the Barrel for one half of play and only when the temperature was above freezing.
In 2007, Tim McKernan retired his barrel and was honored by the Broncos during a halftime show, where he was presented with a team football and other gifts while receiving lots of fan appreciation that moved him to tears.
He continued attending games until he passed away on December 5th, 2009 of respiratory failure. Tim was such a beloved member of not only the fan base, but of the team, as he was honored with an invitation to John Elway’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
A few groups of Bronco Fans are doing their best to immortalize Mr. McKernan at Sports Authority Field. One group of Bronco Fans have recently reached out to Broncos Owner, Pat Bowlen, in an effort to have this legendary fan inducted into the Bronco Ring of Fame.
They currently have an online petition going where any fan can visit and sign their support here. You can also join a Facebook petition group who has the same goal. The other group is working to have a statue placed at the stadium in Tim’s honor.
I, for one, cannot think of a reason to omit the Barrel Man from the Bronco Ring of Fame. Broncos Country would not be what it is without him and he should be remembered in the history of the Denver Broncos.
On November 23rd, 2014, against the Miami Dolphins at Mile High, Tim’s son Todd donned his father’s signature outfit one last time to honor his father.
“I miss my dad very, very much; and I feel like this an opportunity to maybe experience those same feelings that I had when I went to games with him,” he said. “I want that feeling again … and I hope to get that.”
Todd donned the Barrel once again this past Sunday to send off the Broncos as they departed for Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.
“I've been going to games with my dad since 1967 and I miss him terribly and it's like being with him again,” he said.
“I know he’s watching. I believe when people go to heaven they watch over you so I know him and my grandparents are looking down right now saying go Broncos.”
This time, the Barrel read “Miss you, Dad.”
We all do, Todd. Tim remains with all of us, in our thoughts and in our cheers on game days. Broncos Country wants that feeling again and hopefully we’ll have it Sunday night.
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