By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – For the first time in nearly two years, Empower Field at Mile High was at full capacity for a regular-season game Sunday afternoon. The Broncos beat the New York Jets 26-0 in the home opener for the 2021-2022 season.

(credit: CBS)

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For much of the COVID-19 pandemic, games were either played in an empty stadium or before a limited crowd of only about 5,700 fans. As thousands more came to the stadium to tailgate and watch the game Sunday, many celebrated and cherished the opportunity to gather again.

“The weather is awesome, people are great, it’s good to see everybody back out and having a great time again,” said Jamie Klein of Thornton.

Klein, his wife, and several family members showed up to the stadium early to tailgate ahead of the game. The season ticketholder of five years had been to a recent pre-season game, but never attended a game in the 2020 season.

“It’s not the same atmosphere,” Klein said. “You don’t have all the fans here and everybody getting crazy. You don’t have the stadium thundering like it usually does.”

At a tailgate one parking lot over, the Soria family celebrated the chance to be together. Several members traveled from Phoenix to attend the game in-person with their loved ones, rather than over Facetime, which they did to stay connected last season.

(credit: CBS)

“A combination of having the family together, as well as being able to go to the game as a family is icing on top,” said Joe Soria.

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Geno Rascon of Denver will cherish the memories from Sunday for the rest of his life. He was joined by his two teenage sons, who had never been to a Broncos game in person.

The occasion marked a high point for Rascon and his family after a tough year. He said last November, his brother died of COVID-19.

“It took us on a bad turn, but we’re getting out of it day by day and keep moving forward,” Rascon said.

Eddie Case, a season ticketholder of ten years, called it a privilege to return to the stadium for a game with his wife, Cherie. The two said they most looked forward to seeing the familiar faces from their section, including the attendant, George.

“We’re friends outside of here,” said Cherie. “I even brought him a t-shirt from our vacation in Key West!”

“You’ve got tons of friends, you expect to see them every time you come in, so yeah they look forward to seeing us and we look forward to seeing them,” said Eddie.

(credit: CBS)

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The stadium will be at full capacity once again this upcoming Sunday when the Broncos take on the Baltimore Ravens.

Conor McCue