Condoleezza Rice’s love for football and Denver were on full display
As the former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice personally handled difficult negotiations all over the globe, running America’s complex and diverse State Department. So owning an NFL franchise should be a snap, right?
On Wednesday, Rice – once a member of the 13-person College Football Playoff selection committee, and now a member of the Denver Broncos’ six-person ownership group – shed her political image almost entirely in a clearly emotional return to Colorado, all for the opportunity to be fully involved in the sport she loves.
“I’m just thrilled to be a part of this great Denver Broncos organization for a couple of reasons. One, is that you have to understand how much I love football. My dad was a football coach when I was born. I was supposed to be his All-American linebacker. When he got a girl, he decided to teach her about the sport instead,” Rice said, before earnestly cracking the day’s best joke. “Even though my father has gone to the Lord, I have to think that today, he’s thinking, ‘She finally got a really important job.'”
Rice’s football knowledge runs unquestionably deep. As Stanford University’s provost from 1993-99, Rice oversaw a $1.5 billion annual budget, and spent more than a little bit of time talking football. Head coach David Shaw recalled a discussion with Rice regarding the usage of the Cardinal tight ends.
“It wasn’t a cursory conversation,” Shaw told ESPN in 2015. “It was about taking over the middle of the field, watching Coby Fleener go up the seams, and (Levine) Toilolo being so big and being able to run 10- to 12-yard cross routes and being able to find the quarterback because of his size, and Zach Ertz’s knack in the red zone to double-move. These are conversations you have with football coaches, not with secretaries of state.”
Her love of Denver runs deep, as well, as the two-time DU Pioneer explained.
“I want to say, too, that it’s great to be back in Denver. I came to Denver for the first time as a six-year-old, when my family came here for my parents to go to graduate school. We returned to live here when I was 12 years old,” Rice said. “I was taught by the Sisters of Loretta at Saint Mary’s Academy and on to the University of Denver, twice, for my undergraduate degree and my PhD. Through that period of time, everybody who lived here had to know that the Broncos make this community.”
Almost anybody can drop John Elway or Peyton Manning’s name into a Broncos discussion. Serious fans certainly know about Ring-of-Fame cornerback Louis Wright; but only diehards talk about former defensive end Rubin Carter. Rice falls into the latter category.
“I’m a part of the ‘Orange Crush’ generation, where you’d go into any grocery store or any restaurant, and there were all of those Orange Crush cans piled up with Rubin Carter or Louis Wright peering over them,” Rice recalled, before giving something of a shout-out to her former employer. “Of course, the tradition was continued with the great Stanford man, John Elway, and Peyton Manning and others. This is a great tradition; a great heritage of winning. But the goal now is to build on that heritage and that tradition; to continue it in a way that makes for a bright future.”
After owner Rob Walton and owner and new CEO Penner explained at length why the Broncos were one of the few teams — and possibly the only one — in which they ever considered entering the world of sports ownership for, Rice made it clear that she understands what the Broncos, once called a “public trust” by former owner Pat Bowlen, mean to Denver and the entire Rocky Mountain region.
“We’re also dedicated to this community — to this wonderful place called Denver, Colorado, and a lot of places around Denver that love the Broncos,” Rice said, before extolling the most underrated value that any sports team provides to its community. “In days when communities are ripped apart by so much, the football team, like the Broncos, can be a source of unity. A source of common purpose. A source of common pride. I very much look forward to being a part again of this great Denver community, and all that the Broncos mean to them.”
In his introductory press conference, Penner was adamant that Starbucks chairperson Mellody Hobson, Formula One legend Lewis Hamilton, and Rice — all fellow owners — would all be a part of the team’s decision-making processes. Given the extraordinary breadth of experience and the scope of their accomplishments, Penner would be a fool to do anything less. But if he wants to know how Rice intends to turn the Broncos into Super Bowl contenders once more, Penner need only to defer to Shaw and his experience working with Rice at Stanford.
“If she ever sees us play a prevent defense, she’s going to be in my office,” Shaw explained seven years ago.” “She hates prevent defense. She wants to be aggressive.”