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As Broncos’ Von Miller chased down ex-Greeley restaurateur Simon Fletcher’s record, they became friends

December 16, 2018 


Terry Frei 

Von Miller became the Broncos’ all-time sack leader with this tackle of the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. 

DENVER — On the scoreboard screens after the third quarter Saturday night, Simon Fletcher congratulated Von Miller for passing him to take over as the Broncos’ all-time sacks leader.

It came a few moments after Miller hauled down Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield for a 9-yard loss, at the Browns’ 12, on the final play of the third quarter at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.


Von Miller and Simon Fletcher. (Caroline Deisley/Denver Broncos)

Fletcher concluded his message to Miller with a reference to the Broncos’ long-time owner, now afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Great job,” Fletcher said. “Way to hold up to Pat Bowlen’s standard of play.”

Miller, now in his eighth season, came into the night only a half-sack behind Fletcher, who had 97.0 in his 11-season Broncos career, from 1985-95.

Fletcher, 56, was at the game to pass the torch before heading back to his home in Cheyenne.

He is a familiar figure in Greeley, both because the Broncos’ training camp was at the University of Northern Colorado for his entire career, and because he returned in 2013 for a foray in the restaurant business with his Whistle Blowers Grill and BBQ.

Although Miller is 27 years younger than Fletcher, their pursuit of quarterbacks as they wore orange and blue brought them together and led to the development of a friendship between the two native Texans.

Fletcher was born in Bay City, attended the University of Houston and was the Broncos’ second-round draft choice in 1985.


Von Miller in his holiday sweater after the game Saturday night. (Terry Frei)

Miller was raised in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, went to Texas A&M and was the No. 2 NFL overall pick in 2011.

After the Browns pulled out the 17-16 win that effectively ended the Broncos’ already-dim hopes for a playoff berth Saturday night, I asked Miller if he had seen Fletcher’s message on the screens from the bench between quarters.

“Yes, I saw the video,” Miller said. “Me and Simon have been buddies for five or six years now. He drove all the way down from Wyoming to see it, so it’s incredible to have that type of support from a Bronco legend. It’s been a real good experience with Simon. He’s always been positive and supportive, pushing me on to break it. Even when I had 30 sacks, he was pushing me on.

“It’s a family over here. It’s an honor and a privilege for him to see me do it. He’s been an idol of mine for a long time. To break the record while he was here at home, it was good.”


Simon Fletcher in action at his Whistle Blowers Grill and BBQ in Greeley in 2013. 

Fletcher also made a quick visit to the locker room to see Miller. He later wrote about it Broncos.com, and he began by saying:

When I watched Von play his first couple of years, I told Terry Frei in 2013, “In my opinion, Von Miller is the best pass-rusher I’ve seen in a Broncos uniform.”

Of course, he was 67.5 sacks behind me at that point, but I was just looking at the way he approaches the game. He’s always in optimal condition. He plays the game like a kid who’s just out there having fun, doing what he does.

Then Fletcher addressed his relationship with Miller:

We have a good friendship. It’s not one where we call each other on the phone and we sit and share our week’s experience, but when we do see each other, I feel like he’s a long-time friend.

When he looked up and saw me, I was about halfway across the locker room. And he stopped what he was doing, he got up, and he was approaching me. He went to extend his hand. I opened my arms.

This is a hug moment. This isn’t a high-five or a handshake. This is what we’ve been waiting for since you started playing football here. This is an embrace.

And while we hugged, I told him, “Great job, I’m so proud of you. Now go and get Reggie White and Bruce Smith. You can do it.”

Smith is the all-time career sacks leader, with 200.0, and White is second, at 198.0.

The man congratulating Miller still appreciates Greeley.

Fletcher’s restaurant was in the tall A-frame structure at 2411 8th Ave., near the UNC campus and a short walk from the site of the Smiling Moose, a Broncos’ nocturnal hangout during the camp years. When I visited Fletcher at Whistle Blowers in 2013, I asked: Why Greeley?

“Over the past three years, I’ve done mobile catering for different organizations in Northern Colorado, and I thought this would be a good place (for a restaurant),” he said. “It’s the first place I lived other than the Inn at the Mart (near the Broncos’ headquarters) right after the draft and I have fond memories of the first couple of weeks.

“I’m a single dad with a 21-month-old daughter and hundreds, literally hundreds of Greeley-area moms for the most part contacted the Broncos and offered to watch my daughter Ashley so she wouldn’t have to hang around a bunch of smelly old guys. Of course, I declined because of no familiarity, but I thanked them anyway and within the next couple of weeks stuffed animals and gifts for Ashley poured in. So Greeley’s always had a special place in my heart.”

The food at Whistle Blowers was great. I never did get the BBQ sauce stains out of that shirt after I visited Fletcher for a dual profile of him and ex-Broncos teammate Karl Mecklenburg, comparing their attitudes about what the game did to and for them and about the then-pending lawsuit over brain injuries against the league by former players.

Fletcher was a tireless proprietor, working every phase of the business, from tending to the meat smokers to clearing off tables. He commuted from his home in Lyons, but he was invested in the Greeley community, both financially and emotionally. The restaurant was popular.

“I’m a glutton for punishment,” he told me during my visit. “I had no idea that we would be doing such volume, that typically from a Thursday morning when I wake up until early Monday morning, I don’t get a wink of sleep.”

Yet as with many places in that business, in Greeley or anywhere else, popular wasn’t enough. Whistle Blowers closed, and Fletcher moved on to another restaurant try in Fort Morgan.


Simon Fletcher, far right, with his family at his belated induction to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2016. (Associated Press file photo)

For many years, the mystery was why he hadn’t been inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame, and that oversight finally was addressed when his name and number went on the upper-deck facade in 2016.

The Ring of Fame selection process has been both capricious and fraught with politics. Case in point: Running back Otis Armstrong — the NFL rushing champion in 1974 — still isn’t on the Ring of Fame in the wake of his long-ago legal battles with the team over disability issues.

Plus, the delays for wide receiver-kick returner Rick Upchurch, finally inducted in 2014, and Fletcher were glaring.

The strangest aspect of Fletcher’s exclusion was that he had taken a militant stand on the concussion lawsuit issue — and that militant stand was that he wouldn’t sign up.

“For me to be in a courtroom opposite the Denver Broncos is not going to happen,” Fletcher told me in 2013. “My (six) kids are all finished with college and my youngest just started her master’s work. A lot of that was funded because the Denver Broncos took a chance on a skinny boy from Texas, out of the University of Houston, many years ago. It didn’t take me long to wear that orange and blue before I fell in love with an organization.

“Whether that love as been requited or not is not even worth considering. I fell in love with my job, I fell in love with the Broncos, I fell in love with their fans, so I’m not ever going to get in the habit of fighting people I care about.”

For 23 years of retirement, Fletcher was the franchise’s all-time sack leader.

On one play, Von Miller caught both him and Mayfield.