by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

SAN DIEGO — I am looking for horses. I see no horses. This is what I see: a Denver Broncos PR man skipping across the football field, yelling:
“This way, Amigos! This way!”

Strange, I think. Even for the Super Bowl.

“The Amigos will be at midfield! Right now! Clear the midfield area for the Three Amigos!”

No horses. No sombreros. No sagebrush. Just three short football players in

Denver jerseys emerging on the first day of Super Bowl interviews, followed by a mob of reporters. At no point does the PR man address them as Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel, which is what their mothers always called them, at least before this year.

They are now — and perhaps forever, who knows? — the Three Amigos.


“Yo man, stick together,” whispers Johnson to Jackson, who is momentarily distracted by a TV camera. “we’re supposed to stick together.”

Here is the first big gimmick of this big gimmick week, a schtick that might make a con artist blush. The Denver Broncos’ Three Amigos — a nickname rip-off of the comedy movie that might have been happy to give away its title, along with its awful reviews.

And here they come. They sit together. They remove their sunglasses together.


“What’s the latest Amigo developments?” someone asks.

“So far we’ve just got videos and posters out,” says Johnson, taking a seat inside Jack Murphy Stadium. “If we win the Super Bowl, there could be a lot of endorsements. Our agents are handling that stuff.”

I should describe what Johnson looks like right here. He no longer has the earrings, which he wore last year. He does, however, have the top of his hair dyed orange, along with an orange streak that runs down the back. His face is boyish. He speaks with a lilting laugh. Perhaps I can best describe him this way: if I were a defensive back, I would be thinking Amigo stew.

To his left sits Nattiel, whom Johnson describes as “the quiet Amigo.” A reporter is asking him to sing a Spanish folk song. To Johnson’s right sits Jackson, “the in-between Amigo” wearing sunglasses and answering questions about the first time he visited Tijuana. (“I was 17, and this guy says, ‘Yo, Gringo, you want a lady? And he points down this alley . . . “)

They are not Mexican. They speak as much Spanish as my dog. They are merely the three leading wide receivers for the Broncos, a team whose quarterback, John Elway, is smarter than anybody thinks, because he gave them the nickname and thus deflected at least 300 reporters away from him.

“Who the best dancing Amigo?” someone asks.

“Well, I’m the choreographer,” says Johnson.

“Who picked out the song for the video?”

“We all did,” says Jackson.

“Can you sing some?”


“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Now it is true. The three . . . whatevers are pretty darn good receivers. Their strength is in the way they operate with Elway. When he scrambles — which is often — they are able to sense where he’s going, come back, make a catch, and often turn it into a big gain (as Jackson did with his 80-yard touchdown reception in the AFC Championship game versus Cleveland.) Johnson caught 42 passes this season, Nattiel, 31, Jackson, 26, and all averaged over 16 yards per reception.

So they are good. But being good is no longer enough for Super Bowl week. Being good has been done. So now we have Johnson, 24, who likes to call himself “The Vance” and who arrived Monday wearing a leather jacket, beige gloves and a string tie — talking about his artwork, his hairstyle (which he also calls “The Vance,” although I think he’s overusing that catchy phrase just a bit) and the future of the Three Amigos.

And we have Jackson, 24, a second-year man who sometimes gets mistaken for
“The Vance,” especially when they go shopping together, talking about the future of the Three Amigos.

And we have Nattiel, 21, a rookie, who mostly just smiles a lot. My guess is Nattiel got roped into this thing the way your kid brother gets roped into

pulling the sled. My guess is Nattiel would be out of the Three Amigos in a flash if he could get away with it.

“Aw, everybody thinks Ricky’s so quiet, man,” says Jackson. “But that’s bull. He’s fooling everybody.”

I don’t know. He looked pretty quiet to me.

Anyhow, these guys are huge in Denver. Their posters and T- shirts are selling well. Their video — which features the three in western attire, a la Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short from the original movie — is reportedly whirring on VCRs across the Rockies. It’s amazing what a little nickname can do. Johnson is even talking about going on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.

“Is that true?” someone asks Jackson.

He laughs. “Look you guys. You gotta understand. At least half of what Vance tells you isn’t true.”

Ah. Honesty.

My kind of Amigo.

So where will we go with all this. Who knows? You can bank on countless Three Amigos newspaper stories, and plenty of Three Amigos talk during the Super Bowl broadcast. Maybe even an “Up Close And Personal” segment — you know, around the campfire, with the beans and the coyotes.

The point is, there is no point. The three players did not even see the movie until after they’d been given its name. Elway came up with a phrase, somebody wrote about it, and voila! — a marketing plan was born. You can hear the investors singing.

“That’s it for the interview sessions!” yells the PR man. “The Three Amigos will now do a photo shoot on the podium near midfield. Photos only for the Three Amigos . . .

I am tempted to say the whole thing is ridiculous. I am tempted to say it’s a shameless waste of time. I am also reminded that two years ago, Jim McMahon made big news by taking acupuncture needles in his rump, and last year, the New York Giants were front page for dumping Gatorade on their coach.

So what do I figure about the Three Amigos? Here is what I figure: I figure they are just about right for Super Bowl week.

Ole, baby. CUTLINE

Denver’s “Three Amigos,” (from left) Ricky Nattiel, Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson, dance for photographers at Super Bowl media day.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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