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Fans don’t have to know heroes to admire them

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My hero has finally won a Super Bowl.

He has exorcised his demons.He finally held the Vince Lombardi trophy above his head with his golden right arm, after owner Pat Bowlen proclaimed, "This is for John."

Our connection all started on a fall afternoon in 1979 when my father took me to a Stanford football game and this gunslinging freshman named John Elway arrived. I followed him all the way to his collegiate baseball field, the Sunken Diamond, and saw him single-handedly beat USC in baseball.

That was also the site of the only direct contact I ever had with Elway, when he signed an autograph for a pimply 11-year-old kid.

Once, only once, have I been in the same space as my sports hero. We have never talked, and I know almost nothing about him. I know that he drove a Datsun 280-Z when he was in college, and that, of course, became my favorite car.

The media guide tells me that he is from Port Angeles, Wash., and has a twin sister. He is married to Janet, a Stanford swimmer, and they have four kids. He is a businessman, having just sold his car dealerships to Wayne Huizenga for $85 million.

That is the extent of my knowledge. Elway seems nice, polite and sincere in his interviews. He has never been on the morning police blotter.

Lack of knowledge has never held back sports fans from connecting to their heroes. For nearly 20 years I have followed every move, felt every hit and weeped with every loss. I have defended him against all naysayers and all criticism.

And why?

Because the fan in me believes that all the 48,669 yards he has thrown for in his career were for me. That he took each and every one of those 500 sacks for me.

This connection between hero and fan places the fan in the passenger seat on the sports roller-coaster. Along the ride, there are the lowlights: three Super Bowl losses, 13 operations and a flood of tears after a devastating loss to Jacksonville in last year's playoff.

At the same time, the ride rolled through the most wins ever by an NFL quarterback, "The Drive" vs. Cleveland, 12 seasons of more than 3,000 yards, and the signature 44 fourth-quarter comebacks. All of which he did for me, the fan.

Elway even went so far as to catch two passes and punt the ball seven times in the 221 games he played for me, the fan.

Don't misunderstand; it wasn't only for me, he also did it for all the other people who have him as a hero. He knows none of us, but we all believe that every move, every hit he takes is for us.

This is the essence of sports. Truly, I know not a thing about the man - what he thinks, what he believes, what he supports, what he stands for, how he treats his wife and kids. But that doesn't matter. The connection is strong as it can be.

My lack of true knowledge about my hero didn't stop me, the fan, from placing that No. 7 Bronco jersey over my shoulders on Sunday, putting on the lucky socks, sweats and hat. Of course, these all helped John in his dynamic third-quarter scramble.

Nor did my lack of knowledge stop me from screaming, "Johnny you can do it. Johnny, you are the greatest. Come on, Johnny, be the hero," at the television, agonizing over his interception in the end zone, and sitting stunned as he finally lifted the Super Bowl trophy.

This is the basic nature of sports. Our connections are based solely on the ability of an athlete to perform on the field. We place our emotions and our hearts on the sleeves of individuals based on how they throw a football, shoot free throws, pass a basketball or hit a curve ball.

When we truly look at it, we know very little about our sports heroes. We don't know anything other than how they perform on the field. But that never stops us from cheering.