In 1978, Jim Saccomano got a call that would change his life: The Denver Broncos wanted to hire him. He spent 30-plus years working for the team, witnessing multiple Super Bowl wins, and retired as public relations vice president in 2013. This summer, Saccomano was honored as one of the best in the business as an inaugural winner of the National Football League Hall of Fame’s Award of Excellence.
RED caught up with the 1970 graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver to discuss his celebrated PR career, being enshrined in Canton and the future of Broncos football.
What are your thoughts on the Broncos sale to the Walton-Penner group? It looks like a glorious era is about to be embarked on by the Broncos, with the city as a wonderful beneficiary of that. Clearly, the wealth is there to do something if they desire to do so. When the Broncos began (1960), there were streets that were filled with dirt and dust in Denver. And when Monday Night Football began (1970), it was heavily an East Coast thing. The Broncos were not quite a laughingstock, but they were a complete afterthought in terms of participation. Well, this is not the case now. With Russell Wilson, the Broncos will live on Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, doubleheader games and a lot more. It seems like they’re well poised for a great era.
You’ve said that acquiring John Elway and Peyton Manning were two of the greatest moments in Broncos history. Where does trading for Russell Wilson fall? Top three. He hasn’t done anything yet, for the Broncos, so I would say it’s third. I think that’s fair to say. It could wind up as who knows what? Hard to imagine he passes Elway because Elway is sort of a transcendent figure in the whole Rocky Mountain area now. But the greatest moments in Broncos history are the three Super Bowls and those three acquisitions.
How did it feel to receive an Award of Excellence from the Hall of Fame? A year ago, Steve Atwater (former Broncos player and current team employee) and I went to the Hall of Fame and I ran into Dave Baker (former CEO of the NFL Hall of Fame). He said, ‘Do you know about our committees?’ No. ‘You’re going in, Jim,’ What? And he said, ‘I’m sure you’ll be in this year or next year.’ And like Spiderman, he was gone. Then a few months later, I had a call from a friend who said, ‘You’re the obvious guy.’ And that was a big, big, big thing. And the next thing you knew I received a call and they said, ‘Hey, they’re going to announce all this on Monday.’ That’s a pretty big deal. It’s been a pretty cool deal.
What made you want to come to MSU Denver? Like a lot of people in the area, financially and logistically, MSU Denver was my only option, and I’m forever grateful. The University did a (marketing campaign) a couple of years ago about transforming lives, and it transformed mine. Without it, I probably don’t get a college degree.
How did MSU Denver prepare you for your career? I was a big sports fan. I knew I wanted to work in the field of journalism and sports. At that time, there was no journalism degree. One of my majors was speech and my minor was English. And then I got an internship. I was actually the first intern in the history of the school. I had an internship with KBTV Channel 9 and then was hired by them.
After graduation, I spent a lot of time covering sports as a reporter. Then a fellow at the Denver Bears AAA baseball team was leaving for another job and recommended me to the general manager, so I went to work in baseball. After a year, I took time off to get a master’s degree, and then went back to the baseball team. About a year and a half later, the Broncos called me. Very uncommon but yes, they called me.
What advice would you give someone who wants a communications career in professional sports? Well, they probably should major in journalism or as close to it as their school has. They need to have an internship. And then they need to become absolutely indispensable — first one in, last one out. This is not what a lot of people want to hear, but boy is it a tough road. Four years of college experience and ‘I can’t live without him or her’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do when he or she graduates.’ That’s the person I’m looking for.
Why are Coloradans so supportive of the Broncos even after a seven-year playoff drought? The Broncos are the state religion. Maybe because the Broncos were the first major league team in the city, like a firstborn child or whatever it might be. I wish the very best to all the other teams (in Colorado) but there’s no other way to put it: The competition is between the Broncos and the expectations.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.