DENVER -- Joe Flacco looms larger than life in Denver, and not just because he engineered the stunning upset of the Broncos in the playoffs that propelled the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title.
The league's marketing campaign for next week's kickoff game features several large banners of Flacco fluttering from lampposts on downtown streets -- and a giant one several storeys high that hangs at Sports Authority Field alongside a banner of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
That has drawn an angry public reaction from Broncos fans who have taken to Twitter and to the streets to vent their frustration. One local sportscaster used a Sharpie to draw a moustache on a Flacco poster hanging along Denver's 16th Street Mall, and covered another with tape.
Some fans have organized an online petition asking the league, which purchased the advertising space from the Downtown Denver Partnership, to remove the Flacco banners.
The Ravens visit Denver on Thursday for the NFL's regular-season opener. They're the first champion to open on the road since the Super Bowl teams began hosting the league's Thursday-night kickoff celebration 10 years ago. In a radio interview this week, Manning questioned the placement of the Flacco banner on the stadium, telling KOA 850 AM, the Broncos' radio affiliate in Denver, "It doesn't seem to make much sense that the Denver Broncos have to have an opposing player on their stadium."
"We respect the fans' passion and enthusiasm for the game," said Brian McCarthy, NFL vice-president of corporate communications. "This will be in many ways a Super Bowl-like atmosphere with a national audience to kick off the season. It's a tremendous matchup, but built around it is some of our activities that you would see at a Super Bowl or you'd see at an international game where you promote both teams."
McCarthy noted that in the 2007 kickoff, there were giant banners of Saints running back Reggie Bush hanging alongside those of Manning, then with the Colts, in Indianapolis. Last year, he noted, there were subway lines named for Dallas QB Tony Romo and Giants QB Eli Manning. And the year before that, a huge banner of Saints QB Drew Brees hung alongside one of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers at an arena near Lambeau Field.
The difference is, this is the first time the giant banner of a player is hanging on the opposing team's stadium.
McCarthy reiterated that the league wanted the defending Super Bowl champions to open at home, as is custom, but the Baltimore Orioles wouldn't reschedule their game, so the Ravens are opening on the road.
He said the game in Denver also is used "to promote the matchups of all the other teams. So, think of it almost as an opening ceremony. During the game next Thursday we will celebrate the return of the NFL across the country. There will be special moments before the game that will be different than if this was a Week 7 game, which it could have been."
McCarthy added that images of Manning will be displayed in Baltimore when the signage and stage for Keith Urban's kickoff concert there go up next week.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe said he prefers everyone leave the banners alone and let the Broncos' defence worry about taking down Flacco.
"We'll take care of that," he said. "You guys just come to the game."
-- The Associated Press