ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos linebacker Joe Mays was strolling through the grocery store earlier this week when he spotted a family decked out in Pittsburgh Steelers garb.
The invasion of Pittsburgh fans has already begun. In his own neighborhood, no less.
Wait until Sunday.
Billed as Broncos country, this region will be transformed into Steelers territory with Ben Roethlisberger & Co. arriving in the Mile High City for a first-round playoff game.
Pittsburgh fans have always traveled well for big games, doing their best to bring some home-field advantage on the road with their numbers and noise.
That's why Broncos coach John Fox urged fans not to sell their tickets to Steelers supporters. The last thing Fox wants to see this weekend is a sea of yellow Terrible Towels in the stadium.
"I would encourage all of them to keep their seats so to speak and not sell them to Pittsburgh fans, so our stadium remains as active and loud as it's been," Fox said. "More blue and orange as opposed to (black) and gold."
Shutting out Pittsburgh's faithful probably won't happen. They were certainly a roaring bunch during the 2005 AFC Championship, rooting on the Steelers to a 34-17 win in Denver on their way to another Super Bowl title.
The sight of so much black and gold on the road never gets old for Roethlisberger.
"I think it kind of blows most people away," he said. "When you're on the road and you have guys on other teams that aren't used to seeing that, and all of a sudden they see the Steeler fans come in and their like, 'Holy cow, what's going on?' It's a pretty neat feeling."
According to SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that pulls together listings from all major secondary ticket websites, Pittsburgh fans just seem to find a way to get their hands on tickets. A good portion of ticket shoppers scouring SeatGeek for deals for the playoff game are from the Pennsylvania area.
"The Steelers simply are a massive road draw, and their fans come out of the woodwork to show up — wherever they are playing," said Will Flaherty, the director of communications at SeatGeek. "We see it week in and week out whenever the Steelers hit the road in the NFL in terms of elevated secondary market prices, and this weekend is no exception to that trend."
There may be even more tickets available from disgruntled Broncos season-ticket holders.
Sure, this is the Broncos' first postseason appearance in six years, but the recent poor play of Tim Tebow, along with conservative, predictable play calling, has turned off some die-hard Denver fans.
The Broncos had far more punts (nine) than points (three) in a loss to Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. The Broncos' third straight loss nearly cost them a playoff spot, but they were bailed out when San Diego beat Oakland later Sunday.
"That game was one step above watching paint dry," said Todd Tenenbaum, who's from Denver and has had season tickets in his family since the franchise's birth in 1960. "To watch the running back and quarterback bump into each other to see who can get up the middle first is just boring.
"I'd rather stay home and watch 'Wizards of Waverly Place' with my kids."
As for heeding Fox's advice, Tenenbaum said he's taking it under advisement.
"Because of the value of the tickets and that most likely Pittsburgh is going to cream us, I'd rather sell to a Pittsburgh fan that I know," he said. "That way, they can enjoy the game.
"I feel guilty about selling."
Steelers fans often make road games feel just like Heinz Field.
"I'm continually surprised and awed by that, particularly when we're out west," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got world championship-caliber fans, and that's why we work so hard to produce results on the field for them."
Broncos running back Lance Ball can't get away from Steelersmania. He hears about it all the time since his brother is a big Pittsburgh fan.
"He's on both sides. I think he'll wear a half (jersey of each)," Ball said, laughing. "Pittsburgh is one of America's teams. They've been around. They're a favorite, just like the Cowboys."
As for the partisan crowd, Ball said it won't bother him. After all, the Broncos went 3-5 at home, 5-3 on the road.
"I like playing in an away-game type of field," Ball said. "But we're at home. We have to take it like that. It's our house."
Pat Graham can be reached at http://twitter.com/pgraham34 .