Sep. 18—SPRING LAKE — Curt Theune is known by many in the Spring Lake community as "Sgt. Theune" for his 26 years dedicated to law enforcement.
He is also known among those in the trading card world as "Bronco Curt," due to his nearly 50 years of avidly collecting Denver Broncos memorabilia.
When Theune was growing up, he and his family would visit his aunt in Colorado, where his passion for the Broncos was born. His aunt has since died, but his love for the Broncos continued to blossom.
Theune, now 53, grew up idolizing former all-pro Broncos wide receiver Rick Upchurch, even wearing Upchurch's No. 80 throughout junior high football at Spring Lake.
To this day, Theune has his childhood Broncos helmet — a vintage 1970s-style single chin strap and face mask — with visible abrasions and gashes from playing backyard football with the neighbor kids.
He's been collecting Broncos trading cards and memorabilia since his youth, continuously adding to his Broncos realm inside an upstairs room in his Spring Lake home.
"I'm literally putting cards in right now as we speak," Theune said, shuffling through his latest collection. "I haven't separated them by player yet, but I'm sorting them tonight."
Theune has created a database for all his cards, ensuring he doesn't add a card that's already in his arsenal. From common cards to rookie patch autograph cards (RPAs), he has each one arranged and categorized dating back to when the Broncos first played in the American Football League in 1960. Each card is protected by a plastic sleeve. Most of Theune's cards are then put in a sturdier top-load case for further safeguarding.
"I have tens of thousands of cards," he said. "I've got 75 pages in my database just alone dedicated to RPAs."
His most cherished cards — several autographed by Peyton Manning, John Elway and Terrell Davis — coat the inside of a cabinet, with values up to hundreds of dollars each. One of the Manning cards is numbered one out of only five in existence, and is stashed away in a one-touch case and factory sealed. Some cards contain pieces of jerseys. Others, like a John Elway, have pieces of a face mask built inside the card.
"I mean, come on, these are two of the best quarterbacks that ever played obviously in Denver and in the NFL," Theune said, holding Manning and Elway cards. "The more current stuff is where I start sorting it by literally every player. But even the players that are no longer with the team, they're still nice cards."
Some cards are graded by third-party card-grading companies, scoring them on a scale of 1-10.
"They'll have multiple people look at them, like 80 people looking at one card," Theune said. "They'll take the low and high scores out and take the happy medium."
Theune says he's not interested in having his cards graded, as his personal collection means far too much to sell.
"I'm doing a lot with my cards and I'm enjoying them," he said.
The Broncos fanatic has already secured Denver rookie cards like running back Javonte Williams and cornerback Patrick Surtain II, enjoying the thrill of chasing down the latest and greatest cards and memorabilia.
"Every year there's new players coming out and that's what keeps me going," Theune said. "There's a draft every year and I'm chasing those cards. ... Getting a rookie, autographed jersey card, that's the jackpot. Landing those, those are the ones that collectors want. You want the autographed, the jersey, the numbered cards."
Theune credits his long-time friendship with Lou Brown, owner of Legends Fan Shop in Grand Rapids, for his success in hunting down Broncos memorabilia. Legends has been established in the Grand Rapids area for more than 30 years, and Theune has and still works there once a month. That led to Brown introducing Theune to Mike Friedman, owner of Mike's Stadium Sports Cards in Aurora, Colorado.
"Both those guys have really helped me look out for Broncos stuff," Theune said. "They're in the business, both with 30-plus years, so they're reputable people."
Both Friedman and Brown have helped Theune develop a name for himself — further prospering his name as "Bronco Curt."
"My wife knows them well enough and jokes with them that she doesn't appreciate them," Theune laughed.
Sue Theune is a Detroit Red Wings fan. His son, Scott, is a Green Bay Packers fan.
"The majority of my family, they're all Packers fans," he said. "I ended up being the lone Broncos fan, but my family supports me."
Theune used to purchase packs and boxes of cards, filter through them for Broncos cards, and sell the rest off — or receive store credit at a trading card store.
"I was going to Legends and going to card shows," he said. "That's the nice thing about card shows — you don't have to buy a pack of cards."
The transition of card collecting via the internet, especially since the start of the pandemic, has reached new heights for the industry. Theune says because people were confined to their houses, the hobby of card collecting really took off.
Virtual card shows have become especially popular, as Theune explained the first bidder to type the name of the player earns rights to that specific card.
"I just snag cards," he said. "That's a big reason why they call me Bronco Curt."
Theune recalled once that during a card show put on by Friedman, he unveiled his collection.
"They told me I had to be one of the largest collectors of Broncos cards and memorabilia," Theune said.
Just above his most adored section of cards is every mini helmet in Broncos history. Beside those is his latest addition to the Broncos kingdom — an alternate orange helmet from Legends, gifted from his wife.
Theune has joked with his family about finishing the downstairs basement or knocking down the wall that separates his Broncos room to his daughter's room to offer more space to continue his collection. His daughter, Anna, is now a freshman at Grand Valley State University, Thuene's alma mater.
"As we get older, we'll eventually find something," he said. "But never in my lifetime will I sell this. I want my kids to have this. My son admits that this is cool and says I've got a lot of stuff."
While he hasn't been to the new Empower Field at Mile High, home of the Broncos, Theune has been to Elway's jersey retirement game and others at the old Mile High Stadium.
"My wife and I had plans to go last year — it was our 25th anniversary — but then COVID hit," he said. "Freidman is a season ticket holder and he said he could get me on the field pregame. That would be a dream come true, so I gotta get out there, and I will."
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