(Editor's note: All this week, we're taking a look back at the legendary career of FOX 31 Denver anchor Ron Zappolo, who is stepping down this Friday after a 36 year on-air career in Denver. Tonight, a look at his 23 years covering Denver sports.)
From an early age, it was clear Ron Zappolo would be doing this for a living. Just look at the pictures from his childhood, and you can see he had a love for sports. And from an early age, he dressed like someone who belongs on TV. Suits jackets? Ties? Pocket squares? It was only a matter of time before he was doing the thing he loved.
Just ask his family.
“He's always been a sports guy from the time he could start talking,” said Rick Zappolo, Ron’s brother. “I think a lot of the great memories we have with dad certainly were sports related.”
Like the rest of us - his family loved watching Ron covering sports on TV, and watching him guide us through the biggest team moments in our city's history. Hard to believe, that whole time, Ron was more nervous than you might think.
“You`re on right after the game is played and you`re thinking to yourself the whole town`s watching don`t screw up. Now that`s pressure,” Zappolo joked.
Ron will tell you, he got to Denver at just the right time - six months before the Broncos first Super Bowl appearance in their 1977 season. He's been there for all of them since.
“All of the Super Bowls were just so good and the ‘77 one was a ‘ma and pa grocery’ compared to the late ‘90s. We were in New Orleans and kind of stayed in a flea bag motel, and the Super Bowl wasn`t what it is. And then all the disappointment of the three of them in the ‘80s, Pasadena, San Diego, and then back in New Orleans in ‘89. I kind of got the feeling, well it`s been fun to chronicle all of that, and it`s been fun to be around the Broncos, but they'll never get to the ultimate prize. And then in the late ‘90s to be close to so many people in the organization, because I had worked with them so long, and to see them win a couple was just great,” Zappolo said.
And it may surprise you to know that even as the Broncos were fighting for those wins, Ron was coaching the coaches... on how to handle the media crush surrounding the big game.
“We were getting ready for a Super Bowl and you know there are so many things going on. Ron would say ‘this is what's going on today,’ he would make you so comfortable so that when you went into an interview you were prepared,” said Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, a former Broncos head coach who led the team to two Super Bowl victories. Shanahan is a long-time Zappolo friend.
And cultivating those friendships was the best part of covering sports, according to Zappolo.
“We were down in Dallas, and Dan Reeves says ‘Hey your parents are down here, right?’ And I remember Reeves seeking them out and inviting them to a game. Those little moments are the memories that mean more to you than sitting in the press box,” Zappolo said.
He was just doing the thing he loved: covering Mile High sports for three-and-a-half decades. A job Ron Zappolo was born to do.