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Broncos trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos retires after 45 seasons with franchise

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Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, the only person to work for the Broncos during each of their eight Super Bowl appearances, announced Monday he is retiring after 45 seasons of service.

Antonopulos, 72, started working for the Broncos on St. Patrick’s Day 1976 as an assistant trainer, was promoted to director of rehabilitation in ’80, to head athletic trainer in ’81 and was director of sports medicine since 2016.

“When I committed to come back for this past season, I told John (Elway), ‘This is it. My wife deserves this and we need to move on,’” Antonopulos said in a phone interview Sunday with The Post.

Antonopulos treated 983 players who appeared in at least one regular season/playoff game for the Broncos. He worked 941 total games, during which Denver went 438-311-1 in the regular season/playoffs.

“Probably the most loyal employee the team has had and will ever have,” Broncos president/CEO Joe Ellis said in a phone interview. “He was very straight forward, he was very honest and he was a really good communicator in that he has a good bedside manner in a position where that is obviously required.”

The Broncos will name their training room after Antonopulos.

“It was pretty much a no-brainer when somebody puts in that amount of time,” Ellis said.

Antonopulos called the honor “breathtaking.”

“Jiminy Christmas, I’m humbled; what an awesome thing,” he said.

Awesome was Antonopulos’ longevity in the often-unstable world of the NFL. He worked under three owners and 10 head coaches and was a part of 22 playoff teams and three Super Bowl champions.

Dream to work for Broncos

20120814  Steve Antonopulos denver broncosp1 - Broncos trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos retires after 45 seasons with franchise
Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos works with defensive lineman Dan Williams at training camp in Greeley in 1996.

Antonopulos grew up in Hugo, Colo., 105 miles southeast of Mile High Stadium. As he would watch games with his father and neighbors, he would say to himself, “Someday, somehow, someway, I’m going to work for the Denver Broncos.”

His first chance came in the summer of 1969 when trainer Allen Hurst offered him an internship.

Antonopulos turned it down.

“It paid $25 a week plus room and board,” he said with a laugh. “I went and got a summer job on the state highway back home that summer and I was getting married. Allen called me the first week of July. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I was making good money on the highway and going to college. I always thought that might zing me one day.”

Antonopulos graduated from Northern Colorado with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and was working as the head trainer and a physical education teacher at Fort Hays (Kan.) State in 1976 when a Johnson & Johnson representative told him about an opening to be Hurst’s only assistant.

“I thought I would be (at Fort Hays) my whole career,” Antonopulos said. “I loved the job, loved the place and there would be only one position I would leave there for — the Denver Broncos.”

Antonopulos applied for the job and Hurst reached out to have breakfast in Denver when Fort Hays was coming through town between basketball games at Northern Colorado and Southern Colorado (now CSU-Pueblo). He researched the previous season’s hamstring injury sustained by running back Otis Armstrong and put together a treatment/rehabilitation plan to present to Hurst.

“He told me after the fact he was going to take a half-hour (for the interview) and be on his way,” Antonopulos said. “Five hours later, he was driving me 80 miles an hour down I-25 so I could get to the basketball game that night. We just really hit it off and it was an opportunity that I had always dreamed about.”

In Antonopulos’ second season, the Broncos reached their first Super Bowl, a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. After the 1980 season, he was elevated to head trainer and split his old salary in half to hire two assistants.

’Defend My Desk’

How did Antonopulos survive so many regime changes? He was obviously an astute trainer, but also an arrive-early, leave-late, stay-in-his-lane employee.

A motto for Antonopulos was “Defend My Desk.”

When a new owner or coach was hired, he said: “They come in and have 100 things going on and what they don’t need is somebody trying to make an appointment and promote themselves. My philosophy was if you do your job and do a good job, they’ll get to you. The best thing is stay in your domain, stay at your desk and work your rear end off.”

During the season, Antonopulos would often arrive at the facility around 4 a.m. and stay as late as required.

“If you’re doing something you love, you don’t watch the clock or think about it,” he said. “In all those years, I never tried to figure out how many hours I worked.”

Antonopulos forged strong relationships with coaches and players alike and had a particularly close bond with late owner Pat Bowlen, who bought the Broncos in 1984.

“I just think Pat trusted Greek more than any other employee he ever had working for him,” Ellis said. “Greek’s relationship with him was very personal — he helped Pat on a lot of different matters, but he was very helpful giving Pat help throughout the season on where his team was at and it was an honest assessment at all times, which was important to Pat.”

Antonopulos, who called Bowlen the “ultimate” owner, was selected by the Bowlen family in 2019 to present Pat at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

In July 2016, Antonopulos began the road to retirement when he took on a new role and Vince Garcia was promoted to head athletic trainer.

When the Broncos open training camp next month, Antonopulos won’t be on the sidelines for the first time since 1975.

Antonopulos and his wife, Susan, have a blended family of five kids and seven grandkids and will split their time between homes in Limon., and Tucson, Ariz., and driving their RV to visit family.

“In this job, I’ve always tried to give all I can as a father and grandfather, but it’s hard because your time is so confined,” he said.

Antonopulos called working for the Broncos “a life’s dream.”

“A lot of people say that, but it was the reality for me,” he said. “I never worked a day in my life because I loved what I was doing so much and the organization was so classy. I’ll always be a Bronco.”

The ‘Greek’ File

During an interview with The Denver Post, retiring Broncos director of sports medicine Steve “Greek” Antonopulos was asked for his favorite memories since joining the team in 1976:

Favorite win (non-Super Bowl)

In October 1977, the Broncos traveled to face the defending Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, who had won 17 consecutive games dating back to the previous season.

“(Kicker) Jim Turner caught a (25-yard) touchdown pass on a fake field goal (from holder Norris Weese) and (linebacker) Tom Jackson went over and gave the bird to (coach) John Madden. That was a tremendous victory in Broncos history. I was blessed to be a part of the elation of that.

In the playoffs after the 1986 season, the Broncos traveled to Cleveland to win the AFC championship game in overtime, highlighted by “The Drive” to end regulation.

“‘The Drive’ was so special. The weather was awful. It was dreary. Rainy. Sleeting. The worst locker room in the NFL to a point where we had to tape our athletes in the bathroom if you could imagine that, the locker room was so small. It was embarrassing, the whole concept. The elation and what historically happened there for the Broncos was unbelievable.”

Favorite road stadiums

“The old Kingdome in Seattle was a great place because of the crowd noise and it was a good place to travel. And then Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City has always been one of my favorites. The fans are incredible and it was the first of the modern stadiums in the old days. It’s just a cool place.”

Most bizarre (non-serious injury)

“Oh boy, a couple of those. It wasn’t really an injury. Rick Massie was a receiver from Kentucky. He had a fear of flying. We had a few of those guys, but he was to the hilt. We’re on the tarmac going to play San Diego. We were taxing to take off and he just went nuts and jumped out of his seat and was screaming and the pilot pulled up, opened the door and let him get a breath. He closed the door and he went nuts again. (Coach) Dan Reeves made the decision to have him drive to San Diego for the game. We had to put him on injured reserve because he couldn’t travel. The one other was (running back) Rob Lytle back in the day. He had the fingernail on his thumb totally torn off and was bleeding all over the place. And he played the whole game. He was special the way he handled it.”

Advancements in treating NFL players

“The continued advancement of therapeutic exercises and the concussion protocols and the NFL hiring medical liaisons has been crucial in advancement of doing things the right way. I’ll have to say, back in the day, we always felt we were on the cusp of the concussion stuff. We always worked with Craig Hospital and the concussion experts and developed our protocols, which are similar to some that are used . Those things are unbelievable and the number of great people and great minds of technology was phenomenal with what you can do for the medical care of football players.”

Favorite John Elway story

“Without question, it was our second year here (1984) and he had to go in the offseason to Boston for a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy. They required him to go there for a physical. We went a day early and went to see the Celtics play the Bulls. From there, we went to Cheers bar and ran into some Denver people and had a couple cold ones. His physical was first thing in the morning. We thought it would be (quick). Five hours later, John went through everything you could imagine and he ended up vomiting all over the place. It was phenomenal. That poor guy. We certainly wouldn’t have gone to Cheers had we known it would take that long. The doctor that gave him the physical was Arthur Pappas, one of the Red Sox owners, and he took us over to Fenway Park and I still have the picture of John and myself at home plate. An interesting couple days and we had a great time.”

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