- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A large photo of an NFL player has not generated this much buzz in the Mile High region since fans who wanted Tim Tebow to be the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback purchased some billboard space in 2010.
The NFL's marketing campaign for next Thursday night's "Kickoff" game has featured several large banners of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, including one at Sports Authority Field at Mile High that has prompted an angry public reaction from Broncos fans.
The Super Bowl champion Ravens play the Broncos in Denver next Thursday in the NFL's regular-season opener. The Flacco banner, which is several stories tall, is hanging alongside a banner of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who questioned the placement of the banner during a recent radio interview.
"Yes, it is [strange]," Manning told KOA 850 AM, the Broncos' flagship radio affiliate. "I've never heard of anything like that for a regular-season game."
During the interview, which will be aired before Denver's preseason finale Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals, Manning also asked fans to dial down the noise when the Broncos have the ball.
But Denver fans have not been quiet regarding the images of Flacco. There are several smaller pictures of Flacco, with "Kickoff" printed on them, hanging throughout downtown Denver, including on the city's 16th Street Mall.
Some fans have organized an online petition to have the Flacco pictures and banners removed. The advertising space in downtown was purchased by the NFL from the Downtown Denver Partnership.
The Broncos, several people with the team say, resisted the idea of the Flacco banner hanging from the stadium, but the league overruled those objections.
"We appreciate the fans' passion and their desire to protect their team but think of this game as more of an opening ceremony, a celebration of the new season for the entire league," said Brian McCarthy, NFL vice president of corporate communications. "This game will be viewed by an audience of millions and reflects the opening of the season. There will be similar banners hanging in Baltimore at the events there next week as well."
The banners have been the subject of several locally televised reports, including one where a sportscaster used a Sharpie to draw a mustache on one of the Flacco banners in downtown Denver.
The images also brought a barrage of Twitter activity, and the banner at the stadium, which sits alongside Interstate 25 in Denver, has been met with an orchestra of car horns and shouts.
McCarthy reaffirmed that the game was originally going to be scheduled in Baltimore because the Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions. But because the Baltimore Orioles would not reschedule their game -- No. 138 of their season -- the Ravens will open the season in Denver.
"But we have moved forward in the presentation of the game as the season opener," McCarthy said.
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