They faced off. The good-natured jabs and spirited words echoed as meaningless fireflies amidst distant trees. All that remained of the hours of meetings and film and playbook studying was a dripping intensity. Two men remained, each assigned to best the other on the field of war. Their stances were solid. Fortified. Impenetrable. Then the count came, like the crack of a starting gun a half-mile away. Movement came first, and then sound, slowly, in a vague rumble of molasses into drunkenness, becoming a trudge in muddy snow. So it seemed to them both. Suddenly the speed caught up to them. The rush of blood, the whoosh of air over helmet ear-holes, and the crunch of pads and bones heralded the dawn of the 2010 training camp for the Denver Broncos. The crunch of pads and bones. Bones. Crunch of bones.
It became a familiar theme. A mantra really. Was it Karma for some affront to the universe? Every fan felt it. Even the stoic and those patently irreverent to superstition began clandestine campaigns to rap upon wood, ritualize daily routines, and pray a little harder in blind hope that the spate of injuries to their team might cease. Star-crossed didn't begin to describe it. No NFL team had ever undergone such a deluge of snakebites.
Intensity. Toughness. Conditioning. Physicality. Training. Execution. The two had chanted the same words, coach's words, player's words, words they'd heard since childhood, since before they knew how to block or rush the passer or what a route was. Hit hard. Be tough. Remember fundamentals. Focus on details! The small things. Win your battle. Beat your man. Earn your spot. The two men knew they were on the same team. But one shot of missed balance, one awkward punch of gravity, where earth meets flesh, resulted in sudden agony. It happened again. And again.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The silver lining. The others get a chance; their shot to prove their mettle. They step up. They face off. One picks himself up slowly. One leaves the field, damaged, limping, resentful, bitter that his body won't allow him to compete again today. Like aged relics from a forgotten time, their brittle shells betray them. They want to fight, but they must save the fight for another day. Another year. Another lifetime.
Thus began the 2010 Broncos season. Decimated by injuries early in training camp, the team looked like a prep school squad by the first game of the season. This kind of game day roster was reserved for the pre-season: 3rd and 4th string linebackers. 3rd string QB playing running back. Castoffs and misfits from the cutting room floors of the rest of the league assembled to cobble together a makeshift team of healthy men. Learn the system? No time. Simplify. What have you got? Are you an athlete? Can you make a play? Can you think on your feet? Get out there and show the world. Here's your last chance, kid. Here's your last hurrah, old man. No one expects anything of you anyway. You might as well be scabs. You're not even a real NFL team anymore. Just a ragtag horde of miscreants and goody-goodies with no place else to go but into the "real" world for a desk job. Or... those who can't, teach, right?
The team was left for dead after 3 weeks. Fire? Not even embers. Three hobbled running backs. 2 injured linebackers. Wide receivers in casts. Corners. Safeties. Offensive linemen. The beast was ruthless and ubiquitous in its choice of victims.
Dead in the water. Wasted. Opportunity? Goodwill? High expectations? Dashed.
Character. A spark. Heart. A wisp of white smoke in the blackest night. Discipline. Burning heat. Determination. Precious oxygen. A flame.
One win. Anomaly. Winless is rare.
Two. The vestige of hope. Don't dare to hope, for dreams are easily destroyed.
Three. A flame!
Four, Five, Six! The fight is on!
Seven, Eight! Courage! Grandeur!
Nine, Ten! The Phoenix has risen!
Eleven. The injured begin to return. The locomotive accelerates.
In the bleak beginnings of the 2010 season, many thought all was lost. "Playoffs? Playoffs! You're talking about.... Playoffs?!" But the progression was legendary. The star-crossed became the blessed, and the faithful were rewarded. Miraculous? Possibly. Prepared? Definitely.
This is the beginning of something special, Bronco Fans. This is the stuff of great stories for our grandchildren. How else can the team of Elway improve upon its mystique? "On and ever upward," my friends. "Forward. Never backward." We shall not fail because of our circumstance. We shall live victorious in SPITE of it!
P.S. I'm cheerful tonight because my AWESOME wife has agreed to help me create a Broncos haven in our game room! We're going to Home Depot in the morning to get orange and blue paint. Maybe she felt sorry for me because of the look on my face every time I looked at my phone (and saw the latest news). In any case, I'll spend this season tweaking my man cave! Oh, YEAH! Fat Heads and NFL shop, HERE I COME!