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Broncos Dreams and Musings

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Today I decided to give in to the weaving flow of the Web and pass on some items that should interest you. If you have children, work with children or if you're an older athlete yourself, I've gathered and included some items that matter. I also had to give a brief nod to Denver's playoff basketball team.

Broncos Dream 1

Is there a Broncos fan out there that isn't dreaming of seeing Wesley Woodyard, David Bruton and Spencer Larsen chasing down kickoff- and punt-returners together? The three of them together should go a long way to getting the Broncos past the nightmare that has been special teams of late. Bruton's obvious grasp of the special teams role and his love of doing what he's been involved with since he was young is especially laudable.

"I've always taken special teams seriously," he said. "It's a way to get on the field and get my feet wet and get some experience." Every Broncos fan has known since Terrell Davis made 'The Hit' how important it can be, for both the team and your career. I want to give a big "Thank You" to the guys who know how to play that third of the game right.

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in - Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, ch. 1

The Pressure's On

Recently, did a pair of articles on our young athletes and physical training. What they found was disturbing - repetitious motion injuries in children ages 8 - 12 and up. At that age, the bone and connective tissue hasn't solidified yet. One common injury is Osgood's Schlatter, in which the tendon from the kneecap (patella) which attaches to the top of the tibia (shinbone) begins to tear the knob of that bone off the shaft. It's usually caused by excessive training - over strengthening and overworking the muscles of the thigh beyond the capacity of the young bones and joints to endure. While you see this most often in the vulnerable knees, over-training can affect nearly any of the joints.

The second part of that article emphasized the issue of sports for our young women. Their rate of injury is escalating due to the same bad training that is affecting our young men being applied to the faster-growing joints and bones of young women. As young women are learning to enjoy soccer, field hockey and other sports (even wrestling!) they are falling prey to the same over-emphasis on ‘winning' and working hard that the young men are.

What's the central culprit in this? Surprisingly, the number one cause is the parents. Most of us have seen or heard of parents who come to sporting events and have to be restrained. The slightly gentler versions are the parents who, often through good intentions, pressure their children to do too much too soon. Overachiever's syndrome usually begins at home. What can be done?

The answer to this also has to lie in the parents themselves, as well as in the teachers, instructors and coaches. They need to be aware of how easily young bodies can be hurt, and how long can last. Coaches must be willing to rest even their top performers. The idea that an early teenager needs to learn to ‘work through the pain' is archaic. Kids need to learn to be kids. There will be time enough to handle greater responsibilities later in life.

If you, your son or your daughter is involved with a program, spend some time with the coach. Ask how he or she monitors their young charges. Some of these injuries are causing lifelong damage, as Osgood's Schlatter often does. Make sure that they warm up before they stretch, stretch before they train and warm down afterward. Insist that if they have ANY pain that they sit out that day, and that they stay out until they don't hurt. Don't worry that some might have ‘phantom' pain - most kids, given a good program, enjoy the activity, the camaraderie and the experience. Kids also need to know that they are believed and trusted to make their own decisions on what hurts and what doesn't. Give them a good grounding in sports and give them the lifelong gift of enjoying them. And keep the door that ends childhood closed for as long as it should be.

Broncos Dreams 2

I was perusing the player turnover for the Broncos listed on the USA Today Broncos home site. One thing that quickly struck me was that it's hard to feel bad about nearly any of the players we lost. Some folks will argue the Cutler deal, so I'll give you that one. Like a lot of folks, I hated letting Mike Leach go.

Then we're down to sentiment - Nate Jackson got me on sheer grit. After that, it's Jamie Winborn, on whom I once did an article. If you know his story, it's impossible to root against the guy. But he's had the luck of the Bangladeshis, having Mike Nolan come in and fire him twice. I still hope that he catches on with someone, preferably as a Will, which he's far better suited for (in a league filled to overflowing with Wills). John Engelberger was our best DE over the past two years, and what does that tell you? Bly? Might have lost that needed step - very expensive for what we got. Alex Haynes? Adam Bergen? Who?

One thing I learned from healthcare - opening a wound is painful. Leaving the team in the state it was, on the other hand, would be fatal to the squad, just as not lancing a wound could be to the patient. It was time for a big old housecleaning. Although many felt that we just needed some better defense, our offensive depth and special teams were deeply flawed as well. Win now? Laudable, but unlikely. Rebuild the team as quickly as possible? That's a goal I can get behind.

"Greatness knows itself" - William Shakespeare, King Henry IV Part 1

Whither Greatness?

Congratulations to Dwight Howard on his NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He told a great story about talking to NBA great Dikembe Mutombo (who was injured with a tear in the leg three weeks ago; our thoughts are with him) at the All-Star game. Dikembe asked him if he wanted to be remembered for a great dunk in a Superman cape or as a great NBA player. Howard replied that he wanted to be remembered as a great player and Mutombo told him that it all started with defense. Howard took it to heart and showed it this year. He's a brilliant young man with a great career in front of him.

Mutombo's words were prophetic. Howard's defense is a big reason that the Magic are still in the playoffs. In a similar vein, the Nuggets went from a playoff joke to a good, contending  team, by learning that same lesson. The Cleveland Cavaliers are putting the same lesson to good use, holding their opponents to a mere 76.8 points per game. For both clubs, the decision, by coaches and players alike, to make the less flashy part of the game a key to winning has elevated them to new levels.

I asked TSG what had finally launched the Cleveland Cavaliers into a stratospheric level and he had a one word answer - Focus. That incendiary inner fire that evolved for both Nuggets and Cavs after LeBron hung out with Kobe and talked about what it takes to be a champion came about as a result of mentoring. The end result is one of the most exciting playoffs in years.

Carmelo Anthony decided that the playoffs were more important than individual stats and his nearly 8 rebounds a game are a career high, as are his average assists. Chauncey Billups is responsible for making that possible. Because of Billups, Carmelo's blocking more shots, getting a lot more steals, making far fewer turnovers and playing, remarkably, good defense. The Olympic experience was good for him - hanging out with Kobe, LeBron, Kobe and company taught him what was really important:  a great all-around performance and a shot at the title, rather than individual stats and a quick trip home. Congratulations to him and the Nuggets team. Dahntay Jones is a great defender - that was also a tremendous pickup for the team. There are a lot of great stories on that squad.

But what might be even better for Broncos fans are the two smaller lessons contained here. Rather than ‘defense' specifically, the emphasis for the Broncos will need to be on elevating each player's game by doing the less-flashy things that require grit, determination and selflessness - training, film and playbook. Although a new emphasis on defense is essential if the Broncos want to win next year, all players in all three phases of the game need to be winning to put personal flash aside in favor of working as a team.

The second lesson is this: The guidance of talented mentors can change around the play of a professional sports team by bringing out the fire and motivation in the younger ones and the rookies, as well as improving the understanding of all of the younger players. With 10 draft picks and a large contingent of undrafted free agents coming to camp, the ability of the coaches to transmit their teachings and of the older players/mentors to gain the trust, respect and dedication of the younger players may make the difference between a poor record and a better one. It's likely that more than one game will depend upon a player who looks to those mentors to amp his game up a notch.

Broncos Dreams 3

Despite the turmoil that accompanied the selection of Alphonso Smith, a debate that will probably endure for years, after his first mini-camp two things were apparent from photos and media sources. First, Alphonso is spending his time, when he's not playing, talking to and listening to Champ Bailey. There is little doubt as to the eventual position that Josh McDaniels sees him playing in the Broncos defense. Denver has two good corners ahead of Smith, but both have left their 30-year mark behind. Smith will start out as the nickel back, but when either Bailey or Andre Goodman eventually falters, Smith will be the heir apparent. Jack Williams will have this year to prove that he was worth the 4th-round pick that brought him to Denver.

The second thing that stood out to numerous sources was that Smith was always around the ball. Whether he's scorching a QB sack or chasing a pass in flight, Smith showed in college that he runs to the ball like a premenstrual gal runs to chocolate. You don't want to be caught in-between in either situation. How this will play out in terms of pick value might be a hot debate for years to come, but the issue of whether he can play in this league will be answered a lot earlier.

"For this relief much thanks; t'is bitter cold, and I am sick at heart " - W. Shakespeare, Hamlet

Having a Heart

The NFL Cardiovascular Screening Program took place  two Saturdays ago at the San Diego Imaging Center in Kearny Mesa, and about 60 former professional players who have been around awhile will take part. Among those scheduled for screening are the likes of former Chargers Ed White, Chuck Muncie, Pat Curran, Billy Shields, Billy Ray Smith and more, not to mention Jackie Slater, the Rams' Hall of Fame tackle.

They're at risk, especially big people. Many NFL players are big. But the risk isn't limited to players or athletes. Many men and women 50 years and older in this country are at risk of a cardiovascular problem. It's just that the NFL is doing something about it, trying to get former players tested before it's too late.

"They've been doing this for three years now and the results are compelling," says former Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke, who has overcome serious health problems in his life and is deeply involved in this project. "There was a belief that NFL players die early. The truth is, bigger men, in general, die early.

"Although NFL players are in better health than most big men, what we've found is that 78 percent of former players whose average age is 48 are at risk of a heart attack, 41 percent are at risk of a stroke, 50 percent are on their way to heart failure, 57 percent have high blood pressure and 90 percent have abnormal cholesterol readings. The average weight is 239 pounds. The average age of their arteries is 69."

Too often, those are the numbers of individuals who learned power without developing and maintaining appropriate cardiovascular health - which is how you get endurance. If you're training for power, getting older as an athlete or just over 30, learn the lessons of this situation. Take care of your health and your heart, and give the ones around you a gift by getting yours checked.

Final musings

I took a little time recently to watch Chris ‘The Birdman' Andersen of the Denver Nuggets in his first game playoff game against Dallas. His is an incredible story. Physically abused by his grandfather and now estranged from his mother, he turned to recreational drugs to fight the inner pain that haunted his daily existence. He was suspended from the NBA for repeated violations of its substance abuse policy.

During his suspension, he decided that nothing would stand in the way of turning his life around. He chose to break down film of NBA games and increased his knowledge of basketball. Now a key player in the Denver 8-9 man rotation, I watched in amazement as he hammered 6 blocked shots away in a single game against Dallas - as a reserve - and added 11 points, a steal and 6 more rebounds. Unlike a lot of big men, he also shot 5 of 6 from the foul line. A constant force coming off the bench, Andersen ranked 2nd in the NBA in blocked shots last season, yet he wasn't even in the running for the 6th-Man of the year award (teammate JR Smith, who is also turning his life around, got a few votes, though). Andersen turned the tide of this game and frustrated perennial All Star Dirk Nowitzki. He was also a force in Game 2 and returned in Game 5 as a solid defender.

Coach George Karl says that when Andersen wanted to be a Nugget after the suspension, they sat down and had a 45-minute conversation. Chris held nothing back and poured his heart out, taking responsibility for what happened and explaining exactly how he had handled it and where his life was going to go. Karl walked away from the meeting with a high level of respect for the unusual young man, and a great deal of interest in how Anderson would help the team. There's a lesson here for each of us. We don't know what demons haunt a man. We have no righteous place in judging them prematurely. And as to the ability of the human heart to rehabilitate itself and finding its salvation - there is nothing that a man cannot achieve, if only he can find it within himself.

With players like Robert Ayers, Everette Pedescleaux and Chris Baker, we in the MHR community have reason to believe that they have recognized, admitted,  and have learned from their earlier mistakes. We don't really know what demons possessed, haunted or tormented them, but we can offer sincere hopes for them, not just as players, but as men. Given all that they could offer the Broncos, I mean it on several levels when I willingly give them another chance. As TedBartlett905 shared so eloquently, and as I've learned from my own life - it's the least that we can do.

Bring on Training Camp!