Nearly 30 years ago I first came to the "Mile High" city to experience Denver. There was a playoff game to be played, just as with this trip, but it was the Broncos' fans who were saying "Bring on the ‘Fish" back in 1984 (meaning the Dolphins) instead of having to waste a game playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. No one and I mean no one was giving us a chance to take down the Broncos. And we set them on their keesters. This time it was nobody giving the Broncos a chance to knock off the Steelers. And the underdog would prevail yet again.
* Taking the sidelines for the pre-game I couldn't help but listen to all the buzz surrounding the warm-ups. Steelers assistant special teams coach Amos Jones had been watching Tim Tebow throwing in pre-pre-game warm-ups. Most quarterbacks will throw a total of 50-75 passes including the lobs that they throw when they first take the field to get the shoulder and arm loose. Tebow threw 300 passes. Yep, 300 full power-cutting-loose-the-whole-body-behind-the-throw type of passes. Everybody was yakking about it.
Amos, sitting on the Steelers bench counting and taking in the action, said that "His butt went numb before Tebow's shoulder and arm got tired." Insane you think? Not according to former Giants QB and TV broadcaster Phil Simms. Phil said QB's play better tired. It relaxes them more. He also said that Tebow is so intense and powerful that he needs all those throws to semi-tire his arm enough to get into a relaxed rhythm.
* It reminded me of another unique athlete with whom I spent some time. I spent two years at the end of my career with the Minnesota Vikings and we had a great running back by the name of Herschel Walker, who would routinely run 3-4 miles before he played a game. He said it relaxed him, calmed his nerves. I told him I got the same buzz from warm, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Herschel didn't seem to think my way would help. Oh well, to each his own.
* The other highlight of pre-game festivities was Broncos placekicker Matt Prater going long ball and knocking'em through from 70 yards in the rarified mile-high air. Sheesh, that's a long ways away. If you ever get the opportunity, go stand out on a field from 70 yards away and see how thin the gap between the goal posts look.
* Through the unlikely paradox of the first Broncos offensive play of the game from the line of scrimmage where I think the Steelers lined up nine in the box with nobody deep in the middle of the field, to the last play of the game where the defense was the same but the end game far different, the Broncos did what you didn't expect them to, what you believed they couldn't do.
* On the Broncos' very first play from scrimmage, Tebow went with the read option. It was the pre-determined read I had seen on film all week leading up to the game. LaMarr Woodley made the tackle after a 1-yard gain, but it sure looked like the Steelers were ready for the seven different options that the Broncos had shown in the video the previous three weeks. By pre-determined, I mean that Tebow will barely make an attempt at faking a handoff or pitch. He's got it in his mind ahead of time whether or not he's really gonna option, be it a pitch or a handoff.
* When the "Kicking Canuck," Shaun Suisham, connected on the second of two first quarter field goals, all I could think was that's pure Canadian bacon and Big Ben looked like his ankle was alright after going 7 of 13.
* I happened by the table where the doctors checked on lower body injuries on the sidelines and noticed big Casey Hampton on the table and in obvious discomfort. Doc Bradley (Steelers externist-type doc) was doing an ACL check. Later they fit Hamp with a brace on the knee, but Casey never got closer to rejoining the action than standing next to John Mitchell on the sidelines.
* I happened to be in perfect viewing range when Tebow went long ball on William Gay with a hook-up to Eddie Royal in the corner of the end zone. You simply cannot be in better position in coverage and I believe the cornerbacks when they say the hardest part of playing man coverage is the transitioning of running with a guy to locating the ball. It was mere inches that William missed slapping the ball away, but inches away only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
* When Isaac Redman burst through the middle of the line for 32 yards and a perceived touchdown, the sideline went berserk with emotion. Up until this point, it had gotten very quiet in Mudville and guys didn't have that look in their eyes that give confidence. After the run was challenged and the Steelers re-set, Mike Wallace smoked the corner and the exuberance of the sidelines continued.
* An unusual sideline spectator joined the viewing corps with the addition of Kevin Colbert in the fourth quarter. I guess Kevin couldn't handle the warmth and comfort of the press box. When LaMarr Woodley recovered the fumble after Ryan Mundy stripped Willis McGahee I was afraid Kevin might blow out a knee with his vociferous fist pump. Make no mistake about it folks, Kevin might be a longtime football viewer, and when you talk to him he's all cool, calm and collected, but he's all about winning. He's a player in a suit. You simply will not meet a better man in football than Kevin Colbert.
* There are no words that can accompany the feeling of an 80-yard walk-off touchdown in overtime that abruptly sends you into the offseason. Walking to the player's tunnel with all the others was like checking into a Stanley Kubrick movie after taking a heavy dose of Nyquil. A surreal visual with an overwhelming desire to get somewhere you could lie down and go to sleep.
* I couldn't help but feel pain for Ike Taylor. I've never fully divested myself of the player's mindset. The last I saw of Ike was in a hurriedly emptying locker room, by himself, and alone with his thoughts. Everybody knows what a tremendous year Ike has had. Everybody respects Ike and the man and player he is. The problem with having a nightmare game in the playoffs is that if you lose, there's no redemption until the next year. For some, it's their last memory of playing ball. For others, like Ike, there's next year. Such is the life of playing on the edge. It cuts both ways.
* To all my friends, those I've met and those I will meet in the future, God willing, that have taken the time to follow this written journey through the 2011 season, I am most humbly grateful to you for staying the course with me. To my publisher, Jim Wexell, I give thanks for his friendship and for providing me the opportunity to write. God bless everybody and I will hopefully see you locked ‘n loaded for 2012!