They hooted and hollered and gave the man a hardy round of applause, all while yelling out his name in approval.
He graciously accepted and took a bow.
Two weeks later, it happened again.
This time the man appeared to fill with emotion, overwhelmed by the support from his band of brothers.
Yet a little fewer than two months later, people on the outside want to pretend like none of this matters.
First, some context.
The man is Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, and his biggest cheerleaders are, of course, his Broncos teammates.
The first scene took place in the team’s locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High after the Broncos improved to 2-0 on the 2016 season, defeating the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 34-20. Head coach Gary Kubiak awarded Talib the game ball after his ninth career pick-six. He returned an Andrew Luck pass attempt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Denver a 23-13 lead they’d never relinquish.
Nine interception return touchdowns put Talib in extremely rare company, tying him fourth all-time in pick-sixes with the likes of Deion Sanders, his self-proclaimed idol.
“Shout out to my dog, Prime,” Talib yelled as his teammates roared on approval. “All we do is score tubs!”
Two weeks later in Tampa Bay, Talib once again found himself the recipient of the game ball. The Broncos beat the Buccaneers 27-7, and the former Buc Talib, who got his start in Tampa before the organization gave up on him, had two more interceptions.
“It was special, man,” Talib said after the game and another warm embrace from his teammates. “I got a warm welcome off the plane, into the hotel, on the field. Got a warm welcome, and to be able to put on show like that in front of the fans that I still have in Tampa, man, it was special,”
All of this, though, according to some Broncos fans and observers, shouldn’t matter.
Not after what happened this past Sunday against the Chiefs.
After a horrible fumble on a key punt return in the fourth quarter, Talib (gasp!) shoved the man responsible for the error, Jordan Norwood, on his way off the field.
The good will is gone.
The interceptions, and in turn the love from his fellow Broncos, don’t matter.
Talib’s an awful teammate who doesn’t respect lesser guys in the locker room.
Those are some of the (paraphrased) takes you heard from fans and media alike after the incident came to light. The mass of people piling on Talib has only increased in the last 48 hours.
It’s all hogwash.
First, watch the video.
Talib’s shove isn’t that bad. It wasn’t a shove with intent to hurt Norwood or knock him over. It wasn’t a slap or a punch. It was a shove. A good, hard, come-on-dude-get-your-crap-together type of shove. Was it an appropriate tactic? That’s a debate for another day. Was it as egregious as some are making it out to be? Absolutely not.
Second, Talib apologized on Monday morning. Before this incident was really even a thing, Talib had taken the time to bury the issue.
“It’s already squashed. Me and Aqib sat down one-on-one and talked a little bit and made sure we’re on the same page,” Norwood told reporters Monday. “He’s an emotional player; everybody knows that, everybody sees that. He wants this team to win, just as I do.”
“We were playing football, we talked about it. It’s all good, man,” Talib explained Monday. “You’ve got to be in them pads and helmets to understand what’s going on at the time. I apologized to [Norwood]. We’re all good.”
Finally, you’ve got to remember, Talib is worth the occasional headache. There’s a reason the Broncos continue to employ him after off-the-field incidents (like allegedly shooting himself in Dallas) and on-the-field incidents (like poking Colts tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye).
He’s made each of the last three Pro Bowls and has 33 career interceptions including the aforementioned nine returned to the house. Oh, and don’t forget this minor detail: just last week Pro Football Focus named him the best cornerback in the NFL this season.
There is plenty of evidence Talib is absolutely adored by his teammates – just go watch those two victory speeches if you have any doubt. Throw in the fact the shove wasn’t that bad, he quickly apologized and he may be the best player in the NFL at his position and this thing has gotten out of control.
Once Talib gets his 10th career pick-six and his teammates are again hooting and hollering for him while he receives the game ball, you probably will be too.
The shove will be old news; the sad thing is it should have never been news to begin with.