Against the Lions, the Broncos honored Demaryius Thomas by doing everything right

Dec 12, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) kneels at the turf emblem for American football player Demaryius Thomas before the game against the Detroit Lions at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For the better part of six seasons, I’ve spent Sunday nights bitching, whining, moaning, blasting and fixing.

When the home team isn’t winning, the job of the sportswriter is to say it; the job of the columnist is to ponder it; and the job of the fan is to react – cheer, boo, react, defend, dream, pout. Lately, no part of those jobs has been all too enjoyable.

Ever since Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Gary Kubiak and Demaryius Thomas strolled off the field at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco on February 16, 2016, the fun in Denver, Colorado – at least as it pertains to the Denver Broncos – has been pretty limited. Owners of three Vince Lombardi Trophies, participants in eight Super Bowls, and the home of Bronocmania, the Duke of Denver, Tebowmania and Peyton F***ing Manning, anyone and everyone who is somehow tied to the Broncos is spoiled. We know greatness, and we have a hard time accepting anything less.

That’s why Sunday nights in the fall and winter, for six football seasons now, have been gloomy. When the team isn’t good, Broncos Country – you, me, the Broncos – is cranky. Within the square borders of this state, whatever our football team does on Sunday, sets the tone for Monday morning. And let’s be honest, nobody ‘round here has looked forward to Monday in quite some time.

This past week, Thursday and Friday were gloomy too. That was when we all learned of the passing of former Broncos great, Demaryius Thomas. It was tough. Confusing. Sad.

Oddly, though, on this particular Sunday night, I find myself smiling.

Against the Lions, the Broncos were perfect – in every way imaginable.

Yes, the team won, bringing its record to 7-6 and keeping their playoff hopes alive. Yes, they beat the Lions easily – 38-10! – which ultimately meant they did what they were supposed to do. And no, there was literally nothing to nitpick or gripe or debate with regard to Vic Fangio, Pat Shurmur, Teddy Bridgewater or anyone else wearing Broncos orange for that matter.

The only thing anyone should do after this game is smile.

It started from the opening play of the game, easily one of the most heart-warming gestures I’ve ever seen in sports. At the suggestion of Patrick Smyth, the Broncos Chief Communications Officer, the Broncos’ began the game by lining up just 10 players. It was so subtle, so symbolic, so powerful. The eleventh player, at the “X” receiver position, was Demaryius Thomas in spirt, of course.

But it only got better from there. With just 10 players on the field and Courtland Sutton kneeling on the sideline, the Broncos didn’t snap the ball. Instead, they let the moment live for the entire length of the play clock. By rule, it was a penalty – a delay of game – and the referees appropriately tossed the flag. But the Lions understood, and in a wonderful act of sportsmanship and kindness, declined the penalty. The entire sequence was nothing short of beautiful.

When the game unfolded, the Broncos played as well and as hard as they’ve played all season. It was obvious, as they’d later say, that they were “playing for something bigger.” With Thomas’ death weighing heavy on their hearts, they mustered the strength to honor their fallen teammate in the best way possible.

When the defense created a turnover, they delivered the ball to a “No. 88” painted on the grass. Justin Simmons, who had previously pledged to donate $88 for every Broncos tackle recorded to the Boys and Girls Club, an organization that Thomas supported, made an incredible interception. Immediately after, he took the ball and slammed it between the two “8s” painted on the turf. After the game, he rounded the Broncos tackle total up from 58 to 60; as such, his donation came in at a fitting $5,280. If you don’t understand why that’s significant, you’re not a Broncos fan.

Later, several Broncos matched Simmons’ donation in Thomas’ honor.

After the game Fangio gave a game ball to Thomas’ family, as well as wide receivers Sutton and Tim Patrick, who both played alongside No. 88.

The Broncos may or may not make the playoffs. The coach and coordinators, the quarterback, the running backs, the rest of the team, may or may not be back next season.

But for a single game, a win in the name of Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos did everything right. And regardless of what the last loss or the next loss might feel like, Sunday’s win felt oh-so-right. I, for one, was proud of my team – smiling! – and I’m guessing you were, too.

They say that a win is a win is a win. For a team that just moved to 7-6 and may or may not ultimately make the playoffs, this particular win, in the standings, may be just that – a win. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s all. That’s it.

But somehow, in the wake of Demaryius Thomas’ passing, Sunday’s win over the Lions felt like more.

Much more.

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