So Long, Old Friend: Demaryius Thomas will be missed

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) gestures to the crowd during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Damn you, sports. Damn you.

Denver lost a good one yesterday. John Elway said goodbye to the best wide receiver the Broncos have ever had – one of the best players the Broncos have ever had, period – and there have been some good ones.

So long, Demaryius Thomas. You will be missed.

For the record, this isn’t a gripe for Elway. The move itself – sending Thomas to Houston for a fourth and seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft – was understandable. It’s a money thing. It’s a salary cap thing. It’s a “Hey, we’re a 3-5 team with a middle of the road quarterback” thing.

It’s Sports 2018.

While fielding questions about the decision to trade Thomas on Tuesday, Elway muttered a few words that defined how sports are played these days as compared to the days of the Duke: “…I can only imagine having never been traded…”

Elway was a Bronco. Still is a Bronco. Was never going to be anything other than a Bronco. That’s just that. That’s the way it was when Elway played.

It’s sad that Demaryius Thomas didn’t play in that era. If there’s a player who should have worn Bronco orange from start to finish, it’s Thomas. The modern game didn’t allow that. The money is too big. The stakes too high. The pressure to win – especially for a team that’s been to two Super Bowls with Thomas hauling in a boatload of passes – is too immense.

In many ways, Thomas is – in my opinion – one of the most underappreciated athletes in the history of Denver sports. Why Denver isn’t being turned on its head following this news is beyond me.

The stats prove that he was far more than proficient. Thomas numbers clearly show that he was not only the best Denver has ever seen (right along with Rod Smith, who played 12 seasons with the Broncos), but easily one of the best wide receivers of his era. Thomas only needed 10 more catches to move past Shannon Sharpe for second place on the Broncos all-time reception list (Smith is first, obviously).

The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala, who has covered Thomas throughout his career, posted a thorough summary of some of his most telling statistics.

Thomas played in 125 consecutive games, which ranks fourth in the NFL among non-quarterbacks. (Often dinged-up because he wasn’t afraid to go over the middle or catch bubble screens before handling the rest himself, Thomas simply didn’t miss games).

Thomas had five straight seasons of 90-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards. (One of those seasons was with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch throwing him the ball. And for reference, Smith only had two such consecutive seasons).

Thomas’ 665 career receptions, 9,055 receiving yards, 60 receiving touchdowns and 36 100-yard receiving games rank him 3rd, 2nd, 2nd and 1st on the Broncos all-time lists. (Joe Ellis referred to him as a “Ring of Famer” already; there’s zero argument there.)

And even though the Broncos were crushed by the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48, Thomas posted a (then) Super Bowl record of 13 catches. (He did so while injured, too; it’s fair to say that despite the score, Thomas never once threw in the towel).

He accomplished all of that with five different head coaches, four different coordinators and seven different quarterbacks. If anyone wonders who the constant in Denver has been, it’s Thomas.

But here’s the thing: The numbers are great, but that’s not why I’ll miss Demaryius Thomas.

I’ll miss him because he’s an absolutely phenomenal person, the kind of guy every franchise should want to have, should want to keep. Thomas was nice to kids – in a lot of ways, he was most comfortable around kids, as evidenced by how he handled fans and his summer camps alike. He was kind of old people. He was accommodating and friendly to the media. He remembered people of all kinds and made it a point to know their name, say hello or ask about their family. I saw and heard all of this with my own eyes and ears.

He was charitable. Some of it you saw. Most of it you didn’t. There are players across sports who do some great things, but far too many times, they’re doing things for public credit or perception. That doesn’t mean they aren’t “good” deeds, but the motivation might be lacking. Thomas did things because he wanted to, not because he wanted you or I know he did them.

I won’t forget the time that Thomas called – unsolicited – and wondered how he might help families who had been displaced by the summer wild fires of 2012. At the time, he’d only played 23 games as a Bronco, one of which included the famous “Tebow-to-Demaryius” play. I won’t forget that in the summer that followed that play, he was legitimately unaware of just how significant that play was in Denver. Even though he and Tim Tebow won an ESPY for the play, Thomas vowed not to speak at the awards ceremony. Tebow did all the talking.

And maybe that’s why Thomas is underappreciated. He’s quiet, always has been. He always had someone to talk for him – his cousin Morocko Blash, who’s never met a stranger; his draft classmate Eric Decker, who had the looks and the smile and wasn’t afraid to do it all for the camera; his quarterbacks Tebow and Manning, who were the center of attention in any room they ever entered; even Emmanuel Sanders, who talks enough for both of them.

And that’s okay. Thomas never craved the spotlight or attention. He was fine with just doing his job, effectively and quietly. On Tuesday, Twitter was filled with well-wishes from teammates who knew what he was truly all about, fans who had countless positive experiences, opponents who understood that Thomas was – every single Sunday – a handful.

Ironically, when Thomas comes “back” to town on Sunday to face the Broncos as a Houston Texan, the Broncos will salute him. In what kind of bizarro world does that happen? Thanks, but no thanks, man. But, hey, we sure are glad to have you back in five days.

Go figure.

On Sunday, don’t be surprised if Demaryius Thomas has a typical Demaryius Thomas game. Call it 115 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if he wins, either.

That’s all that Demaryius Thomas has ever done at the stadium that’s had three names during his stint with the Broncos.

It’s a shame he won’t wearing orange.

So long, Demaryius. You will be missed.

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