Jan. 9, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
I called Demaryius Thomas Monday afternoon and left a message. Didn’t hear back, which was a bummer because it’d be great to hook up with the former Georgia Tech star who’s now an NFL legend.
Hope by now that you’ve seen what he did a day earlier. He hauled 80 yards to push the NFL’s first overtime playoff game Denver’s way and send a home stadium full of people into rapture.
A couple minutes after the fact, he still stood on the field in something of a rapturous funk — a wide-eyed wide receiver.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know why everybody was running over here, because I thought they got a chance to score,” Thomas told the Denver Post. “But . . . I was like, ‘Oh, game over.’ I know the [overtime] rules now.”
There’s an impressive capture of the moment in the Post.
The closest I’ve come to columnist Dave Krieger’s vantage point was in 1995 at the end of the now-defunct ACC preseason bus tour. A bunch of hacks loaded onto a bus and visited every school in the conference to meet with coaches and players over a few days. There was beer.
At the last, we flew from Tallahassee to Detroit and then drove to Ann Arbor, where Virginia would play the Wolverines to kick off the season in the old Pigskin Classic.
The Big House was thumping like a big bass drum, and when Michigan’s Mercury Hayes caught the touchdown pass as time expired for a one-point win, I was about 40 feet away, on the sideline (immortalized in photos — including a big one in Sports Illustrated).
It was Hades hot, Michigan Stadium was in jet-engine throat, and George Welsh — then the Cavs’ coach — looked like he was going to expire on the spot after his team had dominated nearly all afternoon.
Thomas’ epic grab ended a pretty fair day’s work, and capped a playoff weekend that saw three former Tech players catch a combined 17 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns.
Thomas, who had four receptions for 204 yards and the touchdown, and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (12 receptions, 211 yards, two touchdowns) became just the sixth and seventh players in NFL history to go over 200 receiving yards in postseason action. For good measure, Lions tight end Will Heller caught a touchdown pass, too, although Detroit fell Saturday in New Orleans.
It shouldn’t be a complete surprise that Jackets showed up.
There are 12 former Tech players on the rosters of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams. Every game had at least one Tech player in it.
They were Michael Johnson (Bengals), Thomas (Broncos), Heller and Calvin Johnson (Lions), Mike Cox, Vance Walker and Kevin Cone (Falcons) and Andrew Gardner (Texans) although they did not all play. Another, Jonathan Dwyer, is on the Steelers’ injured reserve list.
Glory be to any of them that might somehow surpass Thomas’ play either for its theatrical value or its historical significance.
When the Steelers’ safety on Thomas’ side jogged up pre-snap anticipating run, the Broncos had a checkmate call. Thomas raced over the middle, beat the DB covering him (why did that cornerback play outside leverage with no safety help?), and then out-ran in every sense of the word two Pittsburgh DBs.
The Broncos’ game with the Steelers ended so quickly that I wasn’t sure if it was real. Rummaging around between the kitchen and lugging Christmas decorations downstairs, I turned a corner as he was at about the Pittsburgh 25-yard line. You’d have thought he was on fire. While there was no contrail, he was really moving.
The first thought was that between the kickoff and the first play of overtime the TV folks were re-playing all scoring plays from regulation. Thomas had already had a big day, but that play didn’t match any that I recalled having seen.
Stumped for a moment, I wasn’t much longer.
Once he ran through the end zone, people were going absolutely bonkers, and Tim Tebow was Tebowing and then jumping into the stands as if it were a mosh pit. I know that fan base.
The last game I covered in Denver, in old Mile High, the place was rocking so hard that I thought the press box in which we toiled was going to shake loose and cease to hang over fans in the lower bowl but rather fall upon them.
We were literally bobbing up and down, and sweating. The old place had relentless heating registers at your feet. They baked your lower half.
Too bad I didn’t hear back from Thomas.
Having spent seven years covering the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL, I know that players covet their space on Mondays and Tuesday; they tend to go into hiding once they leave the facility after lifting weights and getting treatment for any injuries on Mondays.
Plus, I might not have called him.
These were old numbers, and the first one definitely was not in play any more. A lady on the other end was not happy when I asked for, “Bay Bay.”
She clearly thought I called her baby. Not amused. At all.
Left a note at the second number.
Too bad, indeed. While Thomas’ hometown of Dublin, Ga., is cozy enough, and he had a great run at Tech through the 2009 season, Denver can be an amazing place when the football planets are in order. Or, even if they’re not.
On that last trip out there, it was sunny and about 45 at kickoff, and by the time we left we were nearly trapped in blizzard-like conditions.
Just getting out of the parking lot was a chore. It was pitch black and wild white at the same time depending on whether you had light.
The wind was cranking, and snow was coming down so hard that once we found the car and got in, the headlights illuminated a white palate in front of the car and nothing more.
This was three or four hours after the game, and next thing we knew as we were creeping around in the parking lot trying to find an exit, sirens popped on just feet to our right, Then, a cop was banging on one of the windows with a flashlight.
Eventually, we made it. There was beer there, too.
Thomas made it as well, breaking free of a whiteout of his own. Having endured a brutal run of injuries in two seasons since the Broncos drafted him in the first round, he’s burned himself into Denver’s memory, and landed the NFL record book.
What did he think of it all?
“I feel amazing, man,” he told the Post. “I feel amazing!”
He should. What do you think? Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org