There was something in the air that night that made me almost certain something very bad was going to transpire.
On my way over to watch the game in a house owned by two of the most crass and rabid Ravens fans you could ever imagine I felt like Shane on his way into a seemingly deserted saloon, totally on edge and expecting someone to pop up from behind the bar with a shotgun at any moment.
Hailing from Northern Ireland (Famous for Rory McIlroy and not a whole lot else) and having never set foot in the US, I could forgive you for wondering how someone could love an American Football team from Colorado so passionately for no obvious reason. But the truth is I have been hooked ever since I watched my first NFL game on late night channel 4. This was around the time of the great Rams team loaded with gamechangers like Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Kurt Warner. The greatest show on turf.
I downloaded a Madden demo on our ridiculously oversized PC which the neighbours could hear loading up from about two miles away, it must’ve took three days of downloading whilst I guarded the house phone like a doberman, snarling at family members anytime they even motioned as if they were going to make a call as lifting the receiver would’ve set me back to square one.
The demo finally completed on a sunday night and I remember sprinting home from school on the monday in a fashion that would embarrass Chris Johnstons 40 time.
The only 2 teams you could be were The Packers or Elways Broncos (I believe it was a superbowl.) From the first moment I set eyes on a heavily pixelated Terrell Davis I knew this was the team for me.
I never got to witness a great Elway/Broncos team but after years in the doldrums with qbs like Jake Plummer, Kyle Orton and “The Chosen One” I can tell you that it is truly thrilling to be watching this team these days.
Anyway back to the game.
I remember when it was set in stone we would be playing The Ravens in the playoffs I was kind of nervous. Ray Lewis had just announced his retirement and had everyone in Baltimore riled up like a bunch of crazy junkies with his great play and even better dance moves. The fact that Denver had just beat them in a fairly one sided affair a couple of weeks earlier in Baltimore seemed to make it worse. I was terrified they would be coming to Mile High with a real chip on their shoulder whilst the Broncos would be lazing around and smoking weed whilst Peyton went around telling knee slappers to anyone within earshot.
So I arrived at the house in my ridiculously fake Kyle Orton top about ten minutes before kickoff and there were my two hosts dressed from head to toe in full Ravens garb already drunk and hooting up a storm.
I felt a panic attack coming on so I did the only thing I could, shotgunned an insane amount of heineken, reached for my phone and placed a large bet on The Ravens , not because I had zero faith, it was a sabotage attempt due to the fact I have an almost 0% success rate when it comes to gambling.
Then the screaming started.
Trindon Holliday took a return to the motherfuckin house, my cautious demeanour went out the window like the cloud of marrywanna smoke from my hosts nostrils. My exhuberent hollering became so high pitched that nobody could hear a thing but for some reason all the dogs within a five mile radius started barking like it was going out of fashion.
A lot of the game after this point is a blur. And I may have the order of events slightly jumbled
We will get to the real burning issue of Peyton Mannings performance in a little while,, but I remember at one point in that game he threw a TD pass to Eric Decker (I think) that was an absolute thing of beauty. More screaming ensued.
Just when I started to really relax however Champ Bailey was made to look like an elderly Alzheimers sufferer who has wondered out of the confines of his asylum and into the traffic, totally naked except for one sock. I think Torrey Smith was the offending party. At this point I was forced to witness two wild Ravens fans jumping around the room, breaking lamps and kicking over coffee tables in some mad delirium.
The screaming got worse and insults started flying, t’was no place for the faint hearted. The hosts girlfriend asked me if it wasn’t too much trouble to “stick that up your fucking pee hole.”
Before I go on it needs to be said that for the neutral spectator this must’ve been a truly special game. It had absolutely everything you could ask for in a playoff game, but for me it felt like the aftermath of a six day stint of consuming nothing but peach schnapps.
Anyway, passes were made, interceptions were thrown, flags were all over the place, Trindon Holliday brought a 2nd to the house and Joe Flacco seemed to have a protective bubble around him.
It all came down to one play, one final showdown.
The Broncos were up by a touchdown, and there was little to no time left on the clock. As uneven as Manning was all game, he was still over on the sideline drinking gatorade and thinking about New England in the AFC championship.
We sent out our Defence with one task and one task only. DO NOT under any circumstance allow Joe Flacco to connect on a mad rainbow throw downfield and the game is over.
The play that followed has to go down in history with the likes of Bill Buckner. It was the sort of thing you would expect to see in a Disney movie. I think I saw Emilio Estevez nod at Flacco from the sidelines just before he turned and let loose.
Granted the play only tied the game and it went to overtime before we were eventually knocked out but the fact is the writing was on the wall as soon as that ball dropped into Jacoby Jones’s waiting hands.
In overtime the Broncos resembled a punch drunk old fighter just waiting for the young contender to put him to sleep.
I was still clinging to a shred of hope when Manning eventually threw an insane pick down in our own half which led to Justin Tucker, who by all means has the look of a clutch kicker, (something The Ravens were badly missing the year before when New England squeaked past them in the AFC championship game) knocking over the game winning field goal with relative ease in the 2nd period of overtime. Game Over
Anytime I see a post even slightly related to this game there always seems to be an absolute horde of citizens, none of whom support Denver, spouting absolute bile towards Peyton Manning for this game. I know it shouldn’t get to me but when I see lines like… “Manning just cant get it done in the playoffs” or “Tim Tebow is Mr Clutch, Denver will rue the day they got rid of his winning attitude” I really just despair.
Peyton Manning has been to 2 superbowls, one of which he won. The man does not become a different quarterback in the post season. His record is by no means awsome but there are so many intangibles that it cannot possibly come down to just him. I truly believe he is a victim of a whole lot of shitty circumstances. Baltimore really came to Mile High to win, they played really well and should be applauded. The difference between the Defensive performance from the Tebow Steelers game to the Ravens game is startling. How can you possibly compare a game Tim Tebow won by throwing 1 meaningful pass against a lackluster Steelers team to a game Manning had come within inches of winning against an outstanding team that went on to win the Superbowl.
Tim Tebow is awful, everyone with a shred of football knowledge and dignity is very aware of this fact.
Now the burning issue is obviously the Rahim Moore blunder, I cant believe I’ve been writing for this long and his name is coming up now for the first time.
Although I find the idea that he cannot walk down the street without some punk yelling at him absolutely abhorrent, he still basically lost this game for us. As I’ve agreed on multiple occasions, yes Manning was inconsistent, Bailey got turned inside out and Vonn Miller and Dummervil were bystanders all night. The fact is the game was already sewn up.
It was the simplistic nature of the task at hand (ummmm dont let Jacoby Jones behind you for a 70 yard bomb) and what was at stake that made me so furious when I watched him leaving the ground, flailing wildly at the ball. I guess he just saw his name in lights and decided to make a play but it really was neither the time nor the place. What he did is surely the quintessential example of “what not to do” in Safety 101.
By all accounts Rahim Moore has said all the right things anytime I’ve seen him interviewed since and from what I hear he is a stellar, young, up and coming safety who has made leaps and bounds in his game and I must say I am looking forward to seeing him perform next year.
But boy did it take me a long time to forgive him, I went through a 2 month long period where I refused to start him when I played Madden even though he was far better than his replacement Jim Leonhard.
I have since let it go and made peace with it and as trivial as that sounds I’m telling you it was hard. I felt like petitioning politicians and congressmen for a Broncos anonymous group where we could all sit around wailing in some church hall clawing at our eyes and tearing our robes. But the fact is its over, we have to let it go Broncos faithful and look to next season. The addition of Wes Welker especially is something I am absolutely salivating over.
Sometimes at night though just when I think its safe to sleep, I think I can still hear that horrible screaming of The Ravens fans and see that winning bet screen on my paddypower account.