The biggest threat to Denver’s success in the wild AFC West is not Kansas City quarterback Patrick “Money” Mahomes. Far more challenging: wine, women and all that jazz that can tempt Broncos into the unmerciful grip of a COVID-19 outbreak capable of bringing down the team’s playoff aspirations.
“They’re young men and they have urges,” Broncos’ coach Vic Fangio said Tuesday.
During this strange season, the coronavirus changes everything.
Masks are in. Urges are out. The year 2020 is a party pooper.
The Broncos are asking young, rich and handsome players to live like football monks for the next six months.
“You do not have the freedom that you normally used to have,” said Fangio. He’s unable to babysit players 24/7. So Uncle Vic must gently scold the Broncos on their way out the door from the team’s Dove Valley Headquarters.
Now, more than ever, in this age of social-distancing, the NFL is the No Fun League. On a player’s day off, it’s verboten to slip away for 24 hours of R&R, whether the mission is a quick dinner at Momma’s house in Texas or to beat the house at blackjack at a casino in the hills.
“When you’re not here, when you’re outside our building and fields,” Fangio said, “you can’t go to the bars, the restaurants, can’t be around people you don’t know, can be in gatherings of too many people…”
The strategy: Guilt players into putting themselves under house arrest from now until the Super Bowl.
“These players, more than ever, have to be more dedicated to the cause of what we’re trying to do, and that’s to win football games,” Broncos football operations honcho John Elway said.
As odd as it might seem, Fangio’s job security might be as dependent on how convincingly Uncle Vic persuades players to stay out of harm’s way on their weekly day off as how effectively he coaches ’em up on any given NFL Sunday.
Without benefit of a bubble where the NHL and NBA sequester players for no more than three months, can the Broncos reasonably be expected to harness their urge to chase bright lights until after the first of next year?
“I think a lot of them are prepared to rein themselves in. I really do, and I hope I’m right because all it takes is one or two for something where things go wrong,” franchise president Joe Ellis said.
Denver players are pros dedicated to their craft. They’re as sick and tired of losing as any Bronomaniac who watches games in a man cave painted orange and blue. But athletes are also as susceptible to going stir-crazy from the COVID clampdowns we’ve all endured since March as the rest of us.
What good is having a Bentley collect dust in the garage if a player can’t take it out for a night on the town? Abstinence might make the heart grow fonder and the body stronger, but it also makes for a really dull Tuesday night.
Look no further than the example of Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, sent to his room in the NBA bubble and put in timeout for 10 days of quarantine, after being busted for an unauthorized visit to an Atlanta strip club. Sometimes, even a dedicated athlete gets a hankering for chicken wings too powerful to ignore.
The NFL has threatened players who contract coronavirus through high-risk activities, defined as everything from dancing at a house party to singing hymns in a crowded church, with disciple that could include docked paychecks.
“We can’t control what happens when they go home. We’re not going to babysit them and spy on them or anything like that. They’re grown-ups.,” Ellis said. “We’ll just ask them to conduct themselves appropriately to take care of themselves such as they’ll be taking care of the whole organization, their teammates specifically and their coaches.”
I will let epidemiologists wring hands about the dangers of blocking, tackling and huddling on game day. But, if you ask me, this might be the one and only year in league history when playing football does not pose the most serious health risk to working in the NFL.
As Broncos linebacker Von Miller has shown us, a finely trained athlete can certainly beat the coronavirus. But a player that gets sick during a night of partying could cause a locker-room COVID-19 outbreak potent enough to derail a team’s Super Bowl dreams.
To make the playoffs, the Broncos have to live like football monks. In this strange NFL year of the virus, there’s a new definition of being a good teammate:
Don’t swipe right.