NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The booming voice rose above the din at Prudential Center to interrupt the hullabaloo and proclaim, “That concludes the Denver Broncos’ media day session.” The five happiest people in the New Jersey Devils’ arena were the team’s starting offensive linemen.
They had dreaded this hour-long interview session not for its notorious nuttiness but because it meant more face time with the media than they’d spent all season speaking with reporters, at least on the record.
Carrying on the tradition of Denver’s Super Bowl teams of the late 1990s that let Shannon Sharpe dish up the sound bites, these laconic linemen would rather be seen and not heard.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what it is: let your pads do the talking,” left tackle Chris Clark said. “It’s not about the glitz and glam for us.”
Yet, it was hard to ignore this group that allowed the fewest sacks in the league and eight times kept Peyton Manning from getting get touched at all - including both playoff games - while also boring the holes for fifth-year running back Knowshon Moreno’s first 1,000-yard season.
Anchored by prized free agent acquisition Louis Vasquez, the massive right guard gave Manning ample space to step into all those throws to set NFL records with 55 TDs and 5,447 yards through the air.
All this despite losing star left tackle Ryan Clady to a season-ending foot injury in Week 2 after signing a $52 million contract. He underwent surgery and joined last year’s starting center, Dan Koppen (knee) on I.R.
Clark replaced Clady, leaving just two members of Denver’s O-line starting at the same position as last year: left guard Zane Beadles and right tackle Orlando Franklin. Manny Ramirez slid over from right guard to center, where he had never started an NFL game and had a spectacular season - his first as a full-time snapper since 2000, when he was in high school.
Vasquez was just the rock John Elway envisioned when he snatched him away from San Diego, and he’s the only 2012 free agent in all of football to earn All-Pro honors this season.
“I thank God every day that we have him,” offensive line coach Dave Magazu said.
So does Manning, whose 20 sacks were the fewest of any quarterback who started all of his team’s games.
Yet, the line took some heat earlier this season when Manning missed some practices for the first time in his career because of a gimpy right ankle courtesy of a couple of hard hits by former Indianapolis teammate Robert Mathis that helped make for a very unhappy homecoming.
“We were getting killed,” Magazu said.
On the airwaves, yes.
On Twitter, for sure.
In the court of public opinion, absolutely.
But not really on the football field.
OK, the line was still somewhat of a work in progress, with some room for improvement, and the backups were banged up, leaving little margin for error.
“But what are you going to do?” Magazu said. “Quit?”
That’s exactly what John Moffitt did.
The backup guard/tackle decided not to return from the team’s bye week in November, staying back home in Seattle, where he had started his career, because he’d lost his love for the game and preferred his health to a healthy paycheck. He gave up $312,500 that was remaining on his contract this year, plus any playoff money.
“It was a tough situation to lose a guy like that,” Clark said. “He brought great excitement to the room. He was a hilarious guy to be around. And it definitely was a shocker because he was having fun. But it’s a hard game and it takes a lot out of a guy and sometimes you can stick with it and sometimes you don’t want to stick with it.”
Even when he quit in early November, it looked like both of his former teams - the Seahawks and Broncos - were on a collision course for Sunday’s Super Bowl, but so what?
“I don’t care about the Super Bowl,” he said the day after telling John Elway he wasn’t coming back.
The O-linemen felt Moffitt fit right in, although he didn’t like the way grown men were prized by the public simply because they made millions playing a game and not curing cancer.
Now, Moffitt does some radio gigs, some blogging, a little stand-up comedy, something his former teammates wouldn’t dare try.
Are you kidding?
It was hard enough to meet the media for an hour on Tuesday, answering questions both serious and silly.
“Maybe it’s just the personality,” Magazu said. “We talk about: ‘Let’s just go play.’ We know this is all important, but I don’t know, sometimes I think guys just feel uncomfortable. I think with offensive linemen, we’d rather be playing and being in our little room and in our little cocoon or whatever and enjoy each other’s company.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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