DENVER — Danny Trevathan winces slightly when his memorable mistake in the first game is mentioned. A stout 240 pounds of muscle on more muscle, the thought still stings him a little.
It’s not quite as painful as a collision with a charging fullback. Reliving the memory is more like pressing on a blister that won’t heal — annoyingly uncomfortable.
Perhaps a win in Super Bowl XLVIII will provide the permanent healing salve. Until then, the second-year linebacker will try not to let one regrettable moment define him or his outstanding season.
A sixth-round draft pick out of Kentucky in 2012, Trevathan has blossomed into a consistent playmaker for the Broncos. He leads the team with 128 tackles (87 solo). He has forced four fumbles and picked off three passes.
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Still there’s that blister of a memory that won’t fade, rubbing and irritating all that is good.
“Life is a game,” he said. “It’s ups and downs, highs and lows. But I like my lows. Because without my lows, I never know what my highs are.”
For the first few days of the season, Trevathan was all over the highlight shows and not in a good way. Thanks to the fury of a 16-game schedule and the passion of the playoffs, fans may not remember. But Trevathan can’t forget what happened in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 5 at Sports Authority Field.
A touchdown passing barrage from quarterback Peyton Manning put the Broncos up 42-17 early in the fourth quarter. The deficit forced the Ravens to go for it on fourth-and-one from their 29-yard line. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back and tried to zip a pass to running back Ray Rice, who was running an out route.
Trevathan pounced on the play, jumping the route and stepping in front of Rice. He grabbed Flacco’s pass as if it was meant for him and headed in the other direction. The end zone was less than 30 yards away. The only thing in his mind was how he’d celebrate his first career touchdown in front of a national TV audience.
Then it happened.
In his haste to celebrate, Trevathan dropped the football a tick too soon. At game speed, it wasn’t noticeable that he jettisoned the football before crossing the goal line. It rolled harmlessly into the end zone. But in the NFL, all scoring plays are reviewed. In slow motion, it was easy to see Trevathan actually dropped the ball on the 1-yard-line.
It was ruled a touchback.
“I saw those lights, and I’m there — I’m going to go ahead, get my little dance in, do whatever,” Trevathan said.
On the sideline, Trevathan’s celebratory smile disappeared into a look of heartbreak and embarrassment. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio tore into him with something more than a scolding. Teammates tried to comfort him. Sure the Broncos won the game 49-27, but it didn’t ease the humiliation.
“That was fairly embarrassing,” head coach John Fox quipped.
It’s easy to joke about now.
“Everybody, you’re going to get knocked down,” Fox said. “Sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come. I think in his case, it was a learning experience.”
Leon Lett of the Cowboys and DeSean Jackson of the Eagles made similar gaffes in the past. So Trevathan wasn’t the first, just the most recent.
He didn’t hide. He answered the questions, swallowed the teasing and put on a good face. But he made a vow to atone.
“I promised myself I would never put my team in a place like that,” he said. “I’ll make up for it. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do. I promised those who were laughing at me, I’m going to make them suffer. I’m going to be here and grind it out, I’m going to pick it off next time, do whatever I’ve got to do to go ahead and get that off my back.”
That moment came in week five in a road shootout with the Dallas Cowboys. Tied at 48 with less than two minutes remaining, the Broncos’ defense needed to get a stop. It wouldn’t be easy with Tony Romo in the midst of a career passing day. But on second down, Trevathan intercepted a Romo pass over the middle with a terrific diving grab. It would set up Matt Prater’s game-winning field goal moments later.
“He’s a terrific young player,” Fox said. “He has worked very hard. It means a lot to him. Like all young players, every day they’re learning more and more about what it means to be a pro. He’s had a terrific year.”
While the dropped ball memory hasn’t gone away, the Broncos’ success and Trevathan’s newborn daughter, Danoir Louise, have helped him move on.
“It helped me grow,” he said. “It taught me to be a little bit more humble. I’ve settled down now. I had a little baby girl that I love and she’s just helped me get myself together, helped me grow a lot and get prepared for the rest of this season.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org