ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – So, they weren’t the gaudy rings they really wanted. Chris Harris Jr. said he’d wear his anyway.
The Denver Broncos received their AFC championship rings in a team meeting on the eve of their three-day minicamp – one that started with a bang Tuesday when first-round draft pick Bradley Roby smacked into wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders during a no-pads practice that left both players shaken but unhurt.
The sparkling rings feature the team’s orange-mane mascot atop a diamond-encrusted football amid a navy blue background.
Malik Jackson said they make his Rose Bowl ring and the three high school championship rings he owns look as if they came out of a Cracker Jack box.
Still, five-time MVP Peyton Manning admitted he’d “probably not” be wearing his anywhere.
The jewelry is testament to a record-breaking season that fell short of Manning’s second title and the franchise’s third championship when Denver was blown out by Seattle in the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been a part of three of those, unfortunately, but you recognize that it was a great effort,” coach John Fox said. “It’s not like the Olympics where they pass out three medals. You only get two medals in this league. When you can get either one of them is good, but the real prize is that gold medal.”
The team meeting included messages from Fox, Manning and Broncos Ring of Famer Tom Jackson.
“We did a lot of good things last year and we need to build on those things,” Manning said. “You just don’t go out and go a step further because you went that far last year. It’s `Why did we get that far last year?’ It’s because we put a lot of hard work in and we had a great offseason and a great training camp. … We have to go out and do it again and then try to find a way to finish it.”
General manager John Elway did his part to improve the team by going on a $130 million spending spree in free agency that netted, among others, Sanders, the speedy wide receiver from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal.
He also selected Roby, whom he had ranked 14th on his draft board, with the 31st pick in the NFL draft.
While a four-year, roughly $7 million deal was awaiting his signature inside team headquarters on Tuesday, Roby messed up his coverage and smacked head-on into Sanders, who was cutting across the middle.
Sanders ended up on the ground while Roby staggered to the sideline with blood in his mouth before rejoining the 11-on-11 drill and apologizing to Sanders for his screw-up.
“I told him don’t worry about it,” Sanders said, “We’re all out here competing and I totally understand where he’s coming from and he understands where I’m coming from. I’m fighting for the ball, he’s fighting for the ball. So, accidents happen.”
Sanders shook it off and caught a nifty pass a minute later.
Roby bounced back, too, knocking down a pass at the goal line intended for Bubba Caldwell a minute after that.
“Unfortunately we butted heads,” Roby said. “We kind of try to stay away from stuff like that, especially right now because we don’t have pads on. Our momentum brought us together and it kind of hurt me, got cuts in my mouth, but I’ll be fine. We’re big boys.”
Roby also apologized to Sanders after practice.
“He’s a veteran, I don’t want him to think that some young dude’s trying to hit him without pads on,” Roby said.
Elway and Fox both exhaled when the big hit turned out to be nothing serious. They’re both expected to play big parts in Denver’s attempt to become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl the year after losing it.
Sanders replaces Eric Decker, who joined the Jets in free agency, and adds versatility and speed to the Broncos’ receiving group, and Roby adds tenacity to Denver’s defense.
“I don’t like to see anyone go down,” Manning said. “But you’re certainly glad when it happens and somebody pops back up.”
And even better when both bounce back to make big plays, shake hands and walk off the field together, ready for another day of work in that quest for a ring that Manning would be proud to display.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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