In the fullness of time, the truth always comes out. The indignity of the NFL's decision to strong-arm the Denver Broncos into playing a home game vs. the New Orleans Saints without a quarterback still stings in the Mile High City. Broncos fans knew in their guts then and now that it wasn't right.
Heading into Week 12 of last season, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel inadvertently attended a position meeting that included Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, and Blake Bortles, unaware he was infected with COVID-19. Alas, Lock, Rypien, and Bortles didn't maintain perfect mask discipline (though the Broncos believed then that it was negligible) on the meeting room video.
When Driskel tested positive the next day, the Broncos had to fly into protocol, going back through to trace his contacts with any players. The NFL was unflinching in the prejudice with which it hammered the Broncos for these QBs not being perfectly masked in accordance with protocol.
After receiving overtures that the league was going to look past the minor infraction to either a.) allow Lock to play or b.) reschedule the game for Tuesday as it had done for several other teams similarly afflicted, the NFL league office dropped a nuclear bomb on the Broncos the day before the game.
No, we're not going to reschedule the game to allow the requisite time for the other three non-infected QBs to pass through quarantine and yes, you can either forfeit the game to the Saints or play without a QB. It was shameful.
The NFL opted to make an example out of the Broncos, humiliating one of the most storied franchises in the league and diluting the quality of the game down to a veritable joke. Even the Saints players knew it was laughable. The Broncos got blown out 33-3 as undrafted rookie wideout Kendall Hinton had to play the game under center.
In retrospect, we now have a window into how then-GM John Elway navigated the situation and what his interactions with the NFL's chief administrator of football operations Dawn Aponte were like.
In an interview with NFL.com's Mike Silver, Elway opened up on how he really felt about the NFL's handling of the whole situation in the face of the Saints' willingness to reschedule the game.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had told Elway he didn't mind delaying the game until Monday or Tuesday, which could have allowed some or all of the quarantining trio of quarterbacks to return. Elway believed that the league was applying a different standard to the Broncos than it had to other teams in similarly impacted instances and felt sickened that the product was being cheapened to the paying customer, but his arguments were rebuffed.
"I got a little mad about that," Elway recalled. "Well, I hung up on the league office. I said, 'Dawn, I'm sorry: I've had enough of this, and I'm hanging up.' At least I did it respectfully."
2020 was a weird season replete with one outlying situation after another. But the reason the NFL opted to use the Broncos as its whipping boy came down to the fact that the team had spent most of the past five years in the doldrums.
Would the NFL have pulled such a move on the New England Patriots? We already know the answer to that; heck no.
The Patriots were in a similar situation as the Broncos earlier in the season and Aponte, under the direction of commissioner Roger Goodell, no doubt, bent over backwards to accommodate owner Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, rescheduling multiple games (including Denver's bout with New England).
By coddling the Patriots, the Broncos had to pay the price of losing their true bye week and having a trio of games rescheduled. Elway, knowing these were unique circumstances and with an attitude of gratitude that the 2020 season was even being played, rolled with the punches and was himself accommodating to the Patriots and league office.
When the shoe was on the other foot, however, Elway received no benefit of the doubt or credit for adapting willingly to the NFL and Patriots. The league's behavior was shameful and transparent.
In some odd way of trying to overcome the PR blowback, the league pulled strings to get Hinton's gloves worn vs. the Saints into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an exhibit. Everyone saw through that subterfuge.
The NFL embarrassed the Broncos and in so doing, humiliated itself in its ham-handed handling of the situation. The takeaway? If you end up in the league's crosshairs, it pays to have had a winning record the year prior.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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