DENVER - When Ben Garland was a 4-year-old in Grand Junction, he was watching the Broncos play on TV. He was similar to virtually every other Colorado resident. The Broncos were his team.
"I'm going to play for the Broncos," Garland told his father on that long-ago day.
And then they went outside to play catch.
Garland went to become one of Air Force's all-time finest defensive players during his 2006-2009 career. He played for the Broncos, as he said he would, as an offensive tackle in 2014. He was released by the Broncos in September 2015.
His vision for his football future has taken a winding road to Atlanta. He played during his Air Force days at 275 pounds. He took the field for the Falcons Sunday as a 308-pound (at least) defensive lineman. His parents and brothers and sister were in the stands cheering for him.
The Garlands were, just this once, cheering against the Broncos.
"I absolutely loved coming back," Garland said. "It was awesome, awesome coming back."
He laughed. He was a lifelong Bronco fan battling against his favorite team.
"It was definitely weird being back here," he said.
He had one big moment. He rampaged into the pocket and tripped Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch. For a moment, Garland had recorded a sack.
But a flag on the Falcons nullified the play.
Garland wasn't dwelling on the lost sack after the game.
He was dwelling on the victory. The Falcons had conquered the NFL champs. The Falcons did not enter this season burdened with big expectations.
"But we had big expectations," Garland said. "The way we've worked, and how we've been fighting for each other, this is exactly what we expected."