DENVER — Take a minute to join me in this football time machine as we leap forward into the 2013 NFL season.
It is the home opener at Sports Authority Field. For the sake of our imagination, let's say Peyton Manning’s Broncos are 1-0, fresh off a triumph against Eli Manning and the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
The Denver defense is being introduced. Rahim Moore is being introduced.
How are you feeling right about now? Is that something you can handle?
Is that something the Broncos want to handle?
I don't think so. After weeks of thought on a sensitive subject, I believe the Broncos must unload Rahim Moore and part ways with the second-year safety.
That’s a tough thing to write, too. Toss aside his future as a promising safety in a league that demands a strong secondary. If you met the proud Bruin from UCLA, you'd dig him. Alive with charisma and a passion for the game, Moore boasts a personality that draws people in.
In the funereal locker room that cold, dark night after a 38-35 double-overtime loss to the Ravens, Moore rose to the occasion. With a maturity that blew away the most cynical of journalists, he answered the toughest questions ever posed to a Bronco.
"Hey, I lost the game for us,” he said in a hushed voice.
Moore didn’t need a hug; he deserved an escape route.
Please, Broncos: Give him one. Search east and west for a trade partner.
His 23rd birthday was Monday. Consider a gift that will last a football lifetime: a fresh start.
This has nothing to do with Moore as a teammate or his ability to play safety.
This has everything to do with his unbreakable connection to the worst play in Colorado sports history, a misjudgment that will be linked to his Denver career until the day it's over.
But only in Denver. If next season Moore suits up for the Saints, Browns, Jaguars — any of the teams that probably will target safeties in the draft or free agency — the questions and whispers won’t grow into an uncomfortable roar.
"In terms of an athlete, it is very much like a post-traumatic stress disorder," said Dr. Stephen Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist in Denver and Boulder County. "There's no doubt Rahim Moore has had flashbacks of that play."
If anything, moving Moore is doing him a favor.
As forgiving as Broncos Country might be — if you come back from the Josh McDaniels era, you’ll come back from anything — the 70-yard touchdown in the AFC divisional playoffs touched a nerve we didn’t know existed.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco’s toss forced overtime and, later, a regionwide therapy session. Nothing Moore does in Denver will erase the image of Jacoby Jones pointing skyward and Broncos hearts sinking to a depth no one wants to witness.
Make no mistake: It was the Mile High Mistake, not the Flacco Fling.
On the scope of the season, Moore deserved better than a single devastating play. Through 16 games, he showed the promise of a safety who could be counted on for years to come.
Broken down through advanced metrics, Moore was the 10th-rated safety during the 2012 NFL season, according to Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com.
A grade of 0 is the NFL average; Moore graded out at plus-10, the superb website informed me. Moore’s success rate in run and pass plays earned positive marks. He missed one tackle for every 11.1 attempts — a solid mark, good for 12th among safeties.
This was all in his second season, showing Moore was every bit worthy of a second-round pick in 2011. Here’s the chilling stat: Moore was in primary coverage for only one touchdown allowed during the regular season.
This isn’t a safety burned often; just a safety burned at the worst possible time.
"It's a shame, but that one low-light shouldn’t override the thousand snaps of tape he recorded before that point,” Monson wrote in an email.
It is a crying shame, unfair and just plain too bad.
But I don’t see how a bright football career can continue in a city certain to dwell on its darkest football moment.
It’s not him. It’s us.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).