Published: August 24, 2013
DENVER - Over the varied, expansive scope of sports, the big picture is determined by a singular, minute instant.
"I call them 'hinge' moments," said Dr. Rob Bell, a sports psychologist from Indianapolis.
This is when a game, a season, even a career, is turned for the better, or for the worse.
It is one moment. It often lasts no more than a few ticks on the stopwatch or flashes on a scoreboard or the time it took to read this far. It can alter a lifetime.
It's a small thing that is no small thing.
"In that moment, our test becomes our testimony and our mess becomes our message," Dr. Bell told me.
I met Dr. Bell at the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis, where the NCAA champion was determined when a half-court shot, by Butler star Gordon Hayward, missed by inches.
A hinge moment.
Indianapolis is a sports city defined for 14 years by Peyton Manning, now the Broncos quarterback, and where Dr. Bell counsels amateur and pro athletes on the psychological approach of their chosen sport.
Dr. Bell's next book publishes in September: "The Hinge: The Importance of Mental Toughness," and I find it is uniquely applicable to these Broncos.
Their 2012 season, and more than one man's football career, turned on a hinge moment.
In the spirit of brevity and to avoid flashbacks, I call it the Mile High Mistake. Dr. Bell calls it a classic hinge moment.
"In that case, with Denver, it's a moment that changed everything," he said.
What changes next?
History, and physics, suggests a hinge allows something to swing two ways.
Broncos history suggests this is a franchise well-versed in the hinge moment, for better and for worse. At each end of the spectrum:
The Fumble on Jan. 17, 1988.
The Mile High Mistake on Jan. 12, 2013.
Those are the extremes, and there are others in between.
The hinge moment is evident in all sports, as Bell said. What's equally fascinating is the aftermath: Which direction does the athlete, or team, swing?
In the ultimate individual sport, golf, Adam Scott choked away the British Open. One year later, he won the Masters.
In an ultimate team sport, football, the Immaculate Reception changed Pittsburgh's perception of its NFL franchise, Bell said.
"That one play turned around an entire city and gave them the belief they could win."
These are good, progressive hinges.
"Then you have the Patriots. Their whole dynasty was built on hinge moments," Bell said. "Bill Belichick signing as coach, coming over from the Jets. Drew Bledsoe getting hurt. The Tuck Rule. Adam Vinatieri's kick. Those are hinge moments."
Will the Broncos' lowest hinge moment carry the team to the highest point
The Mile High Mistake doesn't need to be analyzed any longer.
We know what happened, and what didn't.
"Every time I wake up, I'm fueled," safety Rahim Moore said.
Since their hinge moment, and the sub-freezing January night at Sports Authority Field that froze a football region, the Broncos have said the right things.
Will they do the right things?
The effect of that hinge moment reached far.
Without that hinge, does Joe Flacco sign a $120-million contract with the Ravens?
Do the Broncos load up with free agents Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?
Do the Patriots, with fair warning, choke worse than the Broncos, the next Sunday?
Do the Broncos win this Super Bowl?
"Then the story gets better: Look at what happened to Rahim Moore last year. Now look at what he did in the playoffs this year. He'll make a huge hit, a big interception," Bell said.
"The biggest thing with athletes that I see is they can't recover from the bad staff that will inevitably happen. That's what I tell athletes: That was not my moment. My moment is still to come. The best refuse to allow that moment to define them."
At one point this NFL season, the good doctor said, the Broncos' next hinge moment will come.
Which way will it swing?