DENVER - On a frozen field and in the heat of a game, the Broncos might not think twice about seeing their coach on the sideline again Sunday.
But it's a big deal. It's a very big deal.
Welcome back, John Fox.
Now don't do that again.
In the locker room at Dove Valley, Fox is a beloved figure. He is as comfortable with football's biggest star, Peyton Manning, cracking a joke about his golf game as he is busting chops with a bit player fighting for an NFL job.
"I don't think you'd find anyone in here that doesn't like playing for coach Fox," cornerback Tony Carter said.
The Broncos front office told Fox to take all the time he needed to recover from heart surgery. From surgery to the Thanksgiving afternoon when he returned to Dove Valley, it was 24 days. For a football coach, it must have seemed like an entire season.
"I probably lost 10 pounds," he said after undergoing aortic valve replacement surgery Nov.?4. "That's a good loss."
For the Broncos, his return seems like a blessing.
The Broncos went 3-1 in the toughest stretch of their schedule. When Manning is the quarterback, the convenient route is to suggest these Broncos could have you or me wearing a headset and throwing red challenge flags and still win games.
The convenient route is short-sighted. The Broncos are far better positioned to win a Super Bowl with Fox on the sideline. There are strong egos at work in an NFL locker room, and Fox's humility is an underappreciated ingredient to their success.
Fox is not the perfect coach. But given the pressures of a season labeled Super Bowl or Bust, his personality might make him the perfect coach for this team.
"It makes my injury a little bit easier seeing a man that gets his chest cut open from heart surgery come back and have the same enthusiasm," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said.
We all know a man's heart health is more important than the Broncos' game against the Titans at Sports Authority Field on Sunday. That's understood.
But the giddy smiles and warm reception that greeted Fox's return offered another example why this coach-player relationship is a big part of why the Broncos are winning.
A toxic locker room is like third-and-28 for an NFL franchise. A locker room that believes in its leadership can win it all.
The Broncos' power structure is a blessing. Pat Bowlen has overseen a winning team in 25 of 30 seasons as owner. Chief decision-maker John Elway has hit home run after home run in free agency. The coach is well-liked throughout the franchise.
If the Broncos could find a position for old friend Gary Kubiak, do it. He was fired Friday in Houston because his quarterbacks stink. But he also helped build a playoff roster with a keen eye for talent. Kubiak could help Denver's shaky drafts, at the least.
The consistency of the Broncos shows the value of strong leadership. From a national angle, the Saints last season lost coach Sean Payton and lost their mojo. On a local level, the Nuggets once lost George Karl to cancer treatment and fell apart in a playoff series.
Leadership is everything.
What is the effect of Fox's return?
With every Super Bowl-winning team, there's a memorable story behind it. The march of a champion often has a detour or an odd twist.
The 2009 Saints helped rebuild a region's spirit four years after natural tragedy. The 2010 Packers overcame the loss of 15 players placed on injured reserve. The 2011 Giants turned a four-game losing streak in November into a parade in February.
After the Mile High Mistake last January, Ray Lewis announced God had told him to put his hand on Jacoby Jones. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl.
Well, that one's forgettable.
Fox is a believer that Super Bowl winners usually experience unforeseen detours along the way.
It seems like every Super Bowl winner has one. Is Foxy's return their one?
"It was emotional," he said of being around his players for the first time since surgery. "It had been a little while since I had seen them. (It was) a little bit emotional for them and for me, but I think it was uplifting."
You can say that again.
Now don't do that again.