August 24, 2014 Updated: August 24, 2014 at 9:00 am
DENVER - The text arrived at halftime from one of Colorado's most smitten Eric Decker fans. She is not alone. Tens of thousands of Decker devotees, mostly female, reside in our state.
"Eric who?" the text asked.
The text shouted an important message about the 2014 Broncos.
Emmanuel Sanders has arrived.
In the space of 68 seconds, Sanders erased a multitude of doubts. With 1:17 left in the first half of an 18-17 loss to the Houston Texans, he trashed double coverage and ran under a high-arching, superbly thrown pass from Peyton Manning for a 67-yard touchdown.
But his show had only started. With nine seconds left in the half, Sanders made a lunging, reach-as-far-as-he-could catch at the goal line. The first TD had been mostly a result of Manning's utter mastery. The second TD revealed a determined, gifted receiver.
The crowd was howling with joy after the second TD, and Sanders made the most of his moment. He offered a dramatic bow, and his gesture made sense. This served as his introduction to the masses at Mile High.
Sanders, who played for the Steelers last season, understands the task ahead of him. He knows Decker caught 172 passes for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He knows John Elway signed him to replace No. 87, who earned the adoration of Broncos fans.
"You know, I always hear words about Eric Decker and that I'm here to replace Decker," Sanders said early this month. He smiled while he shook his head.
He has another plan.
"No, I'm not here to replace Decker. I'm here to be Emmanuel Sanders, and that's all I can be. I'm not trying to talk about myself in the third person, but that's all I can be."
August had been a frustrating month for Sanders. He suffered a thigh injury Aug. 4, and the pain drained his explosive speed. When Denver roared to 34-0 win over the 49ers Aug. 16, Sanders didn't join in the offensive fun.
He wasn't the only one frustrated. On Wednesday, Sanders received his own text, and it came from a man with healthy respect for Decker.
The text was sent by Manning, who encouraged the hobbled Sanders to join him on the field.
Their meeting carried plenty of drama. On first down from the Broncos 33, Manning retreated into the pocket and pumped once while he enjoyed superb protection from the line.
Sanders burst free. This was one of the plays where you could see the ending even before Manning released the ball. You knew Sanders would arrive in the end zone.
Preseason games are primarily glorified practice, an excuse for NFL owners to squeeze more millions of dollars from fans.
But there are moments that allow a glimpse into the future.