October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:52 am
DENVER - Knowshon Moreno was once despised and rejected by Broncos fans, who comprise approximately 98 percent of Colorado's population. He was doomed for a forever connection with Josh McDaniels, who ranks among our state's all-time most unpopular invaders.
But Moreno refused to be defined by his once-timid running style or his ripped ACL or his demotion to the practice squad. He kept laboring, kept believing, kept lifting weights and emerged as a vastly improved running back.
The Broncos pulverized the Eagles, 52-20, on a virtually perfect Sunday afternoon. A journey to the Super Bowl remains probable, largely because of Peyton Manning's right arm.
But there's more to this offense than that right arm. Moreno gained 78 yards on 12 carries, a 6.5-yard average, and revealed a rugged attitude. He's elusive and speedy, but he arrived in Colorado with those gifts.
He's now a tough guy, determined to plow to rugged inside yards and willing to challenge linebackers.
Late in the second quarter, the Broncos were driving, most likely on their way to a score, when Manning found Demaryius Thomas for 7 yards and a first down.
Moreno arrived at the pile an instant late and shoved Philadelphia's DeMeco Ryans to the turf. Ryans, 6-foot-1, 250-pounds, did not flop. He tumbled partially because he fell over a teammate but mostly because of Moreno's strength.
Officials were not impressed and penalized Moreno 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
I was impressed. This was the moment I fully realized the player once known as "No-show Moreno" is no more. Moreno's statement might have cost the Broncos three points, but who cares? Did you really want to see Denver drop 55 on the Eagles?
The man who shoved Ryans arrived in Colorado in 2009 after a magnificent high school and college career. Moreno led Middletown High to 36 straight wins and three straight New Jersey state titles while gaining 6,268 yards and scoring 128 touchdowns. Yes, 128 touchdowns. In two seasons at Georgia he gained 2,033 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.
McDaniels, The Boy Blunder, was impressed enough to select Moreno with the 12th pick of the first round.
Moreno's good times ended Nov.?15, 2011 when he suffered a torn ACL against the Chiefs. Until then, Moreno had been a promising, if not overwhelming, prospect. He appeared to have lost a step last season, earning exile to the practice squad for eight weeks after he lost a fumble, long a nagging problem.
Champ Bailey kept a close watch on Moreno during those days. The two became quick friends when Moreno arrived in Denver. Moreno had worn No. 24 through high school and college and kept asking Champ if he could wear the number for the Broncos.
Champ, the best No.?24 in Broncos history, always answered quickly and simply.
Champ wondered how Moreno would react to his demotion. Moreno declined to mope, declined to complain. He refused to surrender to this new-found adversity.
"You get a guy like him coming in with high hopes," Bailey said. "He's first-round pick and then things happen, coaching change, yadda, yadda."
"But one thing about him is he stayed grounded and kept working and you see it working out now."
Yes, you can see it.
The Broncos endured their struggles. The Eagles collected 219 offensive yards in the first 19 minutes and trailed only 14-13 early in the second quarter.
Moreno revealed to the Eagles, and the rest of the NFL, that the Broncos are more than a pass-happy offense. He gained 34 yards on Denver's scoring drive, including a grinding, refuse-to-go-down 4-yard journey to a touchdown. The Eagles never again threatened.
As Moreno stood in the end zone, surrounded by teammates, applauded by the same fans who once doubted him, it was easy to admire this running back who conquered injury and skepticism and fumbling. When Moreno places his eyes on a goal, he refuses to give up.
Just ask Champ.
"He keeps asking me for my number," Bailey said.