Phillip Lindsay is a Colorado story, start to finish. And he’s on his way to crafting a hugely entertaining and unprecedented Colorado football career.
In the spring, no NFL team believed Lindsay was worthy of a draft pick. On Tuesday, the NFL named Lindsay to the Pro Bowl. He’s the first rookie offensive free agent to earn the honor.
It is a stunning and uplifting story, the kind of story that can comfort Bronco fans as their favorite team trudges toward another dismal season.
John Elway, the team Godfather, is under deserved fire, but it was under King John’s watch that the Broncos found a hidden, and cheap, gem. After everyone passed on Lindsay, the Broncos picked him up as a free agent and handed him a whopping $15,000 signing bonus.
He had already been spectacular for Denver South High and the University of Colorado. At South, he gained 4,587 yards and scored 53 touchdowns despite missing almost his entire senior season with a knee injury.
At CU, he gained 3,775 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, including 2,726 yards and 30 TDs as a junior and senior. Add it up, and Lindsay had gained 8,362 yards for Colorado teams before he ever touched the ball for the Broncos.
Here’s where the mystery arrives:
How could the entire NFL fail to see Lindsay’s potential? He’s fast. He’s elusive. He’s courageous. He’s deceptively powerful. He terrorized elite college defenses.
How? His size.
Lindsay, 5-foot-9, 175, once looked smallish on a high school field. He looks absolutely tiny on an NFL field.
I am, like Lindsay, a South grad, a prideful and clannish group that tends to over-rank our own. Wish I could tell you that I predicted Lindsay’s breakout season, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I thought he would make some noise on special teams, maybe bust a couple of 10- or 15-yard runs and earn an NFL paycheck for two or three seasons.
Instead, he became a legit star. For the season, he’s gained 991 yards and averages 5.8 yards a carry. He carried the Broncos to wins over the Steelers and Bengals, collecting 267 yards on only 33 carries.
On Dec. 2, after the Bengals win, it looked as if the Colorado kid would carry his hometown team all the way to the playoffs. All the fun crashed there, for Lindsay and the Broncos. He’s gained only 54 yards on 1.9 yards per carry in consecutive losses that halted all playoff hope.
Still, this story contains a huge dose of joy. In a few years, little from this gloomy 2018 season will be remembered. Just another chapter of frustration.
But one moment deserves a place in your memory.
Against the Bengals, Lindsay takes a pitch, heads to the left sideline and starts weaving through the defense in his distinctive gait at full speed.
A half-dozen Bengals are almost close enough to touch him, but no one manages to place a hand on No. 30.
He arrives, alone, in the end zone and declines to do much celebrating.
You can tell: Even when surrounded by doubters, he expected all this.