ENGLEWOOD — It’s true, the legend of Gardner Minshew. All of it, true.
And there’s a moral of the story for the Broncos somewhere in there, hidden behind the Minshew mustache, the homemade jean shorts, the rise from sixth-round draft pick to NFL starter.
But let’s start with Minshew, the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars — sorry, Swaguars — trying to break his hand to earn a medical redshirt in college. How 'bout that tall tale? Turns out, he really did smack his throwing hand with a hammer, between chugs of Jack Daniels. Chug, thwack. Chug, thwack.
"One-hundred percent (true), man," Minshew told me on Wednesday. "I don't tell a lie."
Who's going to doubt a guy who rocks the best 'stache to come out of the Pacific Northwest since Adam Morrison? Minshew Mania roars into Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday. Start not shaving now. He’s more than the quarterback offered $1 million by an adult film company. (No, he’s not going into porn.) He’s more than one who smashed a hand to "play more football."
"I didn’t break it. I tried,” Minshew said. "It was an attempted break. It was sore as hell."
He’s more than all that. For a Broncos fandom that would break both hands (and maybe both feet) to land a 20-something quarterback with star potential, Minshew represents exactly how the Broncos have gotten it so terribly wrong.
Got it wrong with Brock Osweiler. Got it wrong with Paxton Lynch. Got it wrong, because while general manager John Elway and the front office were trying to identify the next Elway, they focused on all the cool physical stuff — big arm, big body, big pretty smiles — while dismissing what made Elway Elway in the first place.
Elway was Elway because he played with a fearlessness that made his teammates believe. Call it silly, but it's true. He played through the kind of stuff that made Andrew Luck retire. He came back, over and over, and locker rooms tend to dig that sort of thing.
“You’re in the locker room with John,” Broncos legend Steve Atwater told me last year, “and you always knew you had a chance to win that day. His confidence (was) everything for us.”
What’s more confident than wearing jorts on a trip back to the alma mater, as Minshew did last weekend at Washington State?
“I guess it’s just what I like to wear,” Minshew said of his, um, unique fashion sense. “It’s something I’ve always done, I guess. It’s not thought-out or anything. I promise you that.”
You knew Osweiler and Lynch weren’t The Guy when they deferred to the quarterbacks ahead of them, Osweiler to Peyton Manning, Lynch to everybody. They waited their turn, a red flag blowing in the breeze. Players don’t want to play. They need to play, and the Broncos keep drafting quarterbacks who are just fine if they don’t.
Enough with the Elway lookalikes. The Broncos need one who’s a playalike — one who’s going to embolden a huddle come hell or a cornerback blitz. We’re talking about the immeasurable qualities the analytics crowd that’s taken over sports media can’t quantify and doesn’t understand.
Guys like this: "I think, more than anything, leading is ... you have to lead the charge. You have to be right there on the front lines with guys," Minshew said. "You have to let them know you're not afraid to mix it up with them, that you’re going to fight with them every step of the way.”
When I asked Minshew why he fell to the sixth round of the draft — the 10th quarterback taken — his answer spoke volumes about the Broncos' swings and misses in their own draft process.
“I’m 6-1. I don’t run very fast, don’t have a super-strong arm. That’s kind of what people are drafting on nowadays,” Minshew said.
A year from now, Minshew could be a fun story to tell your kids. Really, he could vanish. His QB rating (110.6) and completion percentage (73.9) are the highest by a rookie in league history, but the NFL chews up and spits out young quarterbacks like sunflower seeds.
Ask the Broncos.
Till then, we’re going to milk this Minshew moment, because this fella’s a dandy.
Minshew on beating the CU Buffs, 31-7, a loss in Boulder that triggered the end of the Mike MacIntyre era: “I remember we should’ve beat 'em worse. I think it was like 31-0, but man, we should’ve got after 'em. I remember seeing that buffalo. That was freaking awesome.”
On his favorite former coach Mike Leach stories: "My favorite Mike Leach stories I can’t repeat."
On shaggy-haired Wyoming grad and Jags safety Andrew Wingard: “You’d probably expect him at a Kid Rock show more than on a football field."
You'd probably expect Gardner Minshew at a NASCAR rally, or a mustache convention. Hope the Broncos find one like him.