DENVER — He figured it out, because Ben Garland always figures it out. He finds a way.
This dilemma wasn’t a tough one. It wasn’t an Air Force graduate winning the NFL's Salute to Service award, or forcing his way onto the Broncos roster after two seasons on the practice squad. It wasn’t beating the odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. It wasn’t switching from defense to offense in the NFL.
This was just our old friend Ben needing a water bottle and a towel and asking the wrong team.
“You look back at the equipment staff, then the other equipment staff,” said Garland, the ex-Bronco-turned-49er after a joint practice at UCHealth Training Center. “You go to ask for a towel and it's, '(Oops), wrong guy.’”
Ben's back. He won’t go away. Who knows which position he’s going to be playing, or even on which side of the ball, but it’s bound to be 2029 and Ben Garland’s going to be back in the NFL. This time, in a preseason game Monday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, the Grand Junction native and all-time good guy will be the first-team center snapping the ball to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers.
Not that any more needed to be said about Garland, who’s at the top of the leader board in community service since he entered the league in 2010. But it speaks volumes Kyle Shanahan thought enough of Garland from their Atlanta Falcons days to bring him to San Francisco. Garland’s in his familiar No. 63. He’s in the spot reserved for $47 million lineman Weston Richburg, a CSU guy, who’s recovering from offseason surgeries. Knowing Garland’s history like we do, it would be wise for Richburg to get healthy ASAP. Garland won’t go away.
“It’s a little different, but I love being back (in Colorado),” Garland said Friday after practice at UCHealth Training Center. “This has always been home to me, and the Broncos treated me so well in my time here. I love being back here.”
The Broncos will love getting to the regular season. The preseason that would never end closes its first month Monday. That’s right, we’ve soaked in a month of Broncos football and there’s still three preseason games to be played.
Are they building Rome or a football roster?
Here’s a life goal: find someone who loves you as much as Vic Fangio loves football practice.
“I see you’re part of the movement trying to get the preseason games thrown away or something?” Fangio joked with a reporter.
Nope. But 53 days between the first day of training camp and the opener at Oakland on Sept. 9 is starting to feel like Christmas decorations on the Fourth of July. Too much.
Perhaps the long slog is why the Broncos welcomed the 49ers for a pair of practices and allowed the visitors to walk all over them in Day 1. It was the first time since Fangio switched from Bears sweatpants to Broncos sweatpants that smelled of the Vance Joseph era. At least the Broncos didn’t say it was a great week of practice. They straight-up copped to their sins.
“I think we kind of let them set the tone,” quarterback Joe Flacco said Friday.
“I thought it was a little choppy,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “It felt like they got after us up front a little bit.”
But given the interminable nature of this preseason, Fangio may need to reconsider his music ban on the practice fields. By the time September rolls around, throwing on some Tribe Called Quest or Social Distortion might be required to wake up the fellas. Is there such a thing as too much practice? Find out in November and December if the Broncos still have a hop in their step for faraway road trips to Buffalo and Minnesota, followed by the Super Bowl runner-up Rams and Texans.
“This is the longest training camp I think I’ve ever been a part of,” said Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who’s in his ninth training camp. “I just try to take it day-to-day. It’s long, man.”
And Garland’s career is still going, longer than most folks expected. Soon he’s going to suit up in his 61st NFL game, including six in the playoffs. His feel-good story began as a testament to his character and relentless pursuit of whatever's in front of him. Seven years in, it's now that he's flat-out good enough to be an NFL vet.
Give our old friend a hand from the South Stands. Then again, he’ll probably be back next year.