ENGLEWOOD • For literary purposes, we’ll call it the Vic Poke. It’s a fatherly jab, a subtle reminder of who’s in charge around here.
No one’s immune.
Shoot, Vic Fangio poked Peyton Manning. Takes some huevos to poke PFM, but Fangio’s not scared. “We didn’t have refs (in practice) back then,” Manning told media at UCHealth Training Center, spinning a yarn for old time’s sake. Manning was a 23-year-old quarterback with the Colts, Fangio the defensive coordinator.
And when Peyton retired to his locker after complaining about Fangio’s ‘D,’ he found a gift.
“Vic put a plate of wine and cheese in my locker,” Manning said.
Poke. Poke, poke.
”He didn’t say it was him. But I knew it was him.”
It’s been a few months since Fangio got here, and I finally figured out who he reminds me of. It’s my late grandfather, who brought the same gift to my first dozen birthdays: a rattle from the rattlesnakes he’d smack with a shovel on the west Texas oilfields he worked for 50 years.
Happy birthday, kid. Now finish your beer so we can have some cake.
The only thing better than Dad jokes are Granddad jokes. Coach Vic’s not joking around.
“If you get a compliment from Vic Fangio you’ve done something special, because he does not roll them out there very often,” Manning said.
Feels good, doesn’t it? Feels good to know the Broncos are going to work with a man in charge who’s unafraid to show he’s in charge. His 83-year-old high school coach told me Fangio talks softly. “He’s a quiet young man,” Jack Henzes said. But this coach carries a big stick.
The Broncos play a game for a living, as defensive lineman Shelby Harris said last week. Problem is, they’ve been acting like it.
Those days are gone.
“You’re definitely making a play on the field and looking at coach Fangio, because everyone is fighting for his approval right now,” linebacker Todd Davis said.
Out: We had a great week of practice.
In: the Vic Poke.
As Fangio welcomed holdout Chris Harris Jr. into the huddle with faint praise, I couldn’t help but wonder how he would’ve handled Shane Ray. Who? Come on, you remember Ray. He’s the entitled first-round draft pick who called it “disrespectful” when Vance Joseph did the right thing by making Ray a healthy scratch.
Privately, Joseph steamed, telling one staffer: OK, then he’s scratched for the next game, too.
Here’s a hunch Fangio would go ahead and order the Uber himself. Straight to DIA, young man.
With a heavy hand on Harris Jr., Fangio sent a message to the Broncos locker room that no one’s above the new lawman in town: “There a lot of things (Harris) has to learn. We have to ease him back in, see what type of shape he’s in. He may have been working out hard wherever he was, but playing football is different.”
And how long until the proud Pro Bowl cornerback fits right in again?
”I don’t know yet. I don’t know him well enough to see,” Fangio said. “He told me he’ll learn fast. But I have to see it, not hear it.”
Only seven Broncos remain from the last time they made the playoffs: Todd Davis, Harris Jr., Jeff Heuerman, Brandon McManus, Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, Derek Wolfe. Fangio needs to see it, not hear it.
Players use an ID swipe card to enter the office. With Fangio they check their egos at the door.
The Vic Poke applies to rookies, like first-round pick Noah Fant: “He’s got tools, but you know I can go into Home Depot and walk out with a bunch of nice tools and I’m not a carpenter.”
The Vic Poke applies to Super Bowl MVPs, like Von Miller: “He’s got a lot to learn out there.”
It’s June 2. The Broncos are running around in shorts and jerseys, no pads, 99 days from the Monday night opener at Oakland. Who knows if their talent is on par with the beasts of the AFC West? But for the first time in too long of a time, there’s no doubting the coach in charge.
“With Vic, you don’t know if he’s happy or mad,” veteran lineman Harris said.
Poke. Poke, poke.
Fangio’s not reinventing the game at Dove Valley. He’s in the process of elevating the Broncos’ bar back to where it’s supposed to be — way up high, for old time’s sake.