Remembering former Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas

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Demaryius Thomas, 1987-2021

The death of Thomas, 33, due to unknown causes, shocked his friends and acquaintances to the core. Shannon Sharpe broke down about it on TV. Peyton Manning, who helped Thomas win a Super Bowl ring six years ago, was broken up about it too—and more than in a football sense. His twins, Marshall and Mosley, loved Thomas. So much so that when Thomas moved from Denver to Houston in midseason 2018, the twins both wore THOMAS 88 Texans jerseys when Thomas returned to Denver to play a game. Tim Tebow got all emotional about Thomas too—which is very logical.

Tebow and Thomas combined for the greatest play in both players’ NFL careers.

Drafted three slots apart in the first round of the 2010 draft by Denver, they played their first playoff game at the end of their second year together: Jan. 8, 2012, the 8-8 Broncos hosting the fearsome 12-4 Steelers, with coordinator Dick LeBeau and impact defenders Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. Denver was home because it had won the feeble AFC West, but the Broncos limped into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak; Tebow’s time in Denver was coming to an end after his 46.5-percent-accuracy season. The two teams were tied at 23 after four quarters. On the first play of overtime, Thomas, running a deep post from the left side, took a pass in-stride from Tebow at Denver’s 38-yard line. With a step on two Steeler defensive backs, Thomas sprinted home for the 80-yard touchdown. It was the first game in NFL history decided on the first play of overtime.

Thomas caught 777 passes in a storied 10-season NFL career that ended just two years ago. He had a rough childhood in Georgia. Police raided his home one day and arrested his mother and grandmother for crack cocaine distribution. His mom was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Demaryius went to live with an aunt and uncle, who raised him. So much of what Thomas showed as a pro off the field—volunteering for children’s charities, playing with teammates’ kids when they came to practice—seemed an effort to give kids some of the joy he missed out on as a child. After the Broncos won the Super Bowl in early 2016, he wheeled Manning’s son Marshall around the locker room in a laundry cart. The child of teammate Tyler Polumbus sat on Thomas’ lap on the team charter back to Denver. Whenever the Manning kids would see Thomas, they’d run and hug him, even more recently.

Becoming emotional on ESPN on Friday, Tebow said of Thomas: “I think we all know how gifted DT was on the field, but that was not his greatest gift—his greatest gift was the joy he brought to life.” Just a shame to see Thomas die so young.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column