ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos fans, know this:
So close your eyes and imagine if you were able to enter Broncos headquarters through the back door, behind the security gates, from the parking lot where players' and coaches' cars sit. It's the same door through which generations of Broncos since 1990 have entered -- from Hall of Famers to players who barely had a sip of coffee.
You enter the building, absorb the Bronco-centric surroundings with a whisper of awe built from years wondering what this inner sanctum where your heroes worked was like. Then you turn down a hall to the equipment room, where shelves teem with Broncos gear in all sizes. Helmets, workout shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, cleats – it all awaits you.
You don't have to pay for any of this. And at the end of your trip, you'll have armfuls of gear. All of it has your name or number written somewhere inside it, so it can be identified as yours when it's washed.
And don't worry about the laundry; there's a well-trained staff to take care of that. They'll size up your helmet and pads, make sure your shoes are a proper fit, and tailor your gear to your specifications.
You drooling yet?
It sounds like the fantasy camps many baseball teams run for fans during the winter months. You ditch your humdrum office life for six days, and trade it in for a taste of life as a big-leaguer.
Except for Ball, this isn't pretend. The rookie running back, who became a Broncos fan when he was in second grade and the team boasted a ground game led by childhood hero Terrell Davis, is enjoying an experience that is 100 percent real -- even if it all might seem a bit surreal.
"I was like a little kid, as soon as I put the jersey on, the shorts, the cleats, I wanted to take all sorts of pictures and send them to my friends," he said. "But it's all about business."
Friday morning, that business involved his first practice as a Bronco. There were no pads and no true contact, and little of it resembles actual football -- except for the pace.
"It's a fast tempo, it's not very hard on your body but a lot of coaches are yelling and then the horn goes and then you're switching into a different segment," Ball said. "So it's quick, quick plays but then you're doing a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time."
That will turn you from a giddy fan into a focused player faster than a
Throughout the next few weeks, much of Ball's business will involve studying. Second-round running backs aren't drafted to warm the bench, and the Broncos appear poised to rely on him to do some heavy lifting -- if he can grasp the cerebral challenges that go with transitioning from college to pro.
"I don't want to be the player out there running the wrong way or blocking the wrong person," Ball said. "I just want to be the player that they can count on and know the entire playbook inside and out, or at least a little bit of it inside and out and obviously get to know them and for them to know that I'm accountable."
The most important aspect of Ball's transition will be in his blocking. His 2011 season at Wisconsin with Seahawks Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson will help; Ball said Wilson had the freedom to change calls at the line of scrimmage, as will often be the case in the Broncos' offense, so he learned how to quickly shift his focus from preparing for a carry to squaring up to protect his quarterback, and vice versa.
It's not glamorous. Much of the NFL isn't, once you get past the glow of experiencing everything for the first time, so it won't take long for the professionalism of Ball the player to eclipse Ball, the fan with a Broncos logo on his bedroom wall.
But there's still one step left for him to take in that transition: meeting quarterback
"I'm very excited, very thrilled to meet him -- but I always tell myself, 'Don't act like a fan' when I meet him," Ball said, "because it's time to get to work."
For you the fan, the Broncos are leisure. For Ball, it's now business. He loves his new team, but knows now he must draw the line between childlike adulation and adult responsibility. And as a fan, you wouldn’t want anything else from a player who could become one of the Broncos’ most crucial in the next few months.