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A knock on the door to the birth of a child: Shelby Harris details unforgettable game day

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Shelby Harris' day began in Los Angeles with a series of loud knocks at his hotel room door and ended in Denver with the birth of his son.

And in between, Harris recorded four tackles, a quarterback hit and two pass breakups in the Broncos' Week 16 game against the Chargers.

The events of Sunday morning, though, nearly kept him from the field. Harris' wife called him several times early that morning to let him know that her water had broken, but Harris slept through the phone calls. She then called Broncos Director of Player Development Ray Jackson, who rapped on Harris' door at 7 a.m. to wake him up and figure out a plan.

"We wanted to get her to the doctor and just see how much time we really had to kind of see how far along her contractions were and everything to see how much time I actually truly had," Harris said Tuesday. "Should I stay, or even if I did leave, would I miss the birth? Those are all things that we were all worried about while we were talking to my wife and everyone."

Harris and the Broncos at least considered whether he should fly directly back to Denver and went as far as securing a flight ahead of the game. Harris chose to stay, and the team secured a private flight for him that would arrive in Denver several hours earlier than the team's flight.

The team's game ended at 4:05 p.m. CT, and Harris quickly headed to the airport.

"I'm talking about the minute the game ended — I knew a couple people on the Chargers and said 'What up' real quick," Harris said. "I ran into the locker room, instantly got undressed — I'd say that's probably the quickest I've ever gotten changed. I was still sweating when we left. It was really classy by Inglewood police and all the sheriffs out there because they gave us a police escort to the airport. I really just feel special because everybody went over and beyond what they really had to do and it's just something that doesn't happen every day."

Harris arrived at the hospital in time for the 10:46 p.m. delivery to welcome Shelby Lamar Harris Jr. into the world.

"I cut the umbilical cord and everything — I pulled the baby out," Harris said. "It was just a real special moment. … I truly want to thank the Broncos just for going over and beyond what they had to do to make sure I got back and was there for the birth. It really meant a lot to me and my family and we'll forever be grateful."

The Broncos' fortunes were better for the birth of Harris' last child, as he recorded a game-winning interception against the Steelers in 2018 before bringing the game ball to the hospital to meet his newborn daughter.

"It's just funny my last two kids have stories that will go with their birth forever, so it's pretty cool," Harris said.

And while Sunday's outcome wasn't in Denver's favor, Harris' play has certainly improved since that interception against Pittsburgh.

He posted a career-high six sacks in 2019 and has recorded a career-high 11 quarterback hits in 2020. Harris, who signed a one-year deal to remain with the Broncos in 2020, has also forced a fumble and recorded seven pass breakups this season, despite playing in just 11 games. He missed four games midway through the season after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but he said Tuesday he is beginning to find his footing again.

Harris' four tackles were his most since Week 8, before he battled the novel coronavirus. 

Now that he's back in game shape, he feels like he can demonstrate the type of play he can bring as he continues his career.

"Honestly I feel like I'm just hitting my stride, and finally starting to get the confidence and feel from your team — I've always had the confidence in myself, and I feel like my teammates have always had the confidence in me — I just kind of felt a little different this year,"  Harris said. "I felt like I had something to prove and I took that mindset into the offseason and I'm going to take that mindset into everything I do now. It's just attack the day, just attack every day. I'm just realizing that that's the mindset I should have every day. After free agency last year, I kind of just made it a point to myself — don't ever get complacent, just go out there and work your tail off and whatever happens is going to happen. You just go out there and play your game, and so that's just what I've been focusing on."

As Harris prepares to become an unrestricted free agent again at the end of the season, he's not concerned with the market that may develop. He'll focus on his play, while realizing that the NFL remains a business.

"Obviously it would mean the world," Harris said of potentially staying in Denver. "My family loves Denver, I love Denver, and Denver's done nothing but do right by me since I've been here. I love it here, but at the end of the day I understand it's a business and so you got to be ready for everything. … I've had two of my kids here, this is home for them, so obviously Denver is a special place for me. They gave me my first chance really in the league to go out there and really be a player and really believe in me and trust me to go out and do my job. They've rewarded me with four extra years in the NFL, four years of playing for this great franchise. I'm forever grateful to Denver, but my biggest thing though is that it's a business and so I understand. I just go and just play football."

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