ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --No one could have been happier about being drafted by the Broncos than running back Montee Ball was last year. He grew up bleeding orange and blue with a Broncos logo on his bedroom wall. He idolized Terrell Davis.
But Ball's father might have been even more ecstatic. It was his Bronco fandom that influenced Montee as an elementary-schooler in O'Fallon, Mo., west of St. Louis.
"He was never a Rams fan. He didn't like the Chiefs. So he went with the Broncos," Ball recalled. "John Elway, Terrell Davis, all of them, he kind of loved that. A nice little era that went on there."
He's been understandably proud of his son's accomplishments every step of his journey. But that pride might have reached an apex Sunday, as the young Ball powered through the Patriots defense, ran four times in succession set up a game-ending kneeldown that sealed the Broncos' first AFC championship in 15 years.
The Broncos' longest trophy drought since its opening years was over, and the die-hard Bronco fan had just watched his son finish the job.
"His emotions, man, there were tears -- tears of joy," said Montee Ball. "I can only imagine how it is: first off, just having a child is really, really amazing, and then having a son that plays in the NFL, on your favorite team growing up, there's really no words for it."
But Ball knows from watching as a Broncos fan a decade and a half ago that there's another mountain left to climb, and if there was even a whisper of satisfaction about the accomplishment to date, it vanished after hearing teammates like Peyton Manning and others with Super Bowl experience talk about what it's like to lose the biggest football game in the history of mankind -- at least until next year.
"They said, 'It's a great feeling being there, but the times they lost, it was miserable,' just because you went through all that work," said Ball. "That's our mindset: we're there for business, we're there to work, we're there to come back with the trophy."
And Ball is ready. Most rookies speak of the "rookie wall" that they hit in December, by which time the
college season has ended or hit a pre-bowl break. That didn't happen for Ball, who played his best down the stretch of the season.
Having a lighter workload helped. Ball has touched the football 193 times in games, including the preseason. The previous two seasons at Wisconsin, he averaged 348.5 touches a year.
"My body right now feels fine. It really does -- just because I do a great job of taking care of it, hydrating and getting massages, chiropractic and all that stuff," Ball said. "But it is a long season.
"(It's) no secret that it's different for us because we're not used to going for this long. But it's just a mindset that you have to approach every day (saying), 'Why am I here?' I'm here to work."
Ball has settled into his role as the primary relief option for Knowshon Moreno, and he played 33 snaps, his second-highest total of the season. But he's not satisfied with that for the long term; he wants to earn a heavier workload.
That's precisely what you want in your rotational players: an acceptance of the role at hand, but an internal desire for more responsibility.
"Yeah. I do want to be the starter, but based on how the chips fell, we're sharing carries right now," he said. "I'm contributing as much as I can."
It's been enough to help the Broncos get this far -- and offer a glimpse of more Ball production in future years, and more emotional moments to come.