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Broncos' tributes to Demaryius Thomas, both planned and unplanned, honor life of franchise legend

DENVER — The tributes to Demaryius Thomas were plentiful during Sunday's 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions.

In the wake of Thomas' tragic passing on Thursday at the age of 33, the Broncos celebrated the life and legacy of one of the franchise's all-time greats.

Before the game ever kicked off, the Broncos hosted a memorial for Thomas outside the stadium, aired a tribute video, held a pregame moment of silence and painted Thomas' jersey number on the field.

Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Brandon McManus all entered the stadium in Thomas' jersey, and Justin Simmons wore a custom-designed sweatshirt with Thomas' likeness. Safety Kareem Jackson carried a D.T. jersey to the field with him, and he kept it draped over the team's bench.

"You could just feel the outpouring of love and sadness within the Denver community," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the game. "We wanted to [pay] tribute [to] him any way we could."

The in-game tributes were just as powerful. On the first play of the game, the Broncos' offense trotted out onto the field with just 10 players. They took a delay of game penalty — which Detroit declined — before Sutton came back onto the field to give Denver its 11 players.

"It was a special moment to be a part of something like that with this organization," Teddy Bridgewater said after the game. "Paying homage to someone who did so many great things, not only on the football field, but off the field. I think we're all familiar with 'Bay-Bay's' [Thomas'] story and just how he impacted people. Everyone he came across, his smile, his presence. So it was great to just go out there with 10 guys and understand that he was out there with us."

Fangio, Lions head coach Dan Campbell and the game's officials all worked to coordinate and execute the plan, which was suggested by Broncos Chief Communications Officer Patrick Smyth.

"[Denver] reached out to me about that yesterday, and I appreciate that," Campbell said. "It was for D.T. That's who we did that for."

The Broncos' tributes continued from there, as the Denver defense twice forced takeaways and sprinted over to the No. 88 logo painted on the field. On the second occasion — a fourth-quarter diving interception by Simmons — the spectacular play was only amplified by the manner in which he included Thomas' memory.

"That was a hell of a play by Justin," Fangio said. "That was not a bad throw by the quarterback or a bad route by the receiver. It happened right in front of me; I had a good look at it. It was just a tremendous football play by a tremendous player. I didn't know that he brought it over there to the [No.] 88, but that's just icing on the cake."

Simmons said he didn't remember much from the moment, but he knew he wanted to make it over to Thomas' memorial. It was there that he planted the ball on the No. 88 logo and gathered with his teammates.

"Ever since we found out either Thursday night or Friday morning, as a defense, we talked about how every takeaway we were going to dedicate and give every ball to D.T. We all made sure [we knew] where the logo — the number — was at. That's what happened. I made the play, and I kind of blacked out. The only thing I thought of was heading over there to D.T. and giving him the football."

Simmons and the rest of his teammates all spoke about how emotionally draining the week had been and about the challenge of preparing for a football game.

"It was definitely mentally straining," Simmons said. "It was tough. You feel one way emotionally and you try to tell your brain, from a mental standpoint, to lock in and things like that. We always talk about controlled aggression and you can't just go out there and [let your] emotions fly out all over the place — especially at my position. It was tough, man. I think one of the toughest things was having a real relationship with him. He meant a lot to me and my career. He really shaped me into not only the player, but the man that I am. It was tough. I'm really thankful for the time that I had to spend with him."

Perhaps the difficulty of the moment made the final tribute even more meaningful, especially given that it wasn't planned. The Broncos' final drive of the game, one that pushed the team to the 38-point mark, spanned 88 yards. It started at the Denver 12-yard line and ended on the opposite side of the field.

As Denver neared the goal line, there was a break in the action. And it was at that point that Thomas' number was put back up on the video board as chants of "D.T." rung through the stadium.

"That's crazy," said Sutton when he was told after the game that the drive was 88 yards.

"He's always going to be there," Patrick said. "I think he's going to be there more for us in life. Remembering how to treat people and how to carry yourself. He probably was out there with us, but I know his main focus was making sure we were good mentally outside of football."

As the Broncos move past the tributes and an emotional win, the pain and hurt won't magically disappear. The sting of losing Thomas will remain, and those who knew him stressed the need to continue to honor him.

"For us to be able to come in as young players and have such an amazing person be our mentor, it was tough and it made it a tough week," Sutton said. "It still is tough. It's not something that you just wake up and it goes away. He's gone and it's sad — it's very sad. All we can do now is try to make him as proud as we possibly can because he showed us the way. He gave us the roadmap and it's on us to continue the legacy and continue to live as D.T. did. That's what we want to do.

"We want to finish the season remembering him and remembering the things that he stood for. He invited and embraced us as people and it's on us to continue his legacy."

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