DENVER — **Demaryius Thomas' mother, Katina Smith, left Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday with two gifts. The first was the simple ability to watch her son play the game he loves for the first time in person. The second was the game ball, given to Thomas by quarterback Peyton Manning for that specific reason.
Sunday's game against the Steelers capped a whirlwind journey for Smith, who had been in prison serving a drug trafficking sentence since 1999. In July, President Barack Obama commuted Smith's sentence, along with 45 others whose sentences for nonviolent drug offenses were called "unduly harsh" by the White House.
The Broncos are off to the AFC Championships with a win over the Steelers. These are the best snaps of the game.
Smith was arrested when Thomas was 11, and the future Broncos Pro Bowler wouldn't pick up football until high school. So the only chances Smith has had to watch Thomas play, whether with Georgia Tech or the Broncos, was on television in prison — until Sunday, that is.
"I was just excited she was here for her first game," Thomas said. "We came out with a win to make it even better."
The plans for Smith to come to a Broncos game had been in motion for years, but with her sentence shortened by five years, those plans accelerated quite a bit. Smith first had to live in a halfway house until November, and after that, she was not permitted to leave Georgia for 60 days, as part of the terms of her release.
The long path to Denver finally came to fruition Sunday with Smith watching the game from a suite as her son caught four passes for 40 yards on a blustery day. Thomas also scored on a two-point conversion on a pass from Manning to put the Broncos up a touchdown in the final minutes of the game.
"It was great. I was happy, she's happy — we're happy," Thomas said. "Hopefully she'll come out next week."
Thomas added that he's optimistic she'll be able to make her second visit to Sports Authority Field at Mile High next week for the AFC Championship Game when the Broncos take on the Patriots.