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Remembering the life and laugh of Demaryius Thomas

In this business, there's a premium on speed.

You want to get your story out first and hit send on your tweet a little bit faster than the next person.

Demaryius Thomas, who passed away Thursday at the age of 33, knew a little something about speed. 

In mere moments, No. 88 could change the course of a game and the mood of a city.

In overtime against the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs, it took just eight seconds from the time he cradled a Tim Tebow pass in his arms for him to cross the goal line and deliver one of the Broncos' most memorable wins. During Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown performance against the Ravens in 2013, Thomas caught a screen pass and raced away from defenders for a 78-yard score. The five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion possessed more than straight-line speed. His hands flashed quickly to haul in Manning's record-breaking 509th touchdown, and he would often stamp his toes down to secure another acrobatic catch.

But I'm not concerned with speed or quickness right now.

I'm simply typing, deleting and typing again — trying to get out the right words to honor a man who was an absolutely tremendous football player. And an even better man.

Thomas posted incredible on-field accomplishments. He was the first receiver drafted in 2010, his prolific numbers place him high in the Broncos' record books and he's a surefire future Ring of Famer. We've remembered his accomplishments, and we'll continue to keep his legacy alive in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

But in the few hours since Thomas' death, I haven't thought all that much about the highlight catches or the game-changing touchdowns. 

I think instead about the cafeteria at UCHealth Training Center.

You have to understand: When I arrived in Denver as a digital media intern in May of 2016, D.T. was a big deal. He was coming off four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances with at least 1,300 receiving yards — and he seemed larger than life. 

I'd joined the Broncos right out of college, and save for a three-month stint with the Miami Herald covering the Dolphins, Florida Panthers and Miami Heat, I'd only really interacted with college athletes. I'd never worked for a team before, and I wasn't really sure what sort of interaction I'd have with professional athletes. 

D.T. helped put all those concerns to rest.

Early in my time in Denver — it was likely during the team's offseason program — I wandered down to the cafeteria to get a coffee. As I put the cup under the machine, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned to look, and there was no one there. I figured it was a coworker, but when I glanced back to my left, there was D.T., staring at the ceiling, acting like he had nothing to do with it. 

And then he cracked a smile and let out a laugh. 

Perhaps the only thing that makes Thomas' death a bit easier to comprehend is that he lived his life with such joy. 

It would've been hard to blame him if he lived his life with resentment. He had a childhood that most could not — and do not — make it through; His mother and grandmother were arrested for non-violent drug offenses when he was 11, and they spent half his life in prison before they had their sentences commuted in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

But D.T. chose joy. And in his 33 short years, I'd venture that he laughed, smiled and chose joy more than most people do in far more years.

That laugh was infectious. I can still hear it now.

In the three years I spent with D.T., the taps on the shoulder continued. He was a kid at heart, and he loved to have fun with his teammates, coaches and everyone around the building. 

During my first several seasons with the team, I was also responsible for taking photos on Saturday mornings before home games and as the team departed for road games. I am not a good photographer — my editor jokes that my style is "dark and blurry" — so I was often dependent on the subject to make the pictures worth using. On their way out to a Saturday walkthrough or to the bus on their way to Kansas City, San Diego or Oakland, it wasn't unusual for players to trudge by without looking at the camera. Others would stop and want a posed photo.

D.T., whenever he saw the camera, would light up and make a funny face or toss on a huge grin. You couldn't ask for a better subject.

Thomas had a gentler side to him, too. On those same Saturday mornings, Broncos players and coaches would bring their children to UCHealth Training Center to eat breakfast with them. D.T. also treated everyone else's sons and daughters like they were his own. Every Saturday morning that I was in that cafeteria, Thomas would walk into the building and former Running Backs Coach and Assistant Head Coach Eric Studesville's son, E.J., would run to Thomas.

D.T. was always just as excited to see E.J., and they'd spend breakfast playing with matchbox cars or the like.

Thomas' relationship with Manning's children is also well-documented. 

My heart hurts for those kids today.

Thomas' community work in Denver largely revolved around helping children, as he always had time to support kids from the Broncos Boys & Girls Club, the Make-A-Wish foundation and so many other kids in need. You'll never see a better Santa Claus than D.T. at the Boys & Girls Club holiday party.

And he never asked for anything in return.

On a day-to-day basis, D.T. was always there with a fist bump and to ask how you were doing. You could tell he always meant it, too. 

It didn't matter if you were Peyton Manning or Gary Kubiak or a digital media intern. 

Just this summer, I saw Thomas at Manning's Hall of Fame induction. We hadn't really spoken since he left Denver, and there's hundreds of staffers that likely crossed his path during his career. When D.T. saw me, he lit up and pulled me in for a hug. He had a knack for making everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room.

There's an old saying that goes, "You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."

By that standard — and any other — Demaryius Thomas was a hell of a guy.

I'll miss him dearly.

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