ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Super Bowl XXVI MVP first got his chance because of an emergency appendectomy.
Ahead of Washington's Week 4 game against the Phoenix Cardinals in 1988, Doug Williams was admitted to the hospital and the team was forced to turn to its reserve quarterback.
Mark Rypien, a 1986 sixth-round pick, played valiantly in his first career action as he completed 26-of-41 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and a 99.9 quarterback rating. Washington, though, fell to Phoenix 30-21.
"I can still see it like it was yesterday going into Sun Devil Stadium and playing the Cardinals in my first start," Rypien told DenverBroncos.com on Tuesday. "I had great numbers and did a lot of great things, but what I was sick about was that in the end, we came out with a loss. I think that's how you're evaluated in this game. You've got to make plays, but wins and losses and getting your team across the finish line is most important."
Rypien would do that often over the ensuing seasons, as he made a pair of Pro Bowls and led Washington to the playoffs on three occasions, including the Super Bowl XXVI win over the Bills.
His success stemmed from that lone opportunity in Arizona in 1988 — and now, 32 years later, his nephew Brett will receive his own opportunity. The Broncos announced Tuesday that the second-year player will make his first career start on Thursday against the Jets.
"I think for anyone that's played the game or been in the league, that's the ultimate goal, to be ready when your name is called," Mark Rypien said. "I think he's always shown from the first day he arrived in Boise to the first day he arrived in Denver that he was going to do everything he could and whatever they asked him to. … He's always shown that type of moxie. Why I've always been so proud of him is not necessarily the physical things that he does when he plays the game, but his preparation — whether it be protections, throwing hot routes or just being a guy that understands his role and what he needs to do. I think it's exciting."
Rypien said his nephew should be able to rely upon that mental aptitude when the Broncos appear on "Thursday Night Football," and he'll look for Brett to make quick decisions, get in a rhythm early, change needed protections at the line of scrimmage and take care of the football. And, of course, he'll need to give the Broncos a chance to increase their 15 points per game scoring average.
"You have to make plays," Mark Rypien said. "That's the position. That's what guys expect you to do. When you've got shots, you take them, and if not, you don't need to force a ball."
The younger Rypien finished 8-of-9 for 53 yards and an interception in his first career action on Sunday against the Buccaneers, but Mark said the pick was somewhat understandable given the Broncos faced an 18-point deficit and needed to push the ball down the field.
Even against a Jets team that ranks 27th in scoring defense, Rypien will face players with speed and physicality that is at another level from the opponents he faced at Boise State in college. Mark Rypien said his nephew understands, though, that as the speed of the game increases, so does the need to slow the process down.
"You're watching from the sidelines, and these are the best athletes in the world you're competing against," Mark Rypien said. "Nothing against the Mountain West Conference, but these are the best of the best of the best. When you're watching on the sideline, you're thinking to yourself — as I did — 'This game is too fast. When I get the chance, I don't know if I can speed myself up to it.' That's the wrong way of looking at it. You've got to slow the game down in your own mind, and the good ones seem to find a way to do that and make things happen. They're able to slow it down.
"… He's said the same thing [to me], 'Once you're out there and you're playing, yeah, it's cool.' Mentally, you can slow the game down and make your reads and your calls and feel the confidence each and every snap."
As the Broncos' quarterback prepares for his first start and aims to take advantage of his opportunity, his uncle will be watching from afar.
And while Mark is able to diagnose the second-year player's game with the eye of professional quarterback, he'll just be Brett's uncle on Thursday.
"I'll be sitting back and cheering Brett on and being one of his biggest fans," Rypien said.