ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – ** On Sunday, Ben Garland's helmet truly embodied him and his passions.
As usual, on the side of the helmet: a Bronco. Placed on the back: an Air Force decal.
Sunday's game was the culmination of years of hard work for Garland. A former Air Force Academy standout and a member of the Broncos since 2010, he made his NFL debut in Oakland.
He calls the experience of playing during Sunday's rout of the Raiders, "a special moment."
"Not only is it your first time out there playing, but it's against the Raiders, a huge division rival," Garland, a Colorado native, said. "I mean I've hated them since I was a little kid. And on top of that, it's Salute to Service month and they're honoring the veterans out there and you hear them talking about them and you hear the real respect that people have for the veterans. It really brings something special to it."
The players donned camouflage gloves and towels while coaches wore similarly patterned hats in honor of the NFL's Salute to Service month. As Tuesday is Veterans Day, it was ideal timing for Garland's professional football debut.
But Head Coach John Fox said there was no plan in place for Garland to be active solely because of Veteran's Day nearing. The Broncos needed him as a backup guard.
"He's a guy that's been patient," Fox said of Garland. "He's been in different positions. He's grown a lot, and it was just fun to watch him be able to have a uniform and be out there. He did very well every time, even leaving and coming off the field was pretty impressive. He did a tremendous job."
Garland joined the Broncos as a college free agent in 2010 out of the Air Force Academy and spent that season on the Broncos' reserve/military list. After fulfilling his military commitment, he made the transition from the defensive tackle to the offensive line and competed on the practice squad for two seasons. He remains a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard.
His patience was rewarded.
After making the 53-man roster this season, he was inactive for the Broncos' first eight games. But his name was finally called on Sunday and he played five snaps on offense.
"I was even talking to my mom last night, I was like wow, this is real life," Garland said. "It just totally seems like a dream. I have the opportunity to put on that Broncos helmet, go out there, play the Raiders, beat the Raiders, and the opportunity where it's also Salute to Service game where they were really respecting our men and women out there serving for us."