ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chris Kuper had the bad timing to be drafted in 2006, just as the Broncos were about to begin their longest playoff absence since the 1970s -- and that's why what ultimately befell him on Jan. 1, 2012 against the Chiefs was so frustrating.
It was the day the Broncos clinched their first playoff spot since 2005, which would have been the first postseason trip of Kuper's career. As one of the longest-tenured Broncos on the roster, he'd more than paid his dues in anticipation of that moment.
But as the Broncos began preparations for a wild-card clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kuper was preparing for surgery on his left leg, which was fractured in gruesome fashion in that regular-season finale.
Kuper was never the same after that injury, in which his fibula was broken in multiple places and his ankle ligaments were torn. A fractured left forearm suffered in training camp the following summer didn't help, but from that point forward, pain in the left leg was something Kuper had to endure in order to play.
He had more surgery after a truncated 2012 season in which he dealt with problems in the same ankle. That year also provided the Pro Bowl selection that he had deserved years before, but more surgery prevented him from taking the trip to Hawai'i.
That's a shame. Even though his leg kept him from playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2012, he had played at that point from 2009-11. Through quarterback and offensive scheme changes, he was the rock of the line. The captain's "C" he wore on his jersey in recent years was earned through diligence and success.
Fortunately for Kuper, he was able to flourish long enough to reap financial rewards from his career. Although he didn't last for the entire length of the contract he signed in June 2010, he was able to make over $13 million from 2010 onward. And he will receive an AFC Championship ring, even though he was inactive for the entire postseason.
But Kuper's career will sadly be defined as much by what could have been as what was. When he fractured his fibula, he was at the cusp of becoming a household name league-wide, and he was making a case to be the best guard in Broncos history.
This sport can create cruel turns of fortune, and few know that better than the Broncos' esteemed No. 73.