For Tyrone Braxton, it has always been about hard work and the journey toward making something better.
Broncos fans know Braxton as a fine defensive back who played 12 fine seasons here as a defensive back, but aside from his Bronco years, many might not be aware of his before and after.
A native of Madison, Wisconsin, he started working when he was 14, doing summer jobs with the Madison parks department, including two years working as a gravedigger at Forest Hill Cemetery and two more on a garbage truck.
"I was the guy who rode on the back and actually dumped the garbage into the truck," he notes with the pride of work ethic that those jobs instilled. "I came from a hard-working family, and thinking about my family history, what I learned from and gained from them all, I just hope I have enough stamina to pass it onto my kids."
The day he became a Bronco was April 29, 1987, the second day of the draft.
"It was a long day, all kinds of media at my place," he remembers. "But when I did not get picked after a while, I went to bed. Then at one in the morning, the phone rang and it was my hometown team, the Green Bay Packers. They told me they were just about to take me with the last pick in the draft. Then suddenly they said, 'Shoot, someone else just took you,' and hung up. And I was like, 'Who? Who took me?'"
His next phone call was from the Broncos, and a lifetime association began.
Super Bowl XXXII was not only a historic game for the Broncos and all our fans, but one in which Braxton had a great game personally, including an interception that set up a score in Denver's first Super Bowl win.
"It was the Packers, right? It just seemed perfect," he recalls. "To me, it's about the journey, how we got to the Super Bowl, which was more impressive. We had lost in December at both Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Then we won at both places a month later. It was special. When we faced the Packers on a neutral field, we knew no one was going to beat us because of all it took to get there."
That was a great Broncos team, one that repeated the feat the following year for back-to-back Super Bowl titles, but "for us to get there, it was all about the journey," Braxton says.
His football journey took him from Madison to North Dakota State, where he was a starting defensive back on three national championship teams. Then he played for the Broncos from 1987-93 and again from 1995-99.
His many pro memories include the consecutive world championships in 1997 and 1998, as well as the two AFC titles resulting in Super Bowl XXII and XXIV appearances in the 1980s.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan greatly valued Braxton for his intelligence, work ethic and how he played the game.
"On paper, Tyrone looked too short, too slow and too small," Shanahan says, "but we play the games on the field, and he was always an outstanding player and had a great feel for the game."
Asked about his special memories, Tyrone says, "There were so many. But in my third year I became a starting corner. Here I was, a small guy from a small college, never having been challenged like this before, faced with a lot of media doubt and speculation. Even though I had confidence, that situation challenges you. But opening day was at Mile High Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs, and on the first [defensive] play of the season I intercepted a Steve DeBerg pass and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown. Right then, I felt like, 'OK, I can play at this level.'"
He never looked back from that moment on, finishing with 34 interceptions as a Bronco, matching his uniform number, and he made the Pro Bowl in 1996. He returned four of those interceptions for touchdowns. More recently, Braxton went back to school and received his college degree in social work from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Then he worked to become a licensed clinical social worker and continued his journey working with the Mental Health Center of Denver.
"[It] opened my eyes to a whole other world," Braxton says. "Once I got into this field, seeing the struggles that people go through, but seeing that while they are struggling they still are working hard to make their lives just a little bit better, that was and is very inspiring to me."
He feels that he was fortunate to be able to go back to school and have another career after his playing days ended, adding that " to see a part of society that many do not get a chance to is just such a blessing.
"And then to be able to help them grow is just wonderful to me."