ENGLEWOOD—I wouldn’t say it was a tough crowd.
Call it a serious group of roughly 30 Denver Broncos rookies, intent on absorbing every morsel of information in their quest to make the team. A 53-man NFL roster.
If that means listening to some media guy, so be it.
“You guys right here are the biggest guys in Colorado,’’ I told them Friday morning in the Broncos’ team auditorium at the UCHealth Training Center. “You’re bigger than the mayor (meaning no disrespect to Mr. Hancock).
“When you’re in a restaurant, people are going to know that you’re Denver Broncos. I don’t know how they’re going to know, but they are going to know. I think it’s maybe the way you carry yourself. All you guys are bigger, athletic looking guys, they’ll know that you’re Denver Broncos.”
They call it a rookie minicamp. It was really a rookie orientation. The Broncos go over every aspect of what it means to be a professional.
That includes dealing with the media. For a third year, Broncos PR boss Patrick Smyth gave me the privilege of talking to the fresh group of rookies from the media’s perspective.
After a nice introduction by Smith, I stepped up in front of about 30 rookies who were sitting in the Broncos’ team meeting room. I started with an icebreaker that bombed, then moved to the first point, which is that we, the media, are not your enemy.
We are critics. We report the good and the bad. We critique your performance. But we’re there in the locker room for 45 minutes, five days a week – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and following the game Sunday. We might as well get along.
“The human condition: You treat us nice, we’ll treat you nice,’’ I said. “If you’re jerks to us, you’re aloof, you’re short, clipped, you’re angry all the time, you’re unavailable, your critiques will be harsher. I know maybe it shouldn’t be that way. But all humans are that way.’’
I had covered professional baseball for 18 years, including nearly 15 with the Colorado Rockies. I had covered the Broncos since 2005 so I’m going on my 13th NFL season.
“The biggest mistakes I see among rookies is, one, they’re not deferential to the veterans around them,’’ I said. “In other words, ‘Do you think you’re going to start and gain 1,000 yards this year?’
“A rookie, feeling good about himself, will say ‘Yeah, heck yeah, I plan on starting, I plan on doing this.’ Meanwhile the veteran who has been there for 10 years, he’s not too happy with your comment. Remember that your No. 1 audience is those veterans and players in your locker room.’’
The second mistake is not understanding the media is a conduit to the fan base. Act petulant to the media and the fans will see a petulant player. Stand up and face the cameras after making a critical mistake and fans will forever respect your accountability.
And then I talked about how social media changed the world. For 80 years, the radio talked about the game, the TV showed the game (maybe for only the past 60 years) and the newspapers wrote about the game.
But now the coverage is so vast. And there are marketing people.
“We brought those guys in, not to do a full-fledged practice, but to do more of an orientation,’’ Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said Friday at the John Lynch Salute the Stars Awards Luncheon at Denver’s stadium. “In my opinion, the practices aren’t worth it when you have guys on the field who haven’t trained in a football place or hadn’t met with our coaches at all. In my opinion, having an orientation and having media training, having note taking and security training, NFL policy training—that’s really important for those guys. Before being a great player, those things have to be in place.’’
As I was talking to these kid Broncos about eating in restaurants, I pulled out my cellphone. A talk with a prop!
“And everyone in that restaurant is going to have a cellphone,’’ I said. “So what’s happened in our business is everyone’s a reporter now.’’
For the most part, it was an attentive group. We’ll see how long that lasts.
“It’s a class of maturity,’’ Joseph said. “Meeting those guys last night and then this morning, they’re really in-tuned. They’re really engaged and they want to be great pros. That’s where it starts. That’s half the battle with rookies; knowing how to be a great pro and working towards that. It’s a great group. It’s an engaged group. Even (quarterback Chad) Kelly, he’s got a glow about him, and that’s impressive. It’s a good group.”