Aug 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) holds his shoulder after getting hurt during a play against the Seattle Seahawks during the 1st quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
When Derek Wolfe laid on the CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Denver Broncos Country held its collective breath.
“C’mon Derek, get up,” it said in unison that August in 2013.
When the 2012 second-round draft pick out of Cincinnati didn’t, breaths were harder to find. One of the toughest players in the NFL was in trouble.
When the ambulance drove onto the home turf of the Seattle Seahawks and the defensive tackle was strapped to a stretcher, everyone got an idea of how serious this was. Fast-forward to last November when the Broncos were en route to the airport for a showdown with bitter rival Kansas City. Denver was coming off a tough loss to the New England Patriots the week before, but the game in western Missouri could seal the AFC West for the Broncos. A win would give Denver a two-game lead over the hated Chiefs.
It was on the bus ride from Dove Valley that Broncos Country received its second scare that involved Wolfe. He was taken off the bus because of what the organization called “seizure-like symptoms.” That was all head coach John Fox or anyone with the team would say the rest of the season.
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Wolfe didn’t play another snap and there were questions whether he would play again.
Not until after the 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl was it announced what Wolfe suffered from. He admitted to the Denver ABC affiliate earlier this year that he came back from his preseason injury too soon. The seizure he had on the bus is believed to be related to that injury.
“I thought I was fully healed,” Wolfe told KMGH Denver’s Lionel Bienvenu in February. “It screwed up my nervous system a little bit – crisscrossed the wires a little bit.”
Wolfe added that his nervous system “kinda shut down” on the team bus. That led defensive tackle Terrance Knighton to shout, “Stop the bus. Stop the bus.”
When Wolfe awoke in the ICU 26 hours later, reports indicate he broke the bed as nurses tried to hold him down. He was scared and didn’t know what to do.
Close to three months after the hospitalization, Wolfe regained 20 of the 30 pounds he lost because of that bizarre set of events. He also expected his career to resume without incident.
Aug 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) is wheeled off the field by medical personnel following an injury against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
That was in early April when the questions and doubt still loomed over the Broncos and Wolfe.
In May, he told a local Denver radio station that he almost died. But as he did in April, he said he felt better than at any point in his life.
As Denver (6-1) prepares for yet another trip on Sunday to New England for a showdown with Tom Brady and the Patriots (6-2), Wolfe is back and better than ever. And it shows.
Wolfe is a huge reason why the Broncos are the the best run defense in the NFL, fourth-ranked defense in total yards allowed and sixth in points.
Simply put: Wolfe is the heart and soul of that Denver defense.
Want to know how much The Mule means to that side of the ball? Listen any time defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio talks about his young defensive lineman. The pep in his voice and the praise he exudes for Wolfe inspires even the laziest of people to get off their butts.
The Broncos defense from a season ago wasn’t the same without Wolfe. The guys tabbed with the task of trying to replace him did an admirable job. The defense actually played pretty well in the playoffs and even in the Super Bowl, despite the final score.
But you don’t replace a player like Wolfe. He has the traits “you can’t coach.”
His passion for the game.
His desire to never be beat.
That kind of player rubs off on everyone, not just his fellow defensive cohorts. The greatest example of how much Wolfe means to Denver was the Super Bowl debacle. One of the biggest criticisms people levy against the Broncos is they didn’t play with passion. They just went through the motions and expected the outcome to go in their favor. They didn’t have the desire to win the game; however that is possible.
Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) reacts to a sack in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
That’s Wolfe and where he comes in, and we’ve seen that through the first part of this season. He’s been dominant in the run game and forced the opposing team’s offensive line to double-team him. Added with the efforts of Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson, the defensive tackles have been phenomenal for Denver. They will only get better as the success mounts and their confidence grows.
That’s allowed Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to do what they do best: Hunt for quarterbacks. That trend should continue Sunday in Gillette Stadium against Brady and his offense.
Who knows if the outcome in the Super Bowl would have changed with Wolfe in the lineup. Rest assured Wolfe would have done anything and everything he could have done to have an impact – as he has this season.
He would have practiced his butt off for the chance to win the Super Bowl. He would have had his teammates fired up and ready to match the intensity of Seattle.
Wolfe vowed he would return “bigger, faster, stronger” in 2014.
Through the first seven games of the season for the Broncos, he’s made good on that promise. The road to dethrone Denver in the AFC just got narrower and lost the guardrail; especially if Wolfe and the Broncos do what we all hope they can do in Foxborough.
If the Broncos wins their third Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, the heart and soul of Broncos Country will play a huge reason why.
It’s about time Wolfe gave Denver a positive reason to hold its breath.
Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver (43) is tackled by Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) during the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports