This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It was a thunderbolt from heaven. Who threw it? Tim Tebow. Who else?
With an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first snap of overtime that sent heavily favored Pittsburgh to a shocking 29-23 loss in the NFL playoffs, the Broncos pulled off yet another Mile High miracle.
Sorry, Pittsburgh. When you're playing Tebow, somebody else makes the immaculate reception.
"I'm just very thankful for the platform God has given me," said Tebow, who hit Thomas in stride at the Denver 38-yard line, watched as the 24-year-old receiver shook Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor with a stiff-arm and ran to the goal line as if chasing a dream.
Well, gag those obnoxious Pittsburgh fans with a Terrible Towel. Believe this: The Broncos thoroughly enjoyed sending home the Steel City interlopers who invaded every corner of Denver's home stadium in a sooty black mood.
"It's a great feeling," Broncos cornerback André Goodman said, "because before the kickoff, all those waving (gold) towels were annoying, really annoying."
Up next: The Broncos get a shot to avenge a defeat against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who sent Denver spiraling downward in a late-season slump.
Thanks, Josh McDaniels.
He might be the most despised coach in Broncos history, but upsetting the Steelers would not have been possible without McDaniels.
"He drafted me and Tebow," Thomas said. "Me and Tebow had the winning score on the last play of the game."
The football gods must have a rich sense of humor. McDaniels recently joined the Patriots' staff as an assistant coach. This city owes him a little payback for all the pain and suffering he caused Broncomaniacs.
After McDaniels was fired late in 2010, even Denver die-hards worried the franchise had been knocked five years into an abyss of hopelessness. Pessimism reigned. What changed? The coach. John Fox returned the sunshine.
"When Coach Fox came in here, you could see the guys light up," Broncos receiver Eddie Royal said. "I think we're a reflection of our head coach. He's the same guy. Good, bad, he comes to work the same way. ... He gets us to come out every Sunday and fight to the end."
Nobody in the Denver locker room would claim the same about McDaniels, known for more harsh mood swings than an 8-year-old child on a sugar buzz. True? I asked Royal, whose reponse was a big laugh that said it all.
Giving hope a chance is the only way Denver pulled off this upset. After the first quarter, the Broncos trailed 6-0 and stared at a 119-8 deficit in total yardage.
Then, like a bolt from the blue, Denver hit Pittsburgh with a barrage of 17 points in a span of 5 minutes, 58 seconds. It began with a beautiful 30-yard touchdown strike to Royal early in the second quarter.
It was the biggest, most important throw of Tebow's young NFL career. Why? His job security appeared to be in immediate jeopardy. Only minutes earlier, backup quarterback Brady Quinn was seen warming up his arm on the Denver sideline.
OK, riddle me this: The Broncos scored 33 points in the second quarter all season long. They scored 20 in the second period against Troy Polamalu and the gang. Weren't the Steelers supposed to have the nastiest defense in the league?
But a team with a championship pedigree has too much confidence in the bank to panic. Pittsburgh came roaring back in the second half, aided by a bad call by the officials and a costly Willis McGahee fumble. A 31-yard touchdown pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to third-string receiver Jerricho Cotchery tied the game 23-23 with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. It required strong defensive plays from Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil and cornerback Champ Bailey to coax the game to overtime.
The thing about Pittsburgh fans is: they're everywhere. At least the ones smart enough to move from the Rust Belt.
On my early-afternoon walk from a light-rail stop to the stadium, fans wearing Steelers attire were shouting smack. One female loudly announced that Pittsburgh was already looking forward to playing New England in the second round of the playoffs. A man wearing a black earring warned Broncomaniacs that linebacker James "Harrison isn't going to put a pillow under Tebow's head before sacking him!"
But in the clutch, Tebow came up even bigger than Big Ben. Choke on that reality, Steelers fans.
Fox was asked if, at the beginning of this season, he would take a 9-8 team that now finds itself two miracles away from a Super Bowl berth. "I would take it and run," Fox replied. "And I probably would have pulled both hamstrings."
The secret to Denver's success? Keep moving. You might bump into a miracle. No matter how deep the trouble, hope floats.