RENTON — Sure, it doesn’t count. But any Broncos player entering his third season in Denver can count. Here is the count: 30-10 in Denver in 2012, 40-10 in Seattle in 2013, 43-8 in New York in 2014.
That’s 113-28. In sports, such a ridiculous count shows up only in games between the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals.
Sure, the first two scores were exhibition games, so the cumulative figure doesn’t count. Tell that to the Broncos, who were humiliated for three hours in the biggest count ’em game of all, in front of the largest audience in the history of American television, and have since been the punchline for every comedian who needed a comparison for being overwhelmed.
In public, the coaches and players are busy tamping down expectations for Thursday night’s 6 p.m. preseason opener (Fox-TV Ch. 13) at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The talk is about playing time for the new guys, experience for the draftees, avoiding injuries, playing anyone but themselves, blah blah blah.
As Broncos coach John Fox blahed to reporters this week in Denver: “I’ve said many times, if you don’t win the last game, there’s disappointment. That’s behind us. We’re so far along now, with different players and different schemes that we don’t think about (the Super Bowl) much.”
At least Pete Carroll was willing to concede that a Super Bowl rematch, regardless of the August custom for low boil, is compelling.
“It’s a really cool matchup,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people who will have a lot of interest in this thing.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s a great opportunity to play an incredible football team. They’ve got some great additions to their team I know they’re really excited about seeing. We’re anxious to see what they look like too, knowing that we’re going to see them in the season.”
That’s what makes this intriguing — the regular-season rematch in Seattle Sept. 21. The Broncos are in the awkward position of wanting to win this game because of recent history (without sounding or looking pathetic), but since every season is about the future, they can’t risk playing Peyton Manning and other prominent players more than a dozen or so plays.
Then there’s the Seahawks’ take — always compete. In everything. They have a nine-game exhibition winning streak over three seasons for a reason.
“We’re playing to win them,” Carroll said. “We don’t play a game when you don’t care about winning. But we’re still going to play everybody, and everybody is going to contribute.
“This is a fired-up team and a very difficult situation to play in. They’re going to make it really hard. We’re going to try and play good football and we’ll see what happens. We like winning them though, yeah.”
That’s how preseason games get to 30-10 and 40-10. And it’s how Super Bowls get to be 43-8, and how Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner felt comfortable enough to say this recently on an ESPN TV show:
“They looked scared out there. Nobody wanted to catch the ball. Nobody wanted to come up the middle . . . They were very timid.”
You can bet that remark has been retweeted in Colorado as if it were an Oscar selfie by Ellen DeGeneres. But the Broncos seem to understand that rude speech is free speech if you can back it up, as the Seahawks did.
“They are the champs, and they get the last word,” Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told the Denver Post. “But ultimately our goal is to get back to the big show and win it this time. I think that playing them in the preseason and the regular season will show if we’re ready or not to take that next step. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Again, the two games make it awkward for Denver. Whatever short-term cred they might get with a win Thursday vanishes with a defeat in Seattle. And if they come in over-amped Thursday and make foolish plays and penalties, the mockery gets worse.
Broncos safety T.J. Ward, a former Oregon Duck who played four years in Cleveland before signing as a free agent in March, is already declaring the game a head-knocker, and he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.
“Even though it’s a preseason game, you know it’s going to be physical,” Ward told the Post. “We’re looking to be physical. You know they’re already physical. It’s going to be a head-knocker. The first preseason game, regardless, we’re both looking to set the tone for the rest of the season.”
The tone-setter to Denver is Manning, but naturally will not be caught saying compost even if he had a mouth full.
“I think the entire team has been motivated,” said Manning, who played seven snaps in last year’s fake-game opener against San Francisco. “We’re trying to get better, trying to be a better team than we were last year but that started back in April when we got back on the off-season program. We have worked hard every day and as a veteran player, I certainly appreciate that.”
Nothing much will be decided Thursday because each side will have plenty of rational explanations for a defeat. But only one team will really hate it.
Three things to watch from the Seahawks
Right tackle — Rookie Justin Britt will get his NFL indoctrination fast and hard. With the losses of incumbents Breno Giacomini and Michael Bowie, the Seahawks are genuinely hurting at the position. The Broncos will pour heat on the kid in an attempt to get a lick on QB Russell Wilson and backups. Three other hastily signed veterans — Eric Winston, Corey Brandon and Wade Smith — will be spackled in if the dam breaks.
Running back — The fight to succeed Marshawn Lynch, whenever that day dawns, begins between Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. Turbin is more reliable and good at all tasks; Michael’s explosive speed and low-slung style make him more dynamic. Expect none among Skittles, nudity, words or yards from Lynch.
Defensive line — If newcomer vet and former All-Pro Kevin Williams, 33, has himself a day, a lot of concern about about free agent losses of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons will evaporate. If he doesn’t, maybe he can play right OT.