Broncos center Tom Nalen's remarkable battle with his own knees

Tom Nalen.

The decision to place Denver Broncos center Tom Nalen on injured reserve, effectively ending his season and possibly precipitating his retirement, was fully expected. More surprising, though, is that Nalen has been able to remain in uniform for so long despite knee problems that have bedeviled him for ages. Indeed, when my wife met him around eight years ago, he was so hobbled that she couldn't help but wonder if he'd be able to take the field the next week, let alone maintain an extremely high level of play for the better part of a decade.

Back then, my wife was an assistant principal at a Denver-area school where the Nalens were thinking about enrolling their kids -- which they ultimately did. She wound up giving Nalen and his wife a tour of the facility, and when they came to a small set of stairs, she watched as he slowly -- very slowly -- climbed them one agonizing step at a time. It hurt her just to watch him -- and his gait on the flat surfaces made it clear that plain old walking caused him pain, too. But he didn't stop then, and he's seldom taken a break since then.

The word "warrior" gets tossed around too cavalierly when talk turns to football. But Nalen richly deserves this description, as well as enshrinement in the Hall of Fame five years after he officially calls it quits. That he's also an extremely nice guy, as my wife learned on that day in 2000 and afterward, is a bonus worthy of a Mile High salute. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts