DENVER — “I would have given him half!,” Adam Gotsis said, sounding like a whiny little brother.
He then turned to ‘big bro’ Shelby Harris, “I would have given you half!”
It was the biggest issue in the Denver Broncos locker room after a 16-10 win over the Oakland Raiders, a debate that lasted for at least 15 minutes—who deserved credit for a third-quarter sack on Derek Carr?
“I came to the bench, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, you got it,'” Gotsis explained with a big smile. “So I was like, ‘Shelby, you gonna send it in [to the league for review]?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, of course.’ So then, when he came in the locker room, he said that they gave it to him and I’m like, ‘Well I’m definitely sending it in, you said you would.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s not what teammates do.'”
“I got credit for it,” Harris chirped back with a big laugh. “Let’s leave it that way.”
It was your classic sibling fight with the whole family chiming in, but while there may have been a bit of true jealousy out of Gotsis, the youngin of the bunch, it was all fun and games.
“This is funny to us, this is a joke,” Harris said with a mile-wide smile. “This is what happens when you win.”
On Sunday, for the first time in God knows how long, the loudest section of the Broncos locker room after the game was not the area where the ‘No Fly Zone’ resides. Instead, the big-time noise was coming from the row of lockers belonging to the defensive line, a big piece of the NFL’s best run defense, or as they are slowly becoming known, ‘Ground Control.’
The front line, primarily composed of Harris, Gotsis, Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko—spelled by Kyle Peko, Ahtyba Rubin, Tyrique Jarrett and Zach Kerr—has a special bond. A bond that was missing last season, a bond that formed when the team left Colorado back in August.
“I really feel like the turning point was when we all went to San Francisco for that week in camp,” Harris told BSN Denver. “We were forced to spend a lot of time with each other, and you develop life-long friendships out of that. Our group is very close. Even though there are so many new faces this year, you would never know who is new and who has been here.”
With Wolfe, Kyle Peko and projected-starter Jared Crick all on the mend during that trip, the defensive line was greatly reduced for the week-long roadie. What looked like a negative at the time, made all the difference for the team in the long run.
“We went out there with like five guys, and it was like us five against their whole offensive front,” ‘Big Peko’ explained. “We had to really just build that chemistry; we were hanging out on and off the field. It’s really awesome, man, because you build that trust and in a defense, you have to have trust, so it’s amazing.”
“We knew that we were all we had riding in there,” added Gotsis. “I think that was the moment when we realized, ‘Hey, we all need to man up, have each other’s backs, we’re going in there [short-handed], but we’re coming out [short-handed] and with a win.'”
As the unit played cards in the hotel room night in and night out (Harris wants you to know he and Domata are undefeated in Spades) and got themselves a win over the 49ers, they built a bond that would extend back to Colorado, where guys like Wolfe were waiting to get in on this new-found brotherhood.
“We just spend so much time together,” Wolfe, the ‘star’ of the show, explained. “We travel together on the road; we get a lot of bonding time with each other. We’re with each other for four, five hours a day and we’re grinding with each other every day. Of course there is going to be a bond. It’s really important for everybody to get along. There’s no selfishness; everybody wants everybody to do well, that’s how you have a great team, when there’s no selfishness.”
“I feel like our whole room right now is so tight that anyone can go in there and make a play and we celebrate it like we made the play,” Gotsis added.
Sports are imperfect; they can’t always be measured by big free agent signings or analytical grades. Sure, bringing in Peko, the 12-year veteran, was a big addition and Joe Woods has been fantastic, but the Broncos acquired something far bigger and more powerful than 325 pounds in the middle.
“I really feel like we didn’t just become friends, we all became family,” Harris said openly. “We go out there, and we play for each other like we’re family, we look out for each other, we play for each other, we eat together, we’re about to go eat right now. We’re family, and that’s just the most important thing.”
“This is more than just teammates,” Peko added. “This is a family.”
As ‘Ground Control’ stuffed another ground attack on Sunday (24 rushing yards against), they lowered their per-carry average allowed to 2.42, the lowest in team history through four games. They, along with the linebackers and secondary behind them, have held the combination of Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliot, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch—who have 12 Pro Bowls between them—to a combined total of 95 yards.
The best run defense in football, fronted by a white dude from Ohio, a black dude from Wisconsin, an Australian and a Samoan, forged together by a bond that started in California.
“We’re out here handing out ‘L’s” to anybody that wants it,” Harris said, definitely talking about a card game but easily applied to football. “Any challengers welcome.”