I assure you, we didn’t know that Matt Lepsis was going to tell The Denver Post that he would be retiring when we decided to put him on the cover of the most recently published Gameday magazine, sold at Sunday’s season-ending win over the Minnesota Vikings.
In retrospect, though, it proved to be a prescient choice, and a magazine cover seems a splendid complement to such an occasion, even if such a distinction runs contrary to the offensive line’s collective policy of shirking attention in exchange for public silence and devotion to its handiwork.
His style encapsulated the entire Broncos offensive line for the past dozen years. Strong, stoic and silent — at least to the media, until new league regulations released the padlock that bolted shut the lips of the linemen, a proud tradition that dated back a dozen years. Sure, it flummoxed hacks like myself, since these men deserve applause and recognition for their work in helping create 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and I would have only been eager to share their stories.
But silence said so much more, because when Lepsis did speak publicly, it was with authority, intelligence and an underlying emotion that could betray his stoic countenance.
That bore itself out in the mid-evening hours of Christmas Eve, moments after the 23-3 loss to the Chargers when I asked him about the importance of winning the season’s last game.
“It’s going to be real important,” replied Lepsis as he leaned back into his locker, his 6-foot-4, 290-pound frame seeming to spill out of the cramped stall. “A lot of people look at that last game and say, ‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ but I think it definitely means a lot. To end with a win — even if you don’t have a losing record — it’s real important just for going into the offseason, guys getting together and working out and not ending on a losing streak.”
And it’s real important when that is your farewell, as Lepsis says it was.
So as darkness and snow fell upon INVESCO Field at Mile High on the next-to-last day of 2007, a football spun end over end in between a pair of canary-yellow metal poles, ensuring that No. 78 would go out a winner — which is precisely what he is, both in his years at the University of Colorado and his decade of service with the Broncos.
That is an appropriate coda for a man who always let his play and its results speak with far more resonance than words.