I first learned about Paul Ernster through a Google search.
It was the seventh round of the 2005 draft. The Broncos had just selected Ernster, a player of whom my knowledge was limited. He wasn’t at the Scouting Combine, and I don’t follow Big Sky Conference football (sorry, all you fans of Montana, Weber State, Portland State and Northern Colorado, but my antenna points south and east), so I was completely unaware of the exploits of this multipurpose kicking specialist from Northern Arizona.
I hopped onto Google, since the media relations department would have him on speakerphone in a few minutes for an interview, and I wanted to ask an educated question or two. I wanted stats, pictures, newspaper articles — anything, really, to clue us in on the newest Bronco’s background.
What I found was a college project.
As it turned out, Ernster was quite the Web guru, designing and maintaining sites for his alma mater, Northern Arizona University. The college-project site was something of a joke; he had to create a fictional background story about himself, so he described himself a preteen genius who was abducted and forced into a Japanese biotechnology weapon development program at the age of 12.
Upon reading this, my eyes bulged. I didn’t realize the story was fabrication, I simply furrowed my brow and asked, “Who the hell is this guy?”
Turned out, it was a guy looking for a good grade.
“I just put a bunch of stuff on that would catch someone’s eye,” he later said. “I got an ‘A.’”
But what was real — besides his grade — was his work for the university, which he likely would have continued had the Broncos not called him on draft weekend, something he admitted was unexpected.
“I’d probably still be programming right now if I didn’t get a shot with the Broncos,” he said.
We would talk shop regularly, since he actually understood what I was talking about when it came to the back end of the Web site. Frankly, he probably knew more than I did about how things would work in the network of connections and servers like the ones that power DenverBroncos.com. Most of my knowledge of the Web is straight-up HTML, going back to ancient college days (well, ancient by Internet standards) 13 years ago when I began writing in HTML code and first became absorbed in the Internet.
And you saw Ernster’s name on this site fairly regularly in Q&As and stories. He always had time for a conversation and an interview, and was one of the friendliest people to pass through here. In his time with the Broncos, Ernster was — as we like to say around here — a “friend of the program.” ^^
So too was Kenard Lang. But he was a friend of anyone in the laptop-and-notepad set. Always loquacious, occasionally outrageous, caustically blunt and capable of answering any question in a manner you could not have imagined. He didn’t speak the King’s English, per se, but his sentiments were as clear as the skies often are above Dove Valley.
Lang, as a Bronco, was not just a friend of our program, but of every program that aired focusing upon the Broncos — beginning with his first interview, when he spoke of all his fellow ex-Browns who left for Denver a year before he did.
“I’m just like that little kid trying to chase that school bus going down the street,” Lang said. “I saw them going and I was like, ‘Oh, why are you leaving?’”
Lang, Ernster and eight others were waived Tuesday. One of them, Teyo Johnson, could be back on injured reserve; he, like Lang and Ernster and Quentin Harris and some of the others who were released, was a “friend of the program.” With nearly all of them, if you do a Google search, you might find something from our site that tells their story — from how Quentin Harris spent his time out of football in 2006 to David Kircus’ work at Subway (which would eventually take on a life of its own after the piece ran) to Demetrin Veal’s world travels to David Terrell comparing himself to Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson and Randy Moss.
The players waived Tuesday might not have shown enough to be on the 53-man roster this year. But their stories — unusual, head-scratching, hilarious and thought-provoking — remain. And hopefully that’s what we gave these guys — a little something more on Google for people to learn about them as they take their next steps, wherever they may lead.
^^ — Yes, for some reason, Kyle Sonneman and I are both fans of the film Blue Chips, which combines balsa-wood line readings from Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Shaquille “Kazaam” O’Neal and Matt “Whatever Happened to Him?” Nover with Nick Nolte channeling Bobby Knight, an over-the-top performance from the late J.T. Walsh and, of course, the appearance of one of America’s finest living thespians, Ed O’Neill. (Sonneman just chimed in to say that O’Neill is “the greatest actor of our generation.”)
Until next time … vaya con Dios.