Tonight, the Broncos and those in their realm mourn once again. It is a time to grieve not just for the loss of running back Damien Nash, but for what might have been, potential and possibility as both a player and a man that will never have a chance to be explored further than the glimpses we witnessed in the six months since he joined the organization via a waiver claim last summer.
In recent months, we’d seen signs of what Nash could become. On the field, he provided a spark to the running game in November, particularly with an 52-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers. Away from it, he helped launch the Darris Nash Find a Heart Foundation. It was named after his older brother, who underwent a heart transplant within the past year.
But Nash’s time with the Broncos was so fleeting that all I possess now are a series of mental snapshots from the cerebral Rolodex, images before our eyes that don’t become clearly developed until a moment like tonight, when a cell-phone call brings word of Nash’s passing.
I find myself remembering the back who arrived in camp several days after it began, but who soon proved surprisingly persistent when he had the opportunity to carry the football, even though he was often left with the table scraps of scrimmage time behind Mike Bell, Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne. Less than three weeks later, he was slugging through the defense of the very team that had waived him, and his night against the Tennessee Titans solidified his claim to a roster spot.
Off the field, rarely was Nash seen without a black St. Louis Cardinals cap, a seemingly vital accessory for anyone that hails from the St. Louis area. He wore it often, even when he wasn’t supposed to — which was the case after the Raiders game, when he answered some questions in the locker room following his first regular-season action. An official came by and informed him that he had to remove the headgear, lest he be in violation of league policy for its players.
But the hat was part of Nash. He represented his hometown; he was as St. Louis as toasted ravioli on The Hill and frozen custard on a muggy summer’s night. Like many outstanding St. Louis-area football players, he sprinted west to Ol’ Mizzou to don the Tigers’ black and gold.
As a Bronco, he returned home frequently, and his family in turn watched with joy as he clawed his way up the depth chart, with some of his nearest and dearest driving across Missouri on Thanksgiving to watch Nash play in the prime-time holiday showdown with the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
With Nash, it’s not just sadness for a second young man lost to the organization in just eight weeks, but for what he might have become. The indefatigable running style and broken tackles we witnessed last August against Tennessee and again when the Broncos fell to San Diego three months later now represent virtually his entire professional career.
That is the hardest thing to accept.
I looked forward to seeing what he could bring this offseason, wondering if he could be the next breakout Broncos back. After all, recent history has shown that ground success can come from anyone, whether they are a high draft pick or an unheralded waiver claim like Nash. Every player’s future is pregnant with possibility, whether they are a No. 1 overall selection or a journeyman veteran of multiple practice squads.
On one night last year, we saw that possibility flourish when Nash burst for a 26-yard run against San Diego. That same night, Darrent Williams scored the second touchdown of his career.
Barely three months later, they’re both gone.
I began writing this piece trying to gain a shred of understanding for what happened. I know now, as I conclude, that such a quest is futile, and all one can really do is to keep Nash’s soul and his family here on this planet in one’s prayers.
Rest in peace, Damien, and thanks for giving Broncos Country your finest effort.