SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Ryan Harris was born in Minneapolis, but he is quick to point out which side of the Mississippi raised him.
“I’m a St. Paul kid; you know, the capital city?” he said while overfilling his No. 68 Broncos jersey with more than 300 pounds of determination to keep Peyton Manning upright and unhurried in what could be the final game the quarterback’s 18-year career.
“I look around and this is so far beyond what my dreams were [coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School]. Just playing in the NFL was enough for me growing up in St. Paul. To be here, playing in Super Bowl 50? I couldn’t write a better story.”
The fact Harris still is playing at age 30, and starting all 18 games this season, is something he probably didn’t expect either. The first of his three career back surgeries came at Notre Dame.
Drafted in the third round in 2007, he spent his first four years with the Broncos. He went to Philadelphia but didn’t play in 2011 because of back surgery. He returned to Denver but was cut. He went to Houston, where he played two years under coach Gary Kubiak, and then Kansas City last season.
Kubiak was hired by Denver after last season. He figured his offensive line was set, but then Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady blew out his knee on the first day of OTAs.
Harris went back to Denver for a third stint. He started out at right tackle, while rookie Ty Sambrailo played left tackle. But then Sambrailo suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, moving Harris to left tackle, where he has supplied some continuity to a patchwork unit since Week 4.
Harris has a wife, two young kids and a home in Denver. But the extended family is still in St. Paul. He returns once a year to host a football camp.
If the Broncos win Sunday and Manning retires, imagine the stories he will be able to tell for generations.
“When I first went out on the field with him and I saw the ‘Manning’ on the back of the jersey, it’s like you’ve won one of those contests to spend a day with Peyton Manning,” Harris said. “But then you see that he’s just like the rest of us. A great teammate.”