Gut Reaction: The Slot Machine Retireth

We'll always have that.

Brandon Stokley is retiring, after 15 seasons for five teams, with 397 receptions, nine carries, 5,371 yards from scrimmage, and 39 touchdowns.

Concussions are likely to blame - the 37-year-old says he lost count of how many head injuries he suffered over the years. His most recent one landed him on Baltimore's IR.

The Louisiana Lafayette alum played 59 games (22 starts) in four seasons with Denver, catching 153 passes for 2,034 yards and 17 touchdowns. (Gold star to anyone who knew that each of those career numbers is higher than what Stokley totaled with his other teams, including Baltimore and Indy.)

Obviously, the wild stroke of luck embedded above represents the most memorable of those 17 scores.

But my favorite is the comeback-completing touchdown at San Diego last year.

Not only was the play dramatic, giving Denver its first lead after having trailed 24-0 at halftime, but it was quite high on the difficulty meter.

First, Peyton Manning adjusted the call and protection at the line of scrimmage, and barely got the snap off before the play clock hit zero.

Also in typical Peyton fashion, he made his decision and pulled the trigger far before Stokley became open, if he ever really did. Actually, it's not clear that Stokes was open by any non-Peyton definition of the word.

Brandon was blanketed on the play, Manning delivered the ball into a tiny window that nobody else might have seen, and Stokes got his feet down at the side of the end zone.

Having trailed by 24, and looked a 2-3 record squarely in the eye, Denver had completed a remarkable comeback, for the first of eleven consecutive wins.

Of course, Brandon's biggest contributions to the Broncos' fortunes took place outside an NFL game.

First, he was part of the crew - along with Jeff Saturday and Austin Collie - that joined Manning and David Cutcliffe at Duke to simulate the 2009 AFC title game. That episode of classic Peyton Manning OCD proved to the quarterback that his rehabilitation from a fourth neck surgery had been a success, if not yet completed.

When Manning was on his free agent tour, it was Stokley who not only opened his Denver home to host Peyton, but snuck him to a local park to get in some reps.

We'll never know with certainty that Stokes helped influence Manning's decision to join the Broncos. (Brandon himself didn't re-sign with the team until a month after Peyton had.)

For my money, the Slot Machine helped deliver Manning to Denver.

Thank You, Brandon - for the wild catch at Cincinnati, the go-ahead score at San Diego, and for the vital role you played in putting Peyton into orange and blue.

Congratulations on a stellar career, and may you enjoy your retirement in great health.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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