SANTA CLARA, Calif.
There could not be a more gratifying scenario than the one Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas now finds himself facing.
Professionally speaking, he has the chance to win the Super Bowl for the first time in his life. And as delectable as that possibility appears, there is an equally heartwarming element to Thomas’ situation. He gets to play in front of his mother for just the second time since she was released from prison in July.
Arrested on drug trafficking charges when Thomas was 11, Katina Smith is expected to fly here to watch Thomas play against the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. She was released from prison after a 20-year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama over the summer.
“This is a very big game, and to have her finally be out and be able to make my game, it’s a blessing,” Thomas said Wednesday during the Broncos’ media session. “I’m excited. She’s excited. We’re all excited.”
Smith attended the Broncos’ divisional round win over the Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where Denver beat Pittsburgh, 23-16, to advance to the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Katina did not attend the AFC Championship, in part because it was such an overwhelming experience to be around so many people after spending most of the previous 17 years in federal prison in Tallahassee, Fla.
“The main thing I’ve been thinking about is having her out,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be so many people, and she’s not used to it. Hopefully, nobody asks her too many questions or wants to get her in too much stuff.”
Thomas said he has been somewhat distracted by his mother’s situation, mostly the adjustment from prison life to resuming a more normal routine at her home in Georgia. He won’t say whether that has been a factor in his poor performances during both Broncos’ playoff wins, but Thomas has been noticeably quiet on the field.
In Denver’s win over the Steelers, he had four catches for 40 passes, and he had just two catches for 12 yards against the Broncos. While not tracing his uncharacteristically poor performances to being preoccupied by his mother’s situation, Thomas acknowledges he needs to step up his game in the Super Bowl.
“I haven’t played my best in the last couple weeks,” he said. “I need a better game [on Sunday] than I’ve had the past couple weeks.”
What’s the issue?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know I need to play better.”
Thomas has been one of the league’s premier receivers the last four seasons after struggling with dropped passes and inconsistency his first two years. Thomas is only the third player in NFL history with four straight seasons with 1,300 or more receiving yards, joining former Rams star Torry Holt and former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison.
He finished with 1,304 yards and six touchdown catches this season. But that comes after two previous years in which he caught a combined 25 touchdowns from Peyton Manning.
“He does get a lot of criticism about drops and it’s not fair because everybody talks about his drops, but everybody forget he got 1,300 yards this year,” fellow Broncos wide receiver Emanuel Sanders said. “Come on, man, he’s got 1,300. Leave the man alone. Last year, he got 1,600.”
There is plenty of motivation to improve his game, and Thomas may find some more running space against the Panthers’ defense. If the Broncos can protect Manning well enough and the quarterback can find time to allow Thomas to get open, he figures to at least be in position to produce more than he had the previous two postseason games.
Both Manning and coach Gary Kubiak have told Thomas to simply stick to his game and not worry about any outside pressure.
“They just told me to keep doing what I’ve been doing, keep making plays, and just don’t think about anything else,” Thomas said. “Go out and play and leave it all out there. I think that will help, because that’s what I do.”
There’s no better time for Thomas to snap out of his funk than Sunday, with a Super Bowl on the line and his mother in the stands.
“I’m very excited she’ll be here,” Thomas said. “I hope we can celebrate a win.”