DENVER (AP) — With all due respect to Peyton Manning and his trio of wide receivers, the most electrifying member of the Denver Broncos is 5-foot-5 speedster Trindon Holliday.
By now, fans know not to run to the fridge or to the concessions stands when Holliday’s about to return a punt or a kick.
The former LSU track star had four TD returns last year but also fumbled five times. His make-or-break style was such a sore spot that a radio reporter asked coach John Fox before last year’s playoffs if Holliday would be active on game day.
Was he ever.
Denver’s diminutive returner raced right into history when he piled up a league-record 248 yards in returns against the Baltimore Ravens. He became the first NFL player ever to take back both a punt and a kickoff for TDs in a playoff game. And those touchdowns were the longest punt (90 yards) and kickoff (104 yards) returns for scores ever in the postseason.
Holliday’s breakout, however, was relegated to a footnote when the Ravens outlasted the favored Broncos 38-35 in double overtime thanks to Jacoby Jones’ game-tying 70-yard touchdown catch from Joe Flacco with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Otherwise, it might have been Holliday and not Jones putting his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s late show and prancing across the floor with Karina Smirnoff on “Dancing With The Stars” in the offseason.
“On the one hand for us, I thought we did a sub-par job on both of those plays, which is usually the case when balls go back all the way,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said as Baltimore prepared to kick off the new season at Denver on Thursday night. “It was an amazing turn of events for a divisional game to have two returns for touchdowns.
“So, from that standpoint, I guess I had reluctant admiration for what they accomplished and what he accomplished in such a big setting.”
Holliday was a perfect 16-0 in the regular season last year. He started his season with the Houston Texans, but after their 5-0 start, they jettisoned the returner and the Broncos grabbed him off waivers, then won their next 11 games with Holliday leading the league with a 32.5-yard kick return average and a 10.8-yard punt return average from Week 6 on.
The sprinter was an eight-time All-American in track and field at LSU, winning the 2009 NCAA title by running the 100-meter dash in 10 seconds flat. But he really made himself a household name on Jan. 12 — until the Broncos blew their late lead and were sent packing by the eventual Super Bowl champs.
Holliday, who also returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in consecutive games during the regular season, figures he can be even better in 2013 with a full offseason in Denver’s system. He’s also hoping to play more than a cameo role on offense after being used sparingly last season, when he caught a pair of passes from Manning.
The Broncos want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
“I’m glad I’m not kicking to him anymore and he’s on our team now,” teammate Matt Prater said. “He’s a fun guy to watch because any time he touches the ball, it’s exciting. He can score on any play.”
He can also put it on the ground at any time, part of what led to the Texans giving up on him.
Holliday worked hard on ball security this offseason after making fans, teammates and coaches cringe as much as celebrate whenever he touched the ball and turned on those jets.
“Oh yes, that’s the main priority. You can’t go anywhere without the ball,” Holliday said.
Holliday said he’s much more comfortable fielding punts and kickoffs after putting in so much work on ball security over the last six months.
“I wouldn’t say I was raw, but I can honestly say I feel like I was just getting started once the playoff game came around,” Holliday said. “So, I can’t necessarily feed off of that game, but I’m just going to try to come in here this year and do more than I did last year.”
Holliday kept his personal goals to himself but he’s not shy about saying he’d love to get some of those passes that Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Bubba Caldwell will be catching.
He knows his biggest impact comes when those guys are on the sideline, however.
Last year, Prater signed a four-year, $13 million deal, and this summer Britton Colquitt became the highest-paid punter in the NFL with a three-year deal that averages almost $4 million.
Holliday could come up for a windfall himself next summer if he has the kind of season everyone’s expecting out of him.
“I have to stop myself from thinking about it sometimes,” Holliday said. “If you think about it, it will be a distraction. So, I’m just going to come out and work hard.”
Hitting more pay dirt, and not the big payday, is what’s on his mind.