|DENVER -- Brian Griese had a secret. Mike Shanahan knew because he was the head coach. Griese knew because he had the pain piercing in the middle of his right shoulder.
His teammates didn't know what went on behind closed doors in Monday's dramatic 27-24 Broncos victory over the Raiders at Mile High Stadium. All his teammates knew was that he had injured his right shoulder on an ill-advised run out of bounds minutes into the first quarter.
Griese retreated to the locker room with a trainer but wasn't missed. The Raiders had an 11-play, field-goal drive that lasted six minutes. Teammates saw Griese trot back to the field, warm up and miss only five plays. They didn't hear that Griese had separated his right clavicle and AC joint and needed a pain-deadening shot to finish the final three quarters.
"This is not a game I wanted to miss, and I was going to do anything possible to get in the game and help my team win," Griese said. "I was going to do it. It was just the will to play and the will to win, and I wasn't going to come out."
An hour after the game, Broncos players were surprised that the man who ran their huddle had a busted wing. His performance was John Elway-like for courage, but it also leaves the Broncos uncertain if they will have Griese available as a starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
On Tuesday, the Broncos -- who haven't ruled Griese out for any specific period -- told backup Gus Frerotte that he should be ready to play the rest of the regular season if necessary.
"He's such a competitor," Shanahan said of Griese. "He's been like that since he's been here. He wants to play, and sometimes you have to be cautious to make sure he doesn't further hurt himself. That's the kind of guy he is."
Rod Smith is among the many Broncos who have grown to love this guy. Last year was different. In the preseason, it was supposed to be Bubby Brister's team, but Shanahan named Griese the starter. Veterans didn't feel totally comfortable with him. Griese didn't feel comfortable bossing around a group of players who didn't take to him.
"Brian's the one to lead us," Smith said. "I think it would have hurt him more just sitting there and watching rather than being out there playing with the shoulder the way it was. Whatever he does, he doesn't surprise me. He's the best quarterback in the NFL. I know the Raiders think Rich Gannon is. We think Brian is."
Griese told his offensive players that he didn't have too much zip on the ball. They accepted it as just humility.
"I wasn't throwing the ball as well I have been," Griese said. "Some of the balls just died. At that point, it was just your will to play, your will to win. I wasn't coming out of the game."
Griese was 22-of-32 for 221 yards with a separated shoulder. He'd throw passes and hear, as well as feel, his shoulder popping in and out.
"I knew there was something wrong with it, but they assured me that I couldn't do any further damage," Griese said. "It was just whether I could handle the pain."
Being injured didn't make Griese shy away from contact. Several times he took shots from Raiders defenders that bounced him to the frozen Mile High Stadium grass. Once, cornerback Eric Allen charged untouched from the blindside. Griese ducked as Allen hit him shoulder high.
"Believe it or not, the reason I kind of ducked when he came in is that I heard the crowd, and the crowd held their breath and I could hear that," Griese said. "I said to myself, 'Well, somebody must be ready to hit me.' "
Talk about homefield advantage. Griese has never had an injury like this. He has played two seasons with a torn labrum problem in his shoulder that requires surgery, but this was much more painful.
Griese remembered a pass to Rod Smith along the sideline that was a big play. He had to make just an arm-through pass. It was agonizing. He threw a skinny post to Ed McCaffrey that left McCaffrey vulnerable to a hit on the chin.
"I apologized to him for that because the ball kind of floated on me and I didn't have any zip on the ball," Griese said.
Griese said the feeling of his shoulder popping in and out was different.
"We knew it was something that was hurting him, we knew he was banged up," fullback Howard Griffith said. "That's how it is when you've got a job to do."
Still, the story told after the game amazed them.
|Brian Griese (14) is tackled by Oakland's Elijah Alexander in the first quarter on Monday.|
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