The Slot Machine: Receiver Stokley paying off for Broncos
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Brandon Stokley doesn't know how the nickname came about.
Someone started calling the Broncos receiver "Slot Machine," and it stuck. He figures it's for his ability to get open as the slot receiver, but he's never really bothered to ask.
"Jay Cutler calls me that all the time," Stokley said. "I don't mind it."
Stokley, who came to Denver as a free agent after Indianapolis let him go, had three crucial catches for 65 yards in the Broncos' 15-14 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
"It's just good to be back out there," the 31-year-old receiver said.
Especially after what he went through last season. Stokley played only four games for the Super Bowl champion Colts before a ruptured right Achilles' tendon derailed his season for good on Dec. 10 at Jacksonville.
He wasn't sure if the injury was the end of the line for his football career.
"You really don't know how your body's going to respond to an injury like that," said Stokley, who's signed to a one-year deal. "It's hard to get yourself back in a situation of playing again."
Before the game Sunday, Stokley took a quiet moment to appreciate his comeback.
"I thought about how far I've come to get back. All the hard work I put in," Stokley said. "It's nice to get in there."
"Slot Machine" isn't the only nickname that's been pinned on him. His fellow receivers have taken to calling him "Old Man."
"That kind of fits me a little bit," Stokley said with a grin. "I've been around a while, been banged up a little bit."
Yet he's never felt better. The change of scenery has been good for Stokley.
"I feel rejuvenated," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun playing football. I feel young again."
"I just try to make plays for this team, mostly on third downs," he said.
He succeeded Sunday. Two of Stokley's catches came on third down and helped keep the drives moving.
"That's my role right there," he said. "It's nice to contribute. We have a lot of talent on this team."
And a quarterback who's coming into his own. Stokley was impressed with Cutler's performance, especially on the final drive that led to Jason Elam's game-winning field goal.
"He played awesome," Stokley said. "It was kind of what I expected out of him. He's a gritty player."
Does Cutler remind him of anybody? Maybe a certain quarterback Stokley caught passes from in Indy? The one who has starred in various television commercials and hosted Saturday Night Live?
Stokley just laughed. He wasn't about to compare Cutler to Peyton Manning.
"Jay made some tough plays," Stokley said. "Some of those plays he made at the end of the game? Pretty impressive."
While in Indianapolis, Stokley was the slot receiver behind Pro Bowlers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. In 2004, he was part of the first receiving trio in league history to each eclipse 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. He finished that season with 68 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 TDs.
The ruptured Achilles' tendon last season had teams worried, including the Colts, who released Stokley last March.
There's no bitter feelings, though, and Stokley said he feels as if he landed in a good situation in Denver -- and the Achilles' feels good: "real good actually."
Mike Shanahan is certainly pleased with what he's seen from Stokley.
"He's a big-time receiver," Shanahan said. "A guy that runs precise pass routes and makes catches."
Stokley walks around the locker room with a smile on his face and a nice word for anyone he encounters. Even when he's called "Old Man," he just laughs.
His perspective on life changed in 2004 when his then infant son, Cameron, was seriously ill with bacterial meningitis.
Cameron was hospitalized a few days before Indianapolis' AFC Championship game at New England. Stokley ended up playing in that game, catching three passes for 22 yards in the Colts' 24-14 loss.
"It changes your perspective on everything," Stokley said of his son's illness. "When you go through what I went through with my son when he was four weeks old, it changes how you look at life and your approach on how you go about things on a daily basis.
"I still look at him every day, amazed and so thankful that he's still alive and healthy."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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