ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Former Colorado fullback Jordan Murphy's desire to claw his way into the NFL might not make a lot of sense. He wasn't really a starter in the Buffaloes' offense. He was never all-conference. And he was not on any "players to watch" lists.
But Murphy still chases his NFL dream with every fiber of his football being, in large part, because of what happened on July 20, 2012.
That's the night James Holmes, dressed in tactical gear, burst into a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in an Aurora, Colorado, theater, tossed tear-gas grenades and opened fire. By the time Holmes stopped shooting and walked back outside, 12 people were dead, 70 more were injured.
Murphy was with three friends that night in the theater, having taken the last group of seats they could find together.
"[Holmes] comes in to the right, my front right -- we were in the fourth row. I can see his weapons. I can see him pretty clearly," Murphy said. "He's dressed up like Bane, you know, the character in the movie, so you're thinking, 'Oh, it's opening night, this is some cool stunt to get people going.' But then he launches the tear gas and right then I knew it was real. ...
"We ducked down, we waited a few seconds. I heard his gun click that he was out of ammunition, so we crawled as fast as we could and then stood up at the end of the row to run. I think I attracted his attention because he turned his head to me, took a shot. Don't know if it was a shotgun or his AR-15, but the bullet hit right over my head, drywall exploded, sprayed on my face, the dust went in my eyes. At that point I'm thinking I'm not getting out, but I'm running along the way, we were getting ready to turn the corner and the bullet just smashed the drywall. They always said the reason I couldn't play Division I as a linebacker was because I wasn't 6-2. I'm 6 feet. If I was 6-2, I'd probably be dead because that bullet is in my head."
Murphy learned that night in the theater he could be a long shot -- "a real long shot, I know" -- for the NFL draft and he's OK with that.
"Life is short; you don't really know how many days you have," Murphy said. "I learned it when I walked into that theater thinking I had plenty of time to do things."
Murphy's focus is on preparing for the NFL draft. Not because he knows he will be drafted or make an NFL team. He intends to chase a dream, even though it seems unlikely to come true.
Murphy just might have loved football more than it has loved him back. In five years' worth of college football spread out at Colorado State and Colorado, he was a running back who never carried the ball. Not in short-yardage situations. Not in mop-up time. Not as a reward for efforts in a game or a season.
"No, I didn't touch the ball," Murphy said with a smile. "In warm-ups, they would throw me the pass, but I think every team we played knew I was never going to get a pass."
So Murphy decided to be "that guy" on special teams, willing to do anything, anytime, in any personnel grouping. It is a role he hopes the NFL sees him in, that he'll do the things maybe others won't. A roll of the dice? For sure, since the NFL isn't exactly lining up fullbacks across the league.
"But he knows himself," said Loren Landow, who is training Murphy and others, including Oklahoma State cornerback Kevin Peterson, a scouting combine invitee, for their on-campus pro days. "From Day 1, Jordan's been a no-nonsense guy, goes about his work, he kind of walks with that feeling about him that he's seen things not many people have seen. He just works his butt off. I think he sees opportunity where other people might not just because of what he's gone through."
Murphy makes the round trip on Interstate 25 with the rest of the commuters each day from his parents' home in Castle Rock to south suburban Denver to lift, to run, to dream with the other hopefuls. He has tried to become more proficient as a receiver to better make his case that he's worth a look.
He has his degree in business administration, even a line on a potential job or two, if football isn't an option. But he just wants to see, to wrestle with a what-if question and move on, happily, to the next one.
"I think a lot about the families who lost someone that night, the people who didn't get to go home and tell people not to worry that they were all right," Murphy said. "I still notice sometimes, I'll be in just a normal public place and I find myself looking at exits, looking at people, like you're Jason Bourne. I don't know if I'll ever stop looking at doors like that.
"So, you know, I'm chasing a dream and if it doesn't work out, I'll have a backup. It will be tough not to play football, but if you give it everything you have, give it everything I can, I think I would be able to leave it behind. But I refuse to say I didn't at least try."