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Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio watching drills during training camp at UCHealth Training Center on July 29, 2019 in Englewood, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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Vic Fangio proved his mettle in coaching debut for Broncos

(Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Meaningless.

That’s the word that’s going to be bandied about a lot when people discuss the preseason opener between the Broncos and the Falcons. Today, everyone will be talking about how the final score, the stats and nearly everything else that occurred on the field in Canton didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

And there’s certainly plenty of evidence to support this claim.

By the end of the game, Al Michaels was virtually begging for the game to end. The venerable broadcaster was bemoaning every call Walt Anderson made, as the referee was getting more camera time than everyone on the NBC crew combined. But flag after flag kept flying when no one cared about the latest ticky-tack call, giving the announcers repeated opportunities to suggest how inconsequential everything happening on the field was at that point and had been throughout the night.

But for those not looking to make a beeline for the hotel, there was plenty to be gleaned during the Hall of Fame Game. And from the Broncos perspective, one big takeaway could pay huge dividends this season and beyond.

Sure, it doesn’t matter than Denver won the game 14-10. Granted, no one should care what the final stat lines were for Kevin Hogan, Drew Lock and Brett Rypien. And admittedly, accounts of who played well, who struggled, and who disappeared aren’t nearly as important as everyone will make them out to be between now and the next exhibition game.

Those things are unimportant, at least in the grand scheme of things. But the Broncos did set a tone on Thursday night, which could prove to be invaluable moving forward.

Early in the day, it was reported that Vic Fangio was in the hospital, dealing with kidney stones. It was distressing news on many fronts, not the least of which is the ill-timed ailment had the potential of derailing the head coach’s long-awaited debut at the helm of an NFL team.

But after 40 years in coaching, Fangio wasn’t about to miss his moment. The game wasn’t meaningless to him, as he proved by leaving the hospital, heading to the stadium, standing on the sidelines for three hours and coaching his team, all before the stone had passed.

“That was never in question, really,” he explained when asked if there was a chance he wouldn’t be at the game. “It was never in question.”

The toughness award winner for the 2019 season has already been determined. Google “kidney stones,” see what they look like and read about how they exit the body; a newfound respect for Fangio will emerge.

Surely, the coach’s presence on the sideline had an impact on his team. He demonstrated through his actions how important getting the job done is to him, which will undoubtedly permeate throughout the roster. Fangio sent a message by being at the game, telling everyone within the Broncos organization what his first priority is this season.

But the tone setting didn’t end there. Late in the game, after Anderson threw yet another flag for a borderline call, the Broncos faced a fourth-and-14 from the Falcons 15-yard line. Trailing 10-7 with 1:33 to play, conventional wisdom would have suggested that a field goal attempt was the right play. Even in a preseason game, going for it in this scenario wasn’t a prudent decision.

Fangio didn’t care. He rolled the dice and went for the win.

Sure enough, Rypien was able to find Juwann Winfree in the end zone for a juggling catch that gave Denver the lead for good. An otherwise boring night was essentially erased with one play, as the highlight-reel touchdown had everyone on the Broncos sideline elated.

At that moment, the difference between winning and losing wasn’t meaningless. Making a play to turn a defeat into a victory, when there was no margin for error, was a galvanizing event. The clutch touchdown helped brings teammates together.

It also helped them have faith in their head coach. Fangio showed that he was willing to push all his chips into the middle of the table, albeit in a situation that wasn’t as pressure-packed as he’ll see starting on Sept. 9 in Oakland, which will endear him to his players.

He wanted to win his head-coaching debut, so he went for it on fourth-and-14. That’s the kind of gutsy move that earns all sorts of props in the locker room.

That was the biggest takeaway from Thursday night.

Yes, plenty of what happened at Tom Benson Stadium was meaningless. The good, the bad and the ugly will soon be forgotten. But not everything that occurred will quickly be disregarded.

Hogan’s impressive drive, Noah Fant’s dropped pass and Brendan Langley’s fumbled punt will be talked about ad nauseum in the coming days. A month from now, however, no one will have any recollection of these moments from the Hall of Fame Game.

But Vic Fangio’s gutty performance in his debut on the Broncos sideline has the chance to become the stuff of legend. If his career in Denver proves to be successful, people will forever reference an August night in Ohio when he left a hospital to coach his first game and dialed up the game-winning gamble in the waning minutes to help his team earn a victory as the place it all started.

Meaningless?

It sure didn’t feel that way last night.