ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The I’ll-remember-it-forever day officially began at 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time when defensive end Shelby Harris was unceremoniously yanked from sleep by a fist pounding on his hotel room door in greater Los Angeles.
Ray Jackson, the Denver Broncos‘ director of player development and the guy players and their families often call, started Harris’ Sunday by rattling his room door until Harris answered. Then Jackson delivered the news: Harris’ wife, Stephanie, was going into labor with the couple’s fourth child.
The Harrises knew the timing of the birth could get interesting, that it would be close if Harris made the trip with the Broncos to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. But the couple, after talking with each other and their doctor, had decided it all could work.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 29, 2020
But then …
“I get woken up at 7 in the morning by Ray … banging on my door. I guess my wife had been calling me — I guess I was knocked out,” Harris said. “She called him, her water broke, so I got on the phone with her to try and figure out a plan.”
The plan began with Stephanie contacting her doctor and making arrangements to get to the hospital. Next was finding a way to get Shelby home for the birth of their son.
Harris said he and his wife discussed all of the options, starting with him heading for the airport right then to try to get a flight back to Denver.
“We wanted to get her to a doctor … to see how far apart her contractions were, to see how much time I really had,” Harris said. “Should I stay? Even if I did leave would I miss the birth? Those are all things we were worried about when we were trying to make that decision. Then we decided it would be best if I stayed [and played in the game] and just try to get back after.”
But after Harris posted on Twitter — “Let’s hurry this game up gotta make it home for the birth of my son!” — the Broncos got involved.
Let’s hurry this game up gotta make it home for the birth of my son!
— Shelby Harris (@ShelbyHarris93) December 27, 2020
Broncos officials arranged a private flight home for Harris, a flight that could leave almost as soon as Harris could get to the plane after the game and would beat the Broncos’ charter back to Denver “by a couple hours,” according to coach Vic Fangio. The team charter would take longer, as injured players are often treated at the stadium after a game and the packing of all of the team’s gear onto the plane can take some time as well.
“It was close,” Fangio said. “It was something we discussed and he came to the decision — we had a flight for him, made an arrangement for him to miss the game. He chose to stay.”
The Broncos closed out their 19-16 loss to the Chargers at 4:05 p.m. PT. Then Harris, who had four tackles and knocked down two passes in the game, sprinted for the locker room to go from uniform to street clothes to a waiting car.
And then he got a little help for the short trip from SoFi Stadium to the airport.
“I ran into the locker room. I’d say that’s probably the quickest I’ve ever gotten changed; I was still sweating when I left,” Harris said. “They gave us a police escort to the airport. I really just feel special because everybody went over and beyond what they really had to do. It’s just something that doesn’t happen every day.”
Shelby Lamar Harris, Jr. 💙🤍 pic.twitter.com/6WKHdlxdEk
— Stephanie Harris (@Steph_r0chelle) December 29, 2020
But even once he got to Denver there was still uncertainty. Harris and his wife had both battled COVID-19 in recent weeks — and they were unsure whether Shelby would even be allowed into the delivery room once he got to the hospital.
“They’re only allowing one person to be in the room,” Harris said. “… Only one support person could be there, so that was the scary part. So let’s say I wasn’t going to be there, she was going to have somebody else there. Or let’s say she did let somebody come into the room and I got there late, would they let me go into the room?”
In the end, though, he made it: “I cut the umbilical cord, I pulled the baby out, it was a real special moment. … I just want to thank the Broncos just for going over and beyond what they had to do to make sure I got back and was there for the birth. It really meant a lot to my family, and we’ll be forever grateful.”
In a year that has been “so different” as Harris put it, things worked out in every way Harris had hoped. Shelby Harris Jr. arrived at 10:46 p.m. Mountain time, 5 hours and 41 minutes after the game with the Chargers had ended more than 1,000 miles away.