Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez says he had the best training for protecting his team’s record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning from the dangers of the NFL while surviving in one of Houston’s tough, gang-infested barrios.
‘Where I’m from, people aren’t shy to tell you to your face, ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re a Mexican, for one thing,’” says the fulcrum of the offensive line that has helped Manning produce the greatest season of any quarterback in NFL history.
“It’s just some dumb stuff people were always saying, trying to put me down for whatever reason it might be. But you’ve just got to put all that to the side.”
Now, the challenge facing Ramirez and the Broncos linemen – which includes fellow Texas Mexican-American Louis Vasquez, a guard – is whether they can protect Peyton Manning well enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
They have been superb in keeping Manning, who underwent fusion neck surgery in 2011 at the age of 35, safe but they will meet their biggest hurdle Sunday in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots.
The Broncos offensive line gave up an NFL-low 18 sacks as Peyton Manning led Denver to a record 606 points while passing for historic marks 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns during the regular season.
But the AFC title game will be the biggest test for Manny Ramirez, 30, a converted guard, in his career as it will for Louis Vasquez, who together appear to be the first two Latino offensive linemen to play side by side in the NFL.
They have been drawing praise from Manning as the season has developed into record-setting passing achievements in only his second year back from the surgery many feared might have ended his career.
“Manny’s been awesome,” Peyton Manning told The Associated Press of Ramirez, who calls out blocking assignments on the line each play. “That is no easy task to go from guard to center, especially in a sophisticated, fast-moving, always-changing offense.
“I think it would be one thing if you knew what play was going to be called and you had 40 seconds to process it. But we call one play and change it to the next with five seconds on the play clock and when we change a play, Manny has to make his own calls and he has just gotten better each week.”
Vasquez, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the league’s top offensive lineman, named an All-Pro along with Manning last week. He is the first Bronco guard to be named All-Pro since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
“I was in the locker room when they came and told me I was All-Pro,’” says the 6-foot, 5-inch, 325-pound Louis Vasquez,. “When they told me it kind of surprised me. I didn’t expect it. It’s such a great honor. It really humbled me.”
Not only are both players from Texas – Vasquez from Corsicana – but they also played at Texas Tech, though Ramirez was a couple of years ahead. Ramirez, 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Vasquez, 26, was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Vasquez came to the Broncos on four-year deal worth $23.5 million with a $13 million guarantee in what was the most lucrative contract to any free agent last year.
“If he gets his hands on you, basically you’re done,” Manny Ramirez says of Vasquez, who credits his fellow Texan for helping him adjust to the Broncos’ offensive system.
“The main difference,” says Louis Vasquez, “was learning the different terminology, getting familiar with everything they do here. I had to put some work into it, and Manny was a big help.”
The two now have their sights on getting to their first Super Bowl, and Ramirez says he’s ready for any obstacle.
“Truthfully, and unfortunately, that’s been my entire life,” he says. “You know, even when I was playing in middle school and high school, I’ve always had doubters, and that’s fine. That’s always been motivation for me.”
Originally published at VOXXI.