At 34, coming off reconstructive knee surgery and facing his stiffest competition in several seasons, Denver Broncos punter Mike Horan knew the odds were stacked against him.
That didn’t make it any easier, however, when he was released by the Broncos on Monday as the team made its final roster cuts.
In an emotional farewell after seven seasons as the Broncos’ punter, Horan, who played at Sunny Hills High, Fullerton College and Cal State Long Beach, said he was thankful for the opportunity to play in Denver and hoped to continue his career elsewhere.
“I want to thank (owner) Pat Bowlen, (General Manager) John Beake and the organization for seven great years here,” Horan said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play in three Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl, and I was hoping to be able to finish my career in Denver.
“But I don’t feel like my career’s over. I think I’m able to play in this league another three or four years. So I’m in the process of looking for a punting job.”
He said he and his family will continue to reside in Denver. “We’re also going to continue to help homeless families through our organization, Punts With A Purpose,” he said.
Horan, who tore a ligament in his right knee in the seventh game of last season, recovered and punted competently in the exhibition season. But challenger Tom Rouen was better.
Rouen averaged 45.7 yards on 11 punts in the exhibition season. Horan averaged 43.7 yards on 13 punts. Both had four punts inside the opponents’ 20, and Horan had the only touchback.
“It was more a matter of Tom Rouen punting well than anything Mike did,” Coach Wade Phillips said. “Rouen’s stats were overwhelming in practice. It was no contest.
“It was a much wider difference than in preseason games. Another thing about Rouen is he has kicked some 60-yarders which changed field position significantly.
“Tom was pretty far ahead the last two games, and Mike didn’t make strides to bridge that gap. The punting competition was a lot like our place-kicking battle with (rookie) Jason Elam and (deposed incumbent) David Treadwell. There was a difference, and we had to accept that fact.”
Asked if he felt he was out-kicked, Horan said, “Wade didn’t say that directly, but that’s kind of the implication. I think I needed to have a great game against Phoenix (Friday night), and I didn’t punt the ball great that game.”
He said he knew he was in for a fight early in training camp.
“I knew Tom was the best punter the Broncos had brought in here in about four or five years,” Horan said.
His knee, he said, is “pretty close to being 100%. At least it’s good enough to be able to punt and play in this league. I’m tempted to take the brace off and try to play without it, and see if I get any improvement that way.”
Asked if he would consider returning to the Broncos if Rouen falters, Horan said, “In a heartbeat.”