Before every game, Broncos safety Rahim Moore rolls down his socks to oil the 13-inch scar that serpentines down his left calf.

It's been a year since the strange sensation that his leg was in an ever-tightening vise sent him to the hospital in the middle of the night asking for pain pills. Only when he awoke from emergency surgery did he understand his quick thinking had saved his limb, and maybe even his life.

"They sliced open my calf and took my muscles out, and thank God they were still pink," Moore said, "because if they were brown like spoiled meat, they would have had to cut my leg off."

Had he waited until daylight to get to the hospital, he might have left there in a body bag.

Moore wouldn't realize until after watching the Super Bowl from the sideline that seeking medical attention right away also saved his NFL career.

By every measure, the fourth-year safety has returned a better player after doubling down on his film study while rehabbing from the rare muscle condition called acute lateral compartment syndrome.

"It's weird because he does move around very well and then he'll be putting on his socks and I'll see the scar and it's like, 'Oh yeah, that's right, you went through that, didn't you?'" teammate David Bruton said. "But it's not anything that you can notice at all on the field."

Moore is swifter, stronger, savvier now.

"For him to mend mentally and physically and get back like this is pretty remarkable," coach John Fox said.

Many things silhouette a man's life, from the choices he makes to the journey he takes. Some of the things that have come to define Moore are: sidestepping the tough streets of L.A.; overcoming the playoff gaffe; and cresting the steep hill.

Moore initially thought he'd be back for the playoffs last season. But his dream of playing in the Super Bowl was scuttled when he needed a second surgery to remove dying tissue. He actually was relieved, he said, "because if I wasn't at my best I was afraid I was going to lose the game for us again."

In the playoffs the year before, Moore surrendered Jacoby Jones' 70-yard TD catch in the final minute of regulation, leading to Denver's loss to Baltimore in double overtime.

"I didn't want to be in that situation again," Moore said. "I feel like I lost the game for us versus the Ravens. And I didn't want to come back and I'm not 100 percent and I lose the Super Bowl for us."

Instead, he watched as the Broncos were shellacked by the Seahawks.

Two days later, he was in Davie, Florida, driving to a park near his home to see where his life was headed.

He found a steep, 150-foot hill. "I'm talking about after one rep, your legs are shot," he said. "It's like straight up."

He told himself if he could crest that hill on this day, his NFL career would go on. If not, he'd retire.

So, Moore limbered up.

He walked to the base and looked up. He took one last deep breath.

"Go!"

Suddenly, everything was a blur, pebbles skittering from his soles in tiny avalanches behind him. His lungs seared, the wind whipped his face.

All at once, he found himself standing at the top.

"Hallelujah!" Moore yelled. "I'm back!"

"I got up the hill faster than I did the year before when I was healthy," Moore marveled. "It was remarkable. I will never forget that."

He ran back down and raced back up again.

"It did it over and over," Moore said. "I did it like 10 times. So, I said my shape is there, too. Let me turn around and backpedal. So, I turned around and backpedaled, got up there with no problem. And mind you, I had a football in my hand."

An hour later, driving home, Moore reveled in the warm breeze, the sunny skies, that quietude that had drawn him to Florida after growing up dodging the danger of L.A.'s inner-city neighborhoods before attending UCLA.

"I just love my peace of mind there, my tranquility. I don't really know many people out there. I just know the guy that I train with, a few cats around the league. But I'm really out there by myself and I'm just relaxing," Moore said. "I'm getting closer to God. I'm visiting zoos and petting snow leopards. I'm training on a beach. I'm just really getting that time that I never really had a chance growing up.

"It's the peace and being able to walk outside and hang out on my porch or my patio. We couldn't do that growing up. I lived in some tough neighborhoods. We couldn't hang outside. It was always, 'Don't go down this road,' or 'Don't go down this street.'"

He cringes now when thinking about what if he didn't make it up the hill that day.

"Maybe just like tons of tears every day, tons of disappointment," Moore said. "Because I love football, man. It saved my life."

As he sat in the hallway outside the locker room a day after the one-year anniversary of his freak injury, Moore rubbed the smooth scar on his calf.

"I don't think about it a lot," he said. "The only time I think about it is maybe before a game, when I'm suiting up. I go through this ritual where I Vaseline my legs up and I always make sure I get that side so it won't be so ashy. It reminds me of when I couldn't play a year ago when I couldn't even walk. It reminds me of how blessed I am."

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton