DENVER -- Inside the room where the Broncos' quarterbacks meet each day, the memories of Kyle Orton mostly have been erased by the team's seven wins since he was benched in favor of Tim Tebow on Oct. 9.
But there still remains one minor outstanding debt -- one untold story that depicts the awkwardness that existed for a 10-day span three months ago -- which surely remains in Orton's mind as he makes his return to Denver as the Chiefs' quarterback.
Like many places around the NFL, the Broncos' QBs have an informal system in place that allows them to fine each other for different infractions, whether funny or serious. Late for a meeting? That's a fine. Say something dumb? That's a fine, too. Each fine is tallied on a board -- and everyone pays up at the season's end.
Four days after a billboard in Denver on 58th Avenue one block east of Interstate 25 publicly called for coach John Fox to bench Orton in favor of No. 15, the quarterbacks decided to begin fining Tebow every day that it remained up.
No one ever gave him a reason, but according to sources, this was it: Tebow never made any attempt to publicly admonish the divisive gesture by the fan base. So they fined him. For six days. Until he eventually replaced Orton and there was no longer a reason for the billboard to exist.
During that span, while fans were up in arms after the team started 1-4 with Orton under center, there were never any confrontations between the players. Never tense words exchanged. Never anything that would indicate a problem at all except for the strange and awkward situation surrounding that billboard.
But all of it -- even if unspoken -- wasn't unnoticed.
So now Orton returns, with the proverbial chip on his shoulder, in one of the juiciest regular-season storylines since Brett Favre first revisited the Packers as the Vikings' quarterback. This is an opportunity for Orton to put a massive, final dent in the Broncos' playoff aspirations. No doubt, he wants it.
He probably wants it for many reasons, too. Not simply because of the perceived lack of respect that Tebow (then a backup) showed for the team's starter when a fan base was pummeling Orton with criticism. Orton also becomes a free agent after this season and, coupled with a win against the Packers, this could at least begin to repair the damage that his early season woes produced.
These are all motivating reasons for Orton to study harder than ever, to prepare like never before. But it shouldn't be forgotten that Tebow, too, can find his own motivation in all of this, as if he needed more with the playoffs on the line.
You don't think Tebow also recognizes the situation? Regardless of his public deflection during his weekly news conference Wednesday, there's no denying this is an awesomely competitive scenario that comes with depth and intrigue.
For as often as questions have surfaced throughout the season regarding the perceived lack of support for Tebow from head executive John Elway and Fox, there's also no denying these relationships have all strengthened over the past two months even in the wake of the most recent pair of losses.
"When the guy isn't the starter, you don't get to spend as much time with him," Fox said about the growth of his relationship with Tebow. "I've always admired him, but I've been very impressed as I've gotten to know him better."
Fox, after all, was the one willing to completely alter the offense to fit Tebow's skill set. And Elway, in more recent weeks, has made it clear he plans to put Tebow through a rigorous offseason program.
Sources have indicated, regardless of the outcome Sunday, the Broncos plan to move forward with the mindset that Tebow will remain the team's starter in 2012.
What does all of it mean for this week? It means Tebow has the opportunity to help allow Fox and Elway to validate their decision to first bench Orton and later release him.
When the Broncos cut Orton, they were very aware that he could wind up with the Chiefs, sources said. But they also had three mindsets while doing so: (1) It allowed them to allocate the saved money toward signing bonuses for other players in 2012; (2) It allowed Tebow to have better control of the locker room; and (3) the Broncos were confident, even if they had to eventually face Orton, that they could beat him.
So here we are, in Week 17, on the brink of a game that will provide validation or redemption. Maybe the past will inspire Orton on Sunday. Maybe the future will motivate Tebow.
Whatever the case, both players are clearly headed in their own separate directions. Even if for just one more day, it has led them back to the same Denver stadium.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington