Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller arrived at his first Super Bowl on the team’s last chartered flight from Denver. It proved too short of a trip and too long of a game.
Two years ago, Miller stood on the sideline in a sweat suit and watched helplessly as the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Broncos, 43-8.
The pain of that experience hurt far more than the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which he tore in a Week 16 game at Houston that season.
“I don’t ever want to be in this situation again,” said Miller, remembering his thoughts during Super Bowl XLVIII. “If we make it to the Super Bowl, I want to play in it. I want to be an influence. I want to influence my teammates to be better and play better. I don’t want to be on the last flight out to the Super Bowl. I want to be with my guys.
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“It taught me that I don’t want to be away from it. I love the sport. I love being around my guys. I want to be here for them.”
The former Texas A&M star is as responsible as any player on the Broncos’ 53-player roster for Denver making it to Super Bowl 50. Miller led the Broncos with 11 sacks during the regular season.
In the AFC Championship Game, he turned in one of the greatest defensive performances in postseason history. Miller played 65 snaps, making five tackles, including two for loss, with 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, a defensed pass and an interception.
Miller was unstoppable as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a beating, enduring 20 hits in 61 dropbacks.
“I like to think I’m unstoppable every game,” Miller said. “It was a great game. … We were so sure in everything we were doing, so going into the game, it was like we had already envisioned everything that happened.”
Miller, 26, has become everything the Broncos envisioned when they used the second overall pick on him in 2011. It just wasn’t a seamless journey to get here.
In 2013, the league suspended Miller six games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He also missed a court date for speeding tickets.
Veteran DeMarcus Ware arrived as a free agent before last season and helped change Miller into a better man and a better player.
“I’m a totally different guy than I was a couple of years ago,” Miller said more than once this week while crediting Ware.
At Broncos coach Gary Kubiak’s behest, Miller spoke to the team’s rookies about the mistakes he made.
“I’ve known Von for a long time, being an Aggie,” said Kubiak, who played and coached at A&M. “I knew him when he was young. He has really grown up to become a really big-time pro. He studies hard getting ready to play.”
For the first time, a Super Bowl pits the No. 1 overall draft pick from a draft class against the No. 2 pick of the same class. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was the top choice in 2011.
That draft also included Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt.
Of the top 11 selections that year, Miller is one of only two non-quarterbacks without a contract extension. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the Broncos likely will make him the highest-paid player in team history.
Miller likely will receive a contract similar to the six-year, $101 million deal linebacker Justin Houston signed with the Kansas City Chiefs last summer, which included $52.5 million in guarantees.
Miller will get his money, but will he get a ring?
“It’s another chance at greatness,” he said. “It doesn’t come around often. … We’ve got another shot at it, so we definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity and be great.”