Super Bowl 50  

 

Von Miller & DeMarcus Ware: Mentorship fuels Denver's defense

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FOXFIELD, Colo. -- They call it "Club 58," but really, Von Miller's basement is even cooler than that, a festive and protected space where the All-Pro pass rusher and his Denver Broncos teammates can recline, unwind and enjoy the finer things a fabulous football life has to offer: pool, cards, mood lighting, tunes, a mini aquarium, pop-a-shot, Louis XIII cognac, etc.

From the large, bronze rhinoceros head hanging atop the entrance to the semicircle bar that would make Austin Powers' head spin to the sparkling white urinal in the restroom, Club 58 is a chic, upscale lounge masquerading as the downstairs section of a very large bachelor pad.

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"It's better than a club," Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith said. "It's the man cave of all man caves. And best of all, it's a safe environment where the guys can all hang out, and that really builds the camaraderie of the team."

Last Saturday, the day before the Broncos flew to Northern California to prepare for Super Bowl 50, I, too, got to hang out at Club 58. My interview with Miller and his bookend edge rusher, nine-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware -- for a feature that will air on NFL Network's "GameDay Morning" on Super Sunday -- was conducted at the pool table, while several other Broncos (cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster and safety T.J. Ward) looked on in bemusement.

And while the setting was ultra-casual, Miller and Ware willingly embraced a seriously charged narrative: Just as the two potent pass rushers were the primary reason for the Broncos' 20-18 triumph over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Ware and Miller believe that, in order to defeat the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, they'll have to provoke a similar level of harassment of star quarterback and presumptive NFL MVP Cam Newton.

"I mean, no pressure, no diamonds," Miller said, laughing, after kissing the 9-ball into a side pocket. "We're both 'pressure' guys. We seem to thrive in it. I love the moment and try to take advantage of it.

"If it's on us, it's already over with. If we're on point, then our odds of winning are really good -- and, you know, we've been on point late in the season. I'm not worried about us coming to play. We're going to be ready to go."

Added Ware: "It's always on the defense. Me and Von, we have to bring the pressure this game, and we have to be able to chase Cam down. You put that pressure on yourself and say, 'Here's what we have to do, or we're not going to win this game.' So that's what we do: We put the pressure on ourselves and we just go out there and roll."

Miller, Ware and friends rolled over the Patriots' offensive line and manhandled Brady, registering an astounding 17 quarterback hits. That's more than any NFL quarterback has been hit in any game this season; only the Browns' Charlie Frye (20) and the late Steve McNair of the Ravens (18) have absorbed more since they began tracking the stat in 2006.

The Patriots' offensive line looked powerless against Miller (2 1/2 sacks, one interception, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss) and Ware (half a sack, seven QB hits), and the consequences were severe: The day after the game, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was fired by Pats head coach Bill Belichick.

Back in Denver, the postgame mood was far more festive. At Club 58 -- located so close to the Broncos' training facility that Miller and teammates sometimes spend their lunch breaks there during the week -- the celebration was straight fire.

"One of my buddies said this was the best time that they ever had at Club 58," Ware said. "So as the games get bigger, the times get bigger."

Notice that Ware wasn't speaking from personal experience.

"This is my first time in Club 58," he said. "They don't invite me."

Said Miller, laughing: "With DeMarcus, man, you know, Captain America ... it's tough after the game."

If the two sack specialists sometimes run at different social speeds, it's not entirely shocking. Growing up in DeSoto, Texas, Miller (now 26) idolized Ware -- who spent his first nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys -- to the point where he mimicked his white gloves and two-point stance.

When Ware (now 33) arrived in Denver in March of 2014, shortly after being released by the Cowboys as a salary-cap casualty, he immediately assumed the role of mentor.

"He came to the Broncos at a time when I needed him the most," said Miller, who was coming off a hellish 2013 season that included a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, a missed court date for traffic citations and a torn ACL that kept him from being part of the Broncos' run to Super Bowl XLVIII.

The following summer, Ware got a first-hand look at Miller's potential -- and did a double-take.

"When I saw him, I was just like, 'Dang!' " Ware recalled. "I'd never met a pass rusher where I could say, 'He's faster than me' ... or 'He can get around the corner lower than I can.' And during the first practice, I went to him and said, 'Do you know how good you are?' And he looks at me. I said, 'No, I'm gonna stay on you every single day ... because you can be the best player that ever played this position in the NFL.'

"And I [still] tell him that; I tell him that every single day. If there's a lull somewhere, guess what? We're gonna pick it up, we're gonna keep going. Now it goes back and forth, like when we out there playing on the field [against the Patriots], when I'm down a little bit and I'm tired, I look on the other end and I know how hard we worked. And vice versa. And that's what that teamwork is about, that bond. So it's more like a brotherhood now."

There's little doubt who plays the role of big brother: The night before the Patriots game, Ware delivered a stirring speech that some teammates said gave them goosebumps, punctuating it by dramatically pulling out the Lombardi Trophy from the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXII victory out of a suitcase.

"It definitely got the emotions flowing," Miller said. "We were ready to go, and it flowed over to the next day, and it's still flowing today. DeMarcus, he always gives great speeches -- he'll just pull you to the side, the little motivational stuff that he gives.

"The speech before the game was legendary. When you see the Lombardi Trophy just right there, where you can reach out and touch it, it gets the emotions going, and then you add that with the drive and the will to want to go out and do something for somebody else. I wish, if I get to Year 11, that I'll have people playing for me."

For now, on Super Sunday, Miller and Ware must tackle a massive challenge -- literally. Newton, because of his size, strength and mobility, is exceptionally tough to contain.

"He's definitely harder to bring down," Smith said. "I'm seeing guys on the field peel off of him left and right. I think he does [take pride in throwing guys off of him], but he picks and chooses when he won't go down. When a tough dude is about to blast him, I've seen him go down quick. But when he thinks he can take you on or he has momentum, he'll try to run you over."

If Miller, Ware and the Broncos successfully take down Newton and the Panthers, it's hard not to imagine an epic celebration taking place at Club 58 upon the team's return to Denver -- one that would ideally include a certain 39-year-old, future Hall of Fame quarterback.

"We've had Cooper Manning [Peyton's older brother] and [Chicago Bulls All-Star] Jimmy Butler here, and I'm trying to get Peyton to come," Miller said as he surveyed the scores of high-priced bottles behind the semicircle bar. "We actually had an opportunity to get Peyton after the [AFC Championship] game, but me and Demaryius [Thomas], we lost track of our phones [and didn't get back to him in time]. He gave us a hard time the next day, but we'll get him out there."

And if Manning's arrival follows a Super Bowl victory?

"He'll be standing on that bar for sure," Miller said, laughing. "I'm OK with it -- after the Super Bowl."

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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