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Zany life of Broncos' Von Miller: Chickens, hats, tattoos and sacks

Von Miller is one of the big reasons why the Broncos have the league's top-ranked defense. AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Which came first, the chicken-farming dream or the pass-rushing dominance?

These are the two loves of Von Miller's life, along with his headline-making headwear, his sports car collection, his too-many-to-count tattoos and his desire to make people laugh.

The free agent-to-be is a free spirit, always lightening the mood inside the Denver Broncos' locker room. In a profession filled with paranoia and tight you-know-whats, Miller is the anti-establishment: a funny dude with an infectious personality.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I’m just being me to the fullest.”

One thing Miller doesn’t joke about is his farming ambition. Once he finishes razing quarterbacks, Miller wants to raise chickens in his native Texas. Right now, he owns a few dozen chickens in a modest-sized coop -- about 3,000 square feet -- but he has bigger plans for the future.

Miller was a poultry science major at Texas A&M, where he also grew his reputation as a quarterback-chasing Vonster. He played the game of his life last week, recording 2.5 sacks and an interception to lead the Broncos over the New England Patriots for the AFC championship.

In typical Miller fashion, he celebrated by making a Deflategate joke in the locker room, saying the ball he intercepted seemed a bit flat. Yes, he can annoy opponents with his irreverent comments -- and some of his sack dances are cringe-worthy because of his PG-13 gyrations -- but he is beloved at Dove Valley.

“I look at Von as a big kid almost,” teammate Josh Bush said. “He loves to play around and joke and have fun in the locker room. If there’s someone who doesn’t like Von, the other person has the problem.”

Miller wears his emotions on his sleeve -- like, permanently. Both arms are covered with tattoos, including the A&M logo, his old jersey numbers, a famous line from “Scarface” (“The world is yours”) and, yes, even a chicken tattoo.

Should that be a personal fowl?

Miller is a walking, talking fashion statement. He has a pair of eyeglasses for every mood … an assortment of cowboy hats and boots … a purple satin suit … a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt … a button-down dress shirt with a pattern of tiny rose petals … a red-and-black flannel shirt that screams lumberjack chic.

His most famous accessory is his big, furry hat. We’re talking really big. When he wears it, it looks like two foxes are mating on his head, but there’s actually a serious story behind it. He once took a USO Tour with fellow NFL players, visiting Kyrgyzstan, among other countries. He said the hat reminds him of the U.S. troops he met on the trip.

“Personalities are welcome here,” said Miller, alluding to the culture created by first-year coach Gary Kubiak. “That’s part of the reason why I’m so happy and everything is going on.”

It wasn’t always this way.

After being selected second overall in 2011, one spot behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Miller hit adversity after two fantastic seasons. In 2013, he received a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He also accumulated multiple traffic violations, gained about 20 pounds and tore an ACL in Week 16. He wasn’t able to play in Super Bowl XLVIII, which was devastating.

Miller’s parents moved in with him during his wild-child phase, trying to calm the waters. Suddenly, his quirky, fun-loving personality wasn’t so quirky and fun-loving. Everybody loves a character, but no one wants a character problem.

“I’ve always been like that,” he said of his big personality. “It hasn’t always been positive -- it’s hasn’t always been good -- but it got me to the situation and the moment I’m in right now.”

And that’s a good place -- a very good place. With his contract expiring, Miller could become one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league. He’s not going anywhere, though; the Broncos will use the franchise tag to prevent him from reaching the open market.

“He’s grown up a lot,” Kubiak said. “He’s a pro. I mean, Von hasn’t missed a day of work. He’s a leader. He loves to play. You watch him; he has a blast out here. He’s dancing at practice, but he’s very professional in his approach and it shows by the way he’s played this year.”

Miller is one of the big reasons the Broncos have the league’s top-ranked defense. He and bookend rusher DeMarcus Ware, whom Miller calls “my idol,” have the ability to wreck the game for the opposition. Tom Brady found out the hard way.

The future chicken baron approached 2015 by embracing the famous line from “Friday Night Lights" -- clear eyes and full heart. He focused on football and his teammates, and that's it.

“I really just tried to lose myself in that,” he said.

Miller made All-Pro for the second time, finishing with 11 sacks. That makes 60 in five seasons. That’s a lot of dancing, but the best dance came near the end of the AFC title game. He and outside linebackers coach Fred Pagac, 63, boogied on the sideline. Pagac, a wool cap covering his bald head, bopped like Fred Mertz on Red Bull.

On Monday, Miller’s personality will be on display for the entire nation. No doubt, he will be one of the stars at Super Bowl 50 media day, held for the first time in prime time. He’ll pull a 60-minute filibuster, discussing everything from Newton’s passing to Newton’s Law to his theory on the chicken-and-egg question. For the record, he believes the chicken came first, and he’ll gladly debate the issue.

“There’s no telling with Von,” teammate Chris Harris Jr. said. “He might come out in one of those crazy hats for media day. You never know; he’s going to do something crazy.”