SAN FRANCISCO -- Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller took in all that happened to him this season and over the past 10 days and especially during the previous 12 hours and simply cut to the chase on Monday.
“Who would have thought?" Miller said.
Exactly, who could have thought? Two years ago, Miller had just finished a lackluster five-sack season that included a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to open the year and a torn ACL to close it, and he was not in uniform for the Broncos’ 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
And on Sunday, there was Miller, a Super Bowl MVP, to close out a dominant postseason for what was one of the best single-season performances of any defense in league history. Even the guy who suspended him in 2013 -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- said he noticed the difference.
“What an extraordinary young man, what an extraordinary player," Goodell said Monday, just before he handed Miller the Super Bowl 50 MVP trophy. “He played his lights out and led his team to, what many would say, is one of the best defensive performances in the history of the game. It was that kind of a game. Von is the, I believe, 10th MVP to come from the defensive side of the ball -- the kind of individual performance that will be remembered by all.
"He’s the kind of young man that plays this game at the highest level and does it off the field, also."
Miller had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, and that followed his 2.5-sack day against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. In all, the Broncos' defense surrendered 16, 18 and 10 points to offenses run by Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton, who won this year’s NFL MVP award.
But it might have been far more difficult for the Broncos to reach that level of performance had Miller not rebounded from 2013, a time he has called “my rough period."
Miller credits his parents, his brother and his teammates, like Chris Harris Jr., who went through his own rehab from a torn ACL at the same time as Miller before the 2014 season. And there was the arrival of DeMarcus Ware -- a player Miller has always looked up to -- to the Broncos in free agency in March 2014.
“It’s beautiful," Miller said. “DeMarcus is everything that ... I really can’t even put it into words. He’s an All-American person. He’s an All-Pro player. He’s a leader. He’s a big brother to me. He is a coach, mentor. He has a lot of names for me. It’s something that I hold very, very close to my heart.
"I remember when I first got into the game and watching DeMarcus and watching the passion that he played with. I wanted to mimic that in my game and my high school and my junior high school days. To have a percentage in helping him achieve greatness is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Ware has said Miller can continue to lift his game as he moves forward from one of the most dominant postseasons any defensive player has had. The key, Ware said, will be for Miller to maintain “that focus and drive" he showed throughout the season after he reaps the expected windfall in free agency.
Miller is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March and will command a new deal that could make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league. The Broncos have the franchise tag to use and could designate Miller with that to keep him off the open market while they try to work out a long-term deal.
But that all can wait as Miller makes the talk-show rounds this week, the fruits of being the 10th defensive player to win the MVP award in a Super Bowl.
“The personality in the locker room, it really inspires not only me, but everyone in the locker room, to be better," Miller said. “I want to thank my mom and my dad and my little brother. Everything that they’ve done for me. My mom is my biggest fan. She’s never missed a game -- little league football, flag football, all the way up to where I am now. Truly a blessing to be here. I was just telling Commissioner Goodell: 'Who would have ever thought?' Truly a blessing. Like what [Broncos] coach [Gary] Kubiak always says, life is 90 percent fair. The 10 percent, you just have to roll with it. I’m going to roll with the 10 percent, stay consistent, and here we are today.”
Kubiak offered his take on Miller.
“I was telling his mom earlier today when we were talking about him, he loves to play," the coach said. "And as a football coach, there’s a lot of talented players out there, but when you find the guys that just really love to play. He’s become a mentor to a lot of young players on our football team. They look up to him. His future is so bright. But I’m just really proud of him as a man. I know he’s a great player, but I’m very proud of him as a man.”