Despite two very impressive and highly decorated seasons to open his NFL career, Von Miller stood on the precipice of ruin in 2013. After the Denver Broncos star pass rusher was suspended six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, he suffered a torn ACL at the tail-end of the 2013 campaign.
That season ended in disappointment for the team after the Broncos were embarrassed in Super Bowl XLVIII by the Seattle Seahawks. Miller's third year was punctuated in a similar fashion, just at the individual level.
Entering 2014, Miller was at a crossroads of sorts. Bouncing back from that ACL suffered late in the year, the only thing that could redeem him following the six-game suspension and ugly PR nightmare was production on the field. But would Miller have the mindset of a professional?
We know that the arrival of DeMarcus Ware in the spring of 2014 was absolutely pivotal in Miller turning his career around and getting back on track. But we learned just this week that Peyton Manning helped 'save' Miller's career as well.
"He motivated me on and off the football field, and he showed me what it means to a leader on and off the football field," Miller said on Wednesday. "He kind of saved my career as well. Seeing the way he operated and seeing the things that he did and seeing the way that he moved kind of inspired me and set up the blueprint for how I should do things.”
With two of the most stalwart leaders of their era suddenly on the same team in Denver, Miller was blessed to have a pair of excellent mentors to model his career. Ware was a player Miller idolized as a Texas native growing up a Dallas Cowboys fan. Suddenly having him on the same team was a godsend to Miller.
Manning's influence was likely a bit more indirect but if Miller says that 'The Sheriff' saved his career, take him at his word. Manning set a standard of excellence that his teammates either fell in line with or burned off in the atmosphere.
Manning was unanimously elected to the Broncos Ring of Fame this past week, which means his name will be etched at Mile High Stadium and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (class of 2021) in the same year. Pretty cool.
There's no doubt that Miller's name will one day join Manning in the Ring of Fame. He's Denver's all-time leader in sacks with 106, an eight-time Pro Bowler, a seven-time All-Pro, and former Super Bowl 50 MVP.
Odds are, Miller is destined for Canton, too, just like his QB mentor. But that's not what Miller is focused on right now.
“I think about the Ring of Fame and I think about all that stuff, but I'm still stuck here in the present," Miller said. "I think everybody—whenever you come into the league, you want to go to the Hall of Fame, and you want be in the Ring of Fame. You want to be one of the best players for your franchise. At the same time, I'm still stuck in the moment. There's so much to be done right now. There's so much to be done with our team, there are so many games to win before I can start really thinking about the Ring of Fame."
Miller is leery of being perceived as a relic of the 2011-15 NFL era. He's hoping to help lead the Broncos back into competitive prominence.
"I don’t want those years with Peyton to be the highlight of my career," Miller said. "I think we have some special stuff brewing, and I think we have some special games coming. Me personally, I think I have more to prove and more to give to Broncos Country."
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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