That February day in 2016, Miller dipped and ripped the Lombardi trophy from the Carolina Panthers. He finished with 2.5 sacks — two of which resulted in Broncos touchdowns — six tackles and a Super Bowl MVP. The images from that championship day are everywhere in the halls of the Broncos’ suburban Denver facility — the sacks, the celebrations, even the gleaming trophy.
Miller last walked by those reminders Nov. 1, the day the Broncos traded him to the Los Angeles Rams. As he left the building that day he said, “Seeing the pictures as I was walking out made me tear up, we always got Super Bowl 50.”
The Broncos haven’t made the playoffs since that Super Bowl win and Miller was often asked if he feared his greatest moment was behind him. He’s now days away from — as he often said in Denver — “the opportunity to make another biggest moment.” Miller will start at linebacker for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC).
Mixed in with those very real tears he shed as he departed Denver was the sudden and tangible idea he could reach the big stage again.
“After you win a Super Bowl it’s life-changing … it changes your life, it really changes your life,” Miller said. “… I tell everybody, we’re one game away from football heaven.”
DeMarcus Ware, who was Miller’s teammate for three seasons with the Broncos and the player Miller has routinely said helped him make the leap from Pro Bowl player to all-time great, said Miller’s Super Bowl experience can bring a lot to the Rams’ locker room.
“With everything you hope for on the line, he performed his best,” Ware said. “I prided myself on being a leader for that team, it was important to me. And I had done a lot of things in my career to that point, but I didn’t have a ring until after we won. Now, Von can bring all of that leadership, all of those things you have to have, and when he talks everybody knows he not only has a ring, but he himself played one of the best games ever to get it.”
“Absolutely that matters the way he played in those moments when they won the Super Bowl in Denver,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “… Guys believe that, his track record speaks for itself. His work, his résumé, the way he carries himself, demands respect.”
Miller was a 26-year-old who had closed in on the peak of his powers during the 2015 season. That year was his fifth consecutive season in the playoffs after the Broncos won five straight AFC West titles. It was their second Super Bowl trip in a three-year span.
“I just thought that was how it was going to be every year,” Miller said.
He’s 32 now, in his 11th season with eight Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections on his résumé. The trade was an unexpected, life-shaking change to his “Bronco for life” plan.
He arrived in L.A. recovering from an ankle injury and didn’t have a sack in his first four games with the team. He’s had eight in the nine games since, including two in the playoffs.
“We talk about competitive greatness all the time, being your best when your best in required,” McVay said. “I think he’s illustrated that through the playoffs here.”
Super Bowl LVI represents what Miller has pursued from the moment the confetti stopped falling after Super Bowl 50. The chance to add another peak to his career. He spoke of it last summer. Poised to put almost a calendar year of injury rehab behind him, Miller lamented the Broncos’ playoff misses and admitted they had begun to wear on him.
Since the trade Miller has done all that he can to help the Rams reach this point, even taking on a mentorship role with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, whom he says he’s helped become more vocal.
“When I came here you see the way Aaron Donald works, you see all that he does, he’s the first one here, last one to leave,” Miller said. “… [I told him], ‘Bro, if you start speaking, these guys they are going to play for you, they’re waiting to play for you, they’re waiting to put their neck on the line.'”
This week means something different to Miller than to his fellow Rams. It’s why Miller has taken time to talk to any and all of his still-new teammates about what a title win can mean.
“I always used to talk about Super Bowl 50 … and I remember telling you guys I don’t want Super Bowl 50 to be the highlight of my career,” Miller said with a smile. “But to be honest it just might be, it just might be, you know what I mean? It just might be we won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, DeMarcus, I’m hoping this Super Bowl will be just as high.
“I’m hoping my performance will be the same, I’m hoping these two Super Bowls will be the highlight of my career, that I can point to these two Super Bowls and talk about them with my son when he’s older. … This will be my third Super Bowl, I just want to lay it all out there, man, and like I said, I don’t want Super Bowl 50 to be the highlight of my career, hoping that [Super Bowl] 56 is the highlight of my career, hoping all the plays that I make … will be the best Von that I’ve put forward in my career. It’s the biggest game of my life and I want to go out there and play that way.”