Texas native DeMarcus Ware will be going home tonight when he walks into AT&T stadium once again.
Though the defensive end has been welcomed with open arms by Broncos Country, and though Ware has embraced the Mile High City with equal admiration, altitude an all - the seven-time Pro Bowler acknowledged this week that he still hopes to retire from his NFL career as a Dallas Cowboy.
In fact, the Cowboys all-time sacks leader spoke to Jerry Jones about it before signing his three-year, $30 million deal with the Denver Broncos via free agency in March.
"[Jones] was like, ‘You know what, I want you to be able to come back here and retire as a Dallas Cowboy,'" said Ware, who compiled 117 sacks in his nine seasons there. "That's a big goal of mine."
Ware was one-third of a trio of free agents - rounded out by cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward - that the Broncos sought out in the offseason to put the "crush" back in the Orange Crush defense. Together these three have been responsible for a whole new attitude on the Denver D.
And while the former Cowboy loves his new city and team, Ware is a true Texan. And Texans always want to go home.
But luckily for Broncos fans, Ware also knows which team he is playing for this week when the Broncos travel to Dallas for their final preseason game tonight.
Even though Ware won't see any game action because most starters get a hall pass to sit the last one out, he'll be enjoying what is like a home crowd while pulling for his new Broncos compadres to rush the quarterback as hard and fast as they can.
"I left a great organization, but I think it's going to be just good memories going in there," Ware said of returning to the city he callled home for his previous nine NFL seasons. "Business is business, and you have to sort of transition into what's next, and I am here now."
And boy is he. Though living a mile high took some getting used to, the slimmer, healthier Ware has been the major factor in Denver's defensive upgrade everyone hoped he'd be.
From the day he stepped off the plane in March to OTAs, minicamp and training camp, Ware has embraced his role as a mentor to younger players, including defense superstar Von Miller.
"I am sort of like that guy that's going to keep motivating [Miller] to play the best ball he can play, be the best person he can be, because I know his potential from where he's been to how hard he worked this offseason," Ware said. "He will be an even better player."
But the veteran knows his primary purpose is to be a disruptive force to opponents on the field - something he wasted no time doing in his first preseason game, which just happened to be against the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
In his first three snaps of 2014, Ware helped contain a run play for a one-yard gain; chased down Russ Wilson, forcing him to throw an incomplete pass; and finally sacked the QB from behind as Wilson tried futilely to escape.
Ware combined for four tackles in last week's game against the Houston Texans, and all signs point to sheer domination when one imagines the potential of both Ware and Miller pass rushing together for an entire game.
The 255-pound defensive end has a smile as big as a ten-gallon cowboy hat, and a laugh that makes you want to just give him a hug.
Unless you're a quarterback, of course. But then you're getting a hug anyway.
Dan Pompei called Ware and Miller the "dynamic duo" and suggested most any offense will have a tough time scheming against them:
"With two talented edge rushers, the Broncos can be confident in knowing they'll get favorable matchups. At times, the defensive advantages might not involve Ware or Miller - but their presence could create beneficial one-on-ones for other defenders."
Ware may be aTexan at heart, but what makes him a true Bronco is that he gets it. His focus is not on his own accolades but on team accomplishments and building up teammates to get after those team goals, aka a Super Bowl win.
He and Miller set a goal at the beginning of summer to get as many sacks between them as entire teams do in one season.
At first Miller had thrown out a number for their goal, and Ware encouraged him to think bigger ... because a number is just a number.
"I said, ‘why not be the tandem ... that was best in the league ever?'" Ware said in June. "That's what you want. You want something bigger than [a number], something that lasts forever."
If you ask Ware who is the toughest guy on defense, he doesn't hesitate - T.J. Ward.
"He's just like a bulldog. No matter what he's going to be coming down in the line, his nose is always making tackles, always making big plays," Ware said. "He's going to bring the tenacity of that defense and make those big, hard hits to get everything going."
And one of the main guys he listens to when reviewing film and taking critiques is fellow Texan Aqib Talib. The cornerback likes to tell the defensive end where to drop in the zone or which pass routes he should see, and Ware likes that.
"Having a guy like that at corner but knowing the free safety stuff, knowing the strong safety stuff, knowing everything of the defense...that's the type of guy you want," Ware said, adding that Talib is really hard worker but also knows when to let loose.
Ware likes that too.
"Sometimes [Talib] is going to be the silent quiet guy who wants to get into the wide receiver's face and really smash him, or he's going to be the guy dancing on the sideline, teaching you dance moves and making you laugh," Ware said, acknowledging Talib has taught him a few moves to break out after a big play. "That's going to come out in the first game. I have to make a play first. It's the only way you get that opportunity."
Everything about Ware is team-oriented. Big picture.
Leaving the Cowboys and joining the Broncos was all about taking care of him and his family.
Putting everything out there for the Broncos in this second life of his career is all about taking care of the team and making sure its leader has the chance to win games.
Though Ware and Peyton Manning play on opposite sides of the ball, Ware couldn't have more respect for the Broncos quarterback (even if he doesn't think his "Rocky Top"-loving QB can dance all that well).
"He gets after it in the weight room, and that's where I think it starts - really focusing on what he needs to do to get his body right," Ware said. "But then he does the same thing getting in the playbook, making sure all the guys are where they need to be. That's the type of leader you want on your team."
And so is Ware.
My dad is a Texan - so dedicated, in fact, that when I was born, the doctor (also a Texan) suggested putting dirt from his Texas cactus on the floor so my dad could claim I was born on Texas soil. So I get this desire to "go home."
It's fine with me if Ware wants to retire a Cowboy.
I'm just ecstatic the Broncos get to have him before that.