To truly appreciate what Von Miller accomplished to become Super Bowl MVP on Sunday, it's important to look back.
To the year Miller started down a path that could have made his NFL experience very different than it is today.
The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011 and Broncos' No. 1, Miller did exactly what the Broncos hoped and even expected - 11.5 sacks, 64 tackles and a message to the entire league that he was on his way to greatness.
The Texas Aggie even earned AP Defensive Rookie of the Year just to prove it.
The following season, he logged a massive 18.5 sacks on the season and six forced fumbles. With Peyton Manning running the offensive show that year, Miller had the defense firing. Had it not been for one very unfortunate play against the Ravens in the playoffs that year, the Broncos - armed with possibly its most healthy and complete team - likely could have gone on to greatness that year.
It was not to be, so the dreams of a Lombardi would get pushed to 2013. But for Miller, that third year would prove a trying one as it began with a six-game suspension over a drug violation and ended with an ACL injury suffered just one week before the end of the season. The historic Broncos offense that year would head to the Super Bowl without its biggest defensive weapon - and that would prove a huge blow when the Broncos faced a wily Russell Wilson in Super Bowl 48.
As a depressing offseason loomed, fortifying the defense was priority No. 1, but Miller's role in that was a little in question given the recent season.
Flash forward two months to the Broncos' free agency pickups that included former Cowboys' edge rusher DeMarcus Ware. Brought in as much for his sack production as for his leadership, whatever vision Elway had of Ware's potential impact on Miller, it should not be categorized as anything less than brilliant.
Sitting in the top 15 of all-time NFL sack leaders and averaging 15.5 sacks a year, the addition of then-31-year-old Ware was both to support and challenge the somewhat wayward Miller.
Miller himself gives so much credit to his edge-rushing counterpart for setting him on the straight and narrow - along with the undying support of his mom and dad and little brother. Calling Ware an "older brother, an uncle, a mentor, a friend, an idol," Miller believes the nine-time Pro Bowler deserves a huge part of his own success the last two years.
"DeMarcus been everything and above for me," Miller said in his news conference following the Super Bowl. "He influences me on a whole other level. You see greatness on an everyday basis. That's who I want to be like. It definitely influenced the type of person I am today."
Coach Gary Kubiak praised Miller for many things but above all his effort to be a better player, better person every day.
"The guy hasn't missed a day of practice since I came here, including offseason practice," Kubiak said after Miller was announced Super Bowl MVP. "He's an energized guy all the time - plays extremely hard, has a great passion to play, loves to dance at practice. He's a piece of work, but he loves to play football. That's the kind of guy you're looking for."
Broncos' GM John Elway acknowledged Ware's likely influence on his first draft pick when he signed Ware in a three-year $30-million deal. Two years later both players have more than lived up to their potential if by no other measure than Miller's 2015 season. Noting that he had not seen a more talented guy physically than Von Miller in 2011, Elway said Miller "has grown up quite a bit."
"I think it's a compliment to Von and the people around him with some of the things that he had to go through when he was younger," Elway said. "He's grown up tremendously. I think DeMarcus Ware has had a tremendous effect on him, too. He's been a big brother for him and Von has responded. That's why I'm happy for Von."
Miller's love for football and his team was certainly evident this season. From a regular season sack production standpoint, it was Miller's lowest with 11 sacks (except for 2013 when he had five sacks in nine games). But he was still the team leader on a "monster defense" that amassed 52 sacks this season.
"It was a matter of [Miller] channeling all of his talents in the right way, and I think you saw him do that this year," Elway added. "He picked up momentum, and the bigger that the game got, the bigger he played."
With a huge supporting cast and a friend/competitor on the other side of the field, Miller was pushed to be his best. And he knew that being one of the few defensive Super Bowl MVPs meant sharing the accomplishment with a group of friends.
"It just shows what type of defense that we've been playing. It's honestly not about me. If I could cut this award, I would give it to DeMarcus and [Derek] Wolfe and all the other guys. That's what I would do," Miller said. "This is all great and stuff, but for me, I want to be with my guys. I would take the ring, the MVP is great, but I'll take the ring. I want to go in there with my teammates."
The fact that Miller got to help Ware get his first Super Bowl ring after being in the league 11 years, only made the victory sweeter.
"It's beautiful. 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," Miller said. "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. To help him achieve greatness is something that I will remember for the rest of my life."
The entire defense dominated a Carolina Panthers offense that had been getting praise all week for being the best in the NFL and no match for anyone - even Miller and the No. 1 Broncos' defense.
Miller said after the Super Bowl there was no "making a statement" to the world on Sunday. It was really just to go play the type of defense the Broncos had been playing all year - and to win the game.
"We've just been the same group of guys that we've been all year long. We haven't really paid attention to the underdog talk. We know what type of team we are. We know what type of game we can play. We just focused around that," Miller said in his first comment after the Super Bowl. "We just played our game."
And our game was a huge credit to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who brought an already talented group of guys together to be amazing.
Miller made sure to point that out.
"Coach Phillips always likes to say that mistakes are on him, but the Super Bowl is on him, too," Miller said, giving credit to all the coaches - even former coach John Fox. But for Phillips, No. 58 had some special love. "We already had a talented team. It really wasn't a magical call that Coach Phillips could have called or a magical scheme. He just came in. He had a magical personality. It's truly an energy boost. We have all these guys who are just so in love with coaching. That definitely brings up the atmosphere in Dove Valley."
Miller's commanding performance against Newton and the Panthers could mean a huge pay day for Miller when he negotiates his contract this offseason, but the outside linebacker says he isn't concerned about it. Right now he wants to enjoy this win with "his guys."
"The Super Bowl MVP is special, but the Super Bowl ring is something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. I'll be able to be with my brothers for eternity. I'll be able to be with those guys for 100 years from now and that's truly beautiful," Miller said, adding that contract talks are "going to be a peaceful thing" but that's not his focus at all in this moment. "I am just enjoying being with my teammates, celebrating with those guys. That's where I want to be at right now."
Von Miller sack + FF?— NFL (@NFL) February 11, 2016
And the Broncos defensive TD?
Cam never had a chance.
Watch it... From every single angle. https://t.co/KhKSY8Qji9