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Broncos' Super Bowl win a sweet victory for both T.J. Ward and his father

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A former pro defensive back in the 1980s, Terrell Ward, Sr., was finally able to experience the sheer joy of winning a Super Bowl through his son.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to believe it's been a week since the Broncos vaulted themselves to Super Bowl 50 champions on the backs of a No. 1 defense.

Go ahead and pinch yourself; it's still true.

Even the father of Broncos safety T.J. Ward is still a bit in awe of the win.

I'm just trying to put my feet back on the ground. I am on cloud nine. It was just a very, very special moment for me. -Terrell Ward, Sr., father of Broncos' safety T.J. Ward.

"I'm just trying to put my feet back on the ground. I am on cloud nine," says Terrell. "It was just a very, very special moment for me. It doesn't get any better."

The Broncos' 24-10 silencing of the Panthers wasn't totally unexpected for the elder Ward, but as a former NFL player himself, he knows how tough it is to get to the Super Bowl - let alone win it.

"You just never know. Anything can happen," Terrell said following the victory in which his son - who is named after him - had a significant part in the Broncos earning their third Lombardi Trophy. "You just never know. It is too hard to get to this game."

It's not as if the Super Bowl experience is foreign to Terrell, who was a defensive back on the Super Bowl-bound Eagles nearly four decades ago.

But winning the Super Bowl is definitely a new experience - and he loves it.

"It's just such a great feeling," Terrell said.

Drafted by the Dick Vermeil-coached and Ron Jaworski-led Eagles in 1980, Terrell was part of a group that experienced the lowest of lows when his team lost 27-10 to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

Though Terrell "was just a spectator" to that game thanks to an ACL injury, losing the biggest game in football is never forgotten.

Until you experience the highest of highs from winning.

And don't think for a second, Terrell and T.J. don't consider Sunday's victory a family trophy.

"I feel like we all won it," Terrell says of the Super Bowl win. "We know all the trials and tribulations T.J. has gone through, so he won it, but it's a win-win for everybody."

Those trials include injuries that have sometimes held T.J. back - a broken patella his senior year while at the powerhouse De La Salle High School prevented a college scholarship; an ankle injury his senior year at the University of Oregon held him out of several games; a foot injury his third year at the Cleveland Browns ended in an IR designation; and an ankle injury this season prevented the strong safety from playing all 19 games.

There was also the tragic murder of his best friend and high school teammate, Terrance Kelly, the day before the two were to head to Oregon for college - "T.K." as a scholarship athlete and T.J. as a walk on.

All of those things have fueled the chip T.J. carries on his shoulder when he's on the field. It's not anger as much as pure desire to prove he's worthy of the spot on the roster.

In fact, to some small extent, T.J. considers the death of his friend to be part of the reason he ultimately made it to be a Super Bowl champion.

"I know T.K. would be proud of me. Honestly to say that I would be here right now without T.K., it is kind of hard because that was a lot of drive behind my fight," T.J. said in the days leading up to Super Bowl 50. "It has been a journey you know, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. You know, all the things I have been through have definitely made how I am, and it is a blessing to be here."

T.J.'s road to Super Bowl 50 really started in 2014 when he was brought to Denver via free agency specifically to make the defense tougher - along with Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware.

Before the 2015 season, T.J. and other members of the defense couldn't hide their excitement over the plan to move to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

"[The 3-4] takes a little bit of pressure off of me as far as having to take on blockers, offensive lineman and things like that," T.J. said, adding that he thought Phillips would be using his attributes better. He reiterated that last week before the Super Bowl. "I love it. He uses me the way I should be used - moving me around, playing free and strong, in the box, blitzing, playing me everywhere, the offense not knowing where I'm going to be."

T.J.'s father and forever coach also credits the new DC with making this Broncos defense so good by taking advantage of all the players' strengths.

"Elway put this defense together piece by piece and [Jack] Del Rio had all the same pieces, but the real piece for this defense was Wade Phillips," says Terrell, naming playmaker after playmaker. "I mean you have Roby then T.J. and Stew being dynamic up the middle, Trevathan and Marshall plus Wolfe and Malik...I mean, where is the weakness? THERE IS NO WEAKNESS!"

But it was also the mentality instilled by Gary Kubiak from the get-go that Terrell believes helped this Broncos team peak for the biggest game of the year.

"T.J. said that Kubiak kept saying let's be the best team in January and February. Focus and channel the energy to that," Terrell added. "And that's what they did."

The fact that T.J. and the Broncos won this in San Francisco was even more special for the Ward family. This is their home. This is where their friends and football family have been for decades.

Watching the Super Bowl from inside the 49ers stadium was extra special for the Wards too since that was the team they followed while their three kids were growing up. To be watching his oldest son make it to this game - and be able to compete in it - was a dream come true for Terrell.

As T.J.'s coach in Pee Wee and later as secondary coach for his De La Salle team, Terrell is accustomed to breaking down film with his son. But he knows better than to start that conversation with his oldest.

"You know I just let him break it down with me when he's ready," Terrell says, laughing, "and then he won't shut up about it."

Terrell, whose youngest son Terron signed a rookie contract with the Atlanta Falcons this past season, "plays every play" with his boys when he watches their games.

With Terron that involves talking him through how to beat the defense during a run. But with T.J., Terrell is scanning the field with him.

"I'm playing every snap," Terrell admits. He and his wife LaNeita try to go to every home game of both boys. Now with two in the pros, that often means dividing and conquering. "That's just me. I'm always playing with him every play."

When T.J. got his first interception of the season midway through the third quarter of the Super Bowl, Terrell was screaming at his son, "Stay on your feet, stay on your feet!"

Although T.J. lost the ball (which was thankfully recovered by Danny Trevathan), the Ward family was going nuts in the stadium.

It doesn't get any more special than winning the Super Bowl. -T.J. Ward, safety

"For it to be his final game of the season, the biggest game of the year and the biggest game of his life to get that INT," Terrell recalled, "we were all just so excited."

Three days before the Super Bowl, I asked T.J. how ready he was to just play the game.

"You see the smile on my face? I can't wait to get out there," he responded. Then as if he were predicting the outcome, he added, "It doesn't get any more special than winning the Super Bowl."

Terrell certainly felt the same way as he aptly described feeling a "mile high" after realizing his son's team had actually just won the Super Bowl.

And he knew his normally son was feeling the same when he saw T.J. after the game.

"I knew he was ecstatic," Terrell said. "He loves this team. You know your child, and he was at another level of joy."