It’s not often a defensive player becomes the face of the franchise.
Then again, a player like Von Miller does not come often either.
Although elite pass rushers seem to be a dime a dozen in the NFL of late, they are nothing more than copycats of Miller.
And while Miller is not the first premiere pass rusher to up the level of the defensive game for the NFL - nor for the Broncos - he is the first to be such a larger-than-life figure on and off the field.
Ever since he pulverized Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50, Miller has been on a quest to be better, faster, greater than each game before, which is never more evidenced than by his sack goal for this season - 30!
Perhaps, especially since his best to date is 18.5, and he now commands double-teams at every down, making a clean path to the QB virtually impossible.
But Miller prefers the bar be set high.
“I’m my biggest critic. ...If I’m not leading in sacks, I’ve got to do better. I need to figure out ways to get to the quarterback. I need to figure out ways to beat the double teams and beat the chip block,” Miller said just this week. “That’s just my individual goals. I’m going to always be hard on myself.”
More unique data. The most chipped defenders in the NFL from last season and so far this year pic.twitter.com/cotg8IVoes— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 5, 2017
But Miller’s desire to always get better and to never blame the double team or the obvious hold for his lack of sack production is only one reason he earns our Sportsperson of the Year for 2017.
Reinventing self as a focused leader
Part of it is how the Texas native has reinvented himself after being on a collision course for becoming just another NFL travesty.
To truly appreciate what Von Miller accomplished to become the Super Bowl 50 MVP, it's important to look back to 2013 - 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.
As a depressing offseason loomed, fortifying the defense was priority No. 1, but Miller's role in that was a little in question until former former Cowboys' edge rusher DeMarcus Ware came on the scene.
Miller himself gives 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 said after the Super Bowl that the nine-time Pro Bowler deserved a huge part of his own success.
"DeMarcus been everything and above for me," Miller said in 2016. "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."
Bringing the positive energy
With his quirky personality and adorable glasses, Miller became an instant superstar following his monstrous Super Bowl where he racked up 2.5 sacks on Newton, including two game-changing strip-sacks - one that set the tone and one that sealed the Broncos' 24-10 victory.
And that kind of energy and passion during the Super Bowl is something he has carried to the field every day in practice, every game, every news conference since.
Even as the post-Super Bowl glow wore off and the realities of a season with struggle loomed, Miller led by example, always calling on himself to do more.
The Broncos were a disappointing 9-7 team last season, but the defense remained strong and Miller remained positive. Whether the Super Bowl hangover was in effect or the young quarterback leading an inept offensive scheme was the main culprit, Miller could always be counted on for uplifting vibes, dances and laughs.
This season when the Broncos lost 26-16 to a tougher-than-expected Bills team, Miller took responsibility for a penalty that cost the Broncos crucial field position.
Rather than forcing fourth down and a punt for the offense to get another crack at coming back from a 23-16 deficit, a little “too slow” joke on Bills QB Tyrod Taylor from Miller after knocking him down incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Taylor led his team down the field enough to kick a field goal and put the game much more out of reach for a Broncos offense that had been unable to capitalize on preceding trips to the red zone.
Miller could have taken the easy way out and blamed the refs for a stupid call like the rest of us did.
Instead, he showed the maturity of a seasoned vet owning up to mistakes and taking the high road with the media. Something he clearly paid attention to with his mentors Ware and Peyton Manning.
“I just… I killed us,” he said after the Bills’ loss. “That mistake, it really put us over the top. There was really no coming back from that.”
Miller added that he “made a crucial mistake.”
“I’m always on the plus side, I’m always thinking ahead on how to put my teammates and my team when they have possession in great situations,” he said. “I’ve got be better than that. I really wasn’t thinking.”
Though Miller’s mistake did not cost the game, his accountability was worthy of the team captain role his teammates have placed on him.
There is perhaps no bigger example of a team player and a team leader on this Broncos squad than Von Miller.
For all these reasons and more there is no more deserving Sportsperson of the Year for 2016-17 than our favorite selfless - but fearless - edge rusher.