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Gazette Premium Content Air Force defensive coordinator recalls experience of earning two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos

2 photos photo - Denver's Steve Russ, 58, chases Kansas City Chiefs' Tamarick Vanover during a punt return on Dec. 5, 1999. The Chiefs defeated the Broncos 16-10.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) + caption
Denver's Steve Russ, 58, chases Kansas City Chiefs' Tamarick Vanover during a punt return on Dec. 5, 1999. The Chiefs defeated the Broncos 16-10. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
By Brent Briggeman Updated: January 31, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Steve Russ's misfortune in no way tarnishes the most special memories of his football career.

The newly named Air Force defensive coordinator earned rings the past two times the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in the late 1990s, but he didn't get the opportunity to play in either game.

The second time a broken leg sidelined him, so it wasn't exactly a surprise that he wouldn't play. But the first time it was a high-ankle sprain suffered on the final kickoff of the final regular-season game that led to the last-minute decision to make him inactive rather than tinker with the combination that had taken the John Elway-led squad through the playoffs.

"They didn't want to mess with the lineup," the former linebacker and Air Force graduate said. "I understand that. Heck, I understand it even better now as a coach.

"Every young man who plays football from Pop Warner on up dreams of playing in one," Russ continued. "Obviously, I would have loved to play in one of them, but everybody has roles on teams."

Despite not actually playing in either game, Russ has clear memories of both experiences and can relate to what the current Broncos - including fellow Air Force grad and practice squad member Ben Garland - have been going through.

"We maintained normalcy by maintaining normalcy," Russ said. "It was time to go out and work and keep in the same routine. You tried to do as much preparation as you could at your home site before traveling for the Super Bowl, because that's when the distractions really start and people are trying to pull you different ways."

Russ recalls the Broncos' final practice in Atlanta as the best of the season, as the "ball never touched the ground on offense."

Because the league and sponsors give players plenty of memorabilia, Russ said he never felt a need to venture out to purchase anything and was content staying in a team-created bubble.

"You just wanted to stay focused and remember why you were there," he said. "But, sure, you did enjoy it a little bit."

As far as nerves, the biggest problem is staying calm through an extended time in the locker room during both pregame and halftime.

Russ has been engulfed in the final recruiting push before signing day Wednesday, but weekend visits will be completed by Sunday evening and he'll be able to focus on watching his former team.

"I'll watch it and cheer for the Broncos and just be a fan," Russ said. "I don't get to be a fan very often, but I will be on Sunday night."

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