CENTENNIAL - This was old-school Von Miller. This was Vonnie Football, the 20-something kid with thick glasses, quick with a one-liner, a living, breathing retweet.
"I think we've got some loose screws in the locker room," the Broncos' resident enigma announced Wednesday. "It's just a good balance of magnets and screws."
Which kind is the quarterback?
"Peyton is a screw," Miller said as he strolled away to the locker room. Laughs.
Is Vonnie Football back? Hope so. Because you can have Vonnie B'Vsean Miller, the legal name attached to the minor traffic violations last offseason. You can have the Miller suspended for six games for, yes, screwing up a drug test.
You can have that guy. As the Broncos stomped to the Super Bowl, that guy was a ghost of the player — shoot, a ghost of the person — we got to know in his first two seasons.
For months before he sustained a torn ACL in Week 16, the bubbly linebacker had devolved into a bitter old man telling us to get off his lawn. He spent more time playing Connect Four in the locker room than connecting quarterbacks to the turf.
The Broncos don't need that guy, whoever he was. They need Vonnie Football.
Not just for next season. For the next 10.
In a give-and-take with media at Dove Valley on Wednesday, football was reminded of what it had been missing when Vonnie Football went missing.
He characterized the Broncos locker room as a sort of misfit toolbox.
"I can't say who I think I am to you guys," he said. "You guys think I'm nuts."
He admitted, subtly, putting on weight before last season was a mistake and slowed down a dangerous pass-rusher who thrives on speed and quickness.
"That didn't work as well as I thought it would," he said.
He didn't claim he's in a leadership role but said he's available if the newcomers have a question. "I've been through every situation you can possibly be in on the field and off the field," he said.
Vonnie Football — not the impostor who stole his jersey last season — was the rare elite athlete who was more entertaining in conversation than he is on the field of play. The man has a chicken farm, for goodness sake.
When the rage of the NFL, Johnny Manziel, was on his way to a Heisman trophy, I asked Miller for an evaluation of his fellow Aggie.
"He took my name," Von said with a smile. "I'm Vonnie Football."
Miller expects to be ready for the season opener Sept. 7. Will Vonnie Football be back? Who knows, but his personality is coming back, and that's all we have to go on for now.
"It's going to be pretty scary once we get back to 100 (percent)," said Chris Harris, who is rehabilitating a knee injury alongside Miller during offseason workouts.
"I'm living the dream," Miller said.
On one hand, that freewheeling identity is what helped make Vonnie Football one of the top-three pass rushers in football. Neither J.J. Watt nor Robert Quinn had 30 sacks in their first two seasons, for example.
On the other hand, "living the dream" is what the Broncos should be worried about.
Before the Broncos decide if Miller is worth Clay Matthews money, they must find out if he loves the NFL game as much as he loves the NFL lifestyle. That's an answer that will affect the future of the franchise much longer than Manning's stay in Denver.
Matthews last year got an extension worth $66 million over five years. Miller's rookie contract expires after the 2015 season.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," John Elway told me last season.
The easy route is to claim Miller is a changed man, motivated by being forced to watch the Super Bowl from the sideline due to a knee injury.
If that's the case, why was Miller reportedly partying with the Seahawks the night of the Super Bowl disaster? That's more offensive than an unpaid speeding ticket.
Disrespecting the millions of fans who wondered what the heck happened on Super Bowl Sunday is a sure way to become unwanted.
With personality for days and a general manager, Elway, who believes Vonnie Football is the most talented player he's ever seen, Miller could have the state of Colorado under his thumb. Manning is his own empire. But take away the soccer moms who now must stuff their Decker 87 jerseys into the bottom drawer, and there's not a more popular uniform inside Sports Authority Field on football Sundays: Miller, 58.
It could be his, all of it, the fame and the fortune, the sacks and the love.
It's right there, man. Broncos Country might as well be begging you: Get back to being Vonnie Football. Be a screw, a magnet, a hammer or a bolt.
Just stop being a dolt.