DENVER — New day. New Von.
Since the day John Elway framed a decade of Broncos football around the selection of a Texas A&M linebacker with the No. 2 pick, Miller has been the happy-go-lucky kid who wants nothing more than a smile and directions to the party.
The smile still lights up the room, and Lord knows he’s still down for a good time.
But these days No. 58 has added a sense of perspective that only age can bring.
What reshaped Von’s outlook on life, death and the vast in between? The coronavirus pandemic. The documentary on Michael Jordan’s final run with the Bulls. Kobe Bryant’s death.
“In humanity, whenever an artist like a rapper or a celebrity or somebody you think would never die — when they die you are taken back,” Miller said. “You kind of reflect on their whole life. You reflect on all the great things they did. You reflect on the person they were. It’s unfortunate that we’re like that as human beings.
"We should give guys their flowers while they’re here."
Tuesday on a Zoom call that came off like an enlightened therapy session, Miller proclaimed he has seen the light entering his 10th season with the Broncos. He aimed his sights on legends of the sports world. Kobe. Jordan. Elway. His football hero, DeMarcus Ware.
Perhaps it's worth a mention that Ware spent nine seasons with the same team before shipping over from the Cowboys to the Broncos. Ware was 31 in his final season with the Cowboys. Miller is 31 now. He knows time is ticking, and a football clock ticks faster than most. He pledged to squeeze every moment.
“I asked myself: Michael Jordan was the best that ever played. Was I really making that commitment to the game?” Miller said. “Was I really doing the same stuff that he did? Kobe was one of the best that ever played. Was I doing the things that Kobe was doing? Was I demanding more out of my teammates? Was I demanding more of myself?
“I looked in the mirror and I wasn’t.”
Von is nothing if not a networker. How many guys spend their Sundays smashing rivals into the turf ... only to follow-up with a nice bottle of red as a Christmas gift to the same rivals?
He knows people who know people. From jet-setting around the world on “a world celebrity tour,” as Peyton Manning called it, to cutting a rug on “Dancing with the Stars,” football’s often felt like a means to an end. That end was living life to its fullest — except, he said, he wasn’t.
“Most of all I feel like I can give more. I feel like I can be more. I don’t feel like I’m finished yet,” Miller said. “I wanted to come back here and play the best that I possibly could. I want to put everything into the offseason. I wanted to pour everything into myself and go out there and be the best I possibly could and see what happens.”
Kobe Bryant’s death in February summoned Miller’s reading glasses. He pored over “Mamba Mentality: How I Play.” Bryant called his book, “The ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.”
What stood out was “the foreword by Pau Gasol and the things that Phil Jackson said about him. I want my teammates to say that stuff about me,” Miller said. “I want my coaches to say that stuff about me. I want to demand more from my teammates. ”
He soaked in “The Last Dance,” the docuseries that served as a fix for starved sports fans. His takeaway was not Jordan’s gambling history or tendency to be a jerk to teammates — the flaws that made media headlines but totally missed the point. His takeaway: “Michael Jordan said he would never demand more out of his teammates that he wouldn’t demand about himself.”
The first nine seasons of Miller’s career, he often deferred leadership obligations. His approach could be summarized in a pat on the backside. We’ll get ’em next time. But this introspective Von sounded like a grown-up who’s going to bring a kick to the pants. Let’s get ‘em this time.
“I need to spend more time around Elway,” he said. “I need to spend more time around legends and see what makes these guys who they are and see what they did and try to rub off on me.”
Above all, Von promised leadership.
Good, and we’ll hold him to it. What defines NFL leadership in 2020 is different than ever before. It’s more important than ever before. It’s more about holding teammates accountable for coronavirus protocols than avoiding a holding penalty. It’s more about Monday through Saturday than Sunday. The only way the football world sees the superhero body that Miller has built is if players steer clear of the virus.
“The Broncos have put us in a great situation,” he said. “They’ve done everything they could possibly do to keep us safe.”
The old Von was a damn good time.
The new Von sounds like a man who realized our time is never guaranteed.