Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining time that was known as the No-Fly Zone. Wot!
“That was the best ever,’’ Chris Harris Jr. says.
The Broncos’ defense of the Super Bowl 50 season forever shall be remembered as one of the NFL’s five most spectacular with defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, linebackers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Malik Jackson, Brandon Marshall and Dan Trevathan and a secondary of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Bradley Roby and Harris.
Coached by Wade Phillips, the Broncos’ defense was No. 1 in the league in yardage allowed per game (283.1), passing yards (199.6) and sacks (52). The Broncos had 27 interceptions and recovered fumbles, were third against the rush (83.6), fourth in points permitted (18.5) and third in defensive touchdowns (5).
The defense limited 10 opponents to 20 points or fewer, and five Broncos, including Harris, were voted to the Pro Bowl.
In the postseason the Broncos beat the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger, the Patriots and Tom Brady and the Panthers and Cam Newton. They held the three teams to 16,18 and 10 points.
When Chris and I talked Friday following the Chargers’ practice, he was using wife Leah’s cellphone. After interceptions and passes deflected in ’15, Harris would race around with arms spread in the manner of wings. Leah Harris, a brilliant marketing executive, was originator of the “No-Fly Zone’’ moniker that stuck like Steel Curtain, the Doomsday Defense, the Legion of Boom and Orange Crush.
A year later, though, the defense began to fissure, and the Broncos went into a tailspin they haven’t recovered from six seasons later. The Mile High-flyers all are gone now.
Miller was the last man standing until Nov. 2 when he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Harris, as a free agent, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020.
Oddly, the two 32-year-old close friends and teammates beginning in 2011, one as the No. 2 pick overall and other as an undrafted free agent, are playing home games in the same stadium again. Miller and Harris could be adversaries in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium.
“Amazing,’’ Chris said. “Von and I both wind up in L.A. trying to get back to the championship.’’
I told Harris that Miller, who will become an unrestricted free agent, said upon splitting from the Broncos that he might return to the team someday. “I’m thinking the same thing,’’ Chris said. “You never say never.’’ They definitely could be inducted in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame together in 10 years or so. “One of my major goals is to be in the Ring of Fame, and I definitely expect it will happen for Von and me. But we’ve got a lot more to do before then,’’ said Harris, whose two-year deal with the Chargers lapses after the current year.
Chris Harris Jr. returns to Denver Sunday.
“I’m sure the fans will be pulling for the Broncos, but I think they’ll be cheering for me personally,’’ Chris said. “And I’m looking forward to see my old guys again.’’
The ride with the Chargers has been rough for Harris. He has missed nine games in 2020-21 with a foot, then a shoulder injury. “Friendly fire and quirky injuries.’’ For the first time in his career, Chris, a fan favorite in Denver, has been subjected to criticism in Los Angeles from those few who care about the franchise.
“The last three games, especially against the Steelers last week, I’ve finally felt 100 percent. We’re right here in a run to the playoffs, and I’ve got to be whatever (the defensive coaches) need down the stretch.’’ In regard to the Chargers’ lack of support, he said: “It’s certainly not like Denver. We feel on the road at home. We have to generate our own motivation. We getting it going. First time the league seems wide open for the Super Bowl.’’
Chris loves Justin Herbert. “I’ve played with two great quarterbacks in my career.’’
The Chargers are last in the league against the run, so Chris anticipates a full load from the Broncos. “We stopped Najee Harris (39 yards). We’ve got to do it again.’’ And with cornerback Asante Samuel out with a concussion for the second time, Chris will get the brunt of the burden vs. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick.
In his 78th game in Denver Chris Harris Jr. must create his own No-Fly Zone against the Broncos.