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Five from 50: Success bred sentimentality for Owen Daniels when championship capped 10-year career
In the next installment of our series for the fifth anniversary of Super Bowl 50, Owen Daniels reflects on how appreciated every moment leading up to, during and after Super Bowl 50 as it capped his 10-year NFL career.
By Ben Swanson Feb 02, 2021

With the fifth anniversary of Super Bowl 50 nearly upon us, we’re spending the week sharing stories from five players who made key plays in the game.Today, we hear from tight end Owen Daniels, whose two touchdowns in the AFC Championship helped get the Broncos to Super Bowl 50. Daniels had never been to the Super Bowl before and it would turn out to be his final NFL game, which would combine to make the overall experience a very sentimental one as he reflected upon it five years later.

Owen Daniels was feeling nostalgic as he got on the bus to Levi's Stadium.

Hours before the Super Bowl, he realized the significance of what was before him, and also what was behind him.

Moved by what he was thinking during the five- or 10-minute drive to Levi's Stadium, the 10-year veteran pulled out his phone.

"[It] wasn't a long bus ride, but I was able to fire off some text messages to family and friends," Daniels says. "I just felt this huge wave of gratitude to anyone who had been part of supporting me during my life and my career. Family, friends who helped me get through some tough times in my career and were there to support me all the way through. … They were my why, as guys like to say — the reason for playing.

"Why I get up in the morning, why I work so hard — why do I sacrifice? It's to get in this position. It's obviously great as a player to play in those games, but to have to close family and friends be able to experience that with me, I think it was as much as I could give them as far as a thank you for supporting me all those years."

He had taken an arduous path to reach this point, and midway between the Santa Clara Marriott and Levi's Stadium, he felt it.

"It's really hard to put into words what I was feeling at that time," Daniels says. "I just think I felt just so grateful to be in the position I was in, to have the support from my family over my whole career and now to be able to share my experience with my son was super, super special. I was pretty emotional that day and even on the bus ride to the stadium on game day."

Then he got off the bus, put on his sunglasses and went to work.

Daniels had been living in the moment for most of the week in the Bay Area, truth be told.

This experience — all of this, not just the game — was the culmination of years of hard work.

He entered the NFL in 2006 with the lowly Texans, a team just four years into existence and coming off a 2-14 season. In the years that followed, Daniels helped Houston become a more respectable franchise. Eventually they made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, but the furthest they got each time was the Divisional Round. He met the same postseason fate when he joined the Ravens in 2014.

Daniels knew this opportunity doesn't come often for most players. All that came with it were things to absorb, even the normally dull or bothersome events like doing media — though Opening Night tries to make it as fun as possible.

"The media day thing, I think some people kind of think it's a hassle; I embraced it as much as possible," Daniels says. "I think I had maybe a little bit different perspective on things [with it] being my 10th year in the league and my first opportunity to have that experience. I just really wanted to soak it all in. That was one of the things in general that season that I really tried to do, is just be present in the moments of those games. Like, when I ran out for starting lineups or when they're announcing the defense or whatever it was when we ran out there, I definitely took a moment to look around and feel that energy."

Some of it, Daniels admits, was that he had a sense that the 2015 campaign would be his last. As much as he loved the game and being part of team, he knew his knees were wearing down.

"I think that's about as reflective as I could be as a player at that time," Daniels says, "to kind of be aware — not that I hadn't been before that, but really taking those moments for myself to be, like, Holy cow, man. You're here. You're really doing this thing."

Preparing for the game, Daniels felt the accumulation of 10 NFL seasons on his joints. Normally, he would go out to the field quite early to warm up with a few routes. This time, he didn't, opting to warm up when the entire team left the locker room.

Still, he had his hopes that his two-touchdown performance against New England in the AFC Championship would lead into another great game in the Super Bowl.

After the first play from scrimmage, it seemed possible. Facing a blitz, Manning found Daniels for a pickup of 18 yards.

"I think every offensive player going into that game wants an opportunity to make plays and, … after the first play, I was like, Oh, shoot — this might be a big day for me again after the AFC Championship and going into the Super Bowl having a catch for 20 yards [on] the first play of the game," Daniels says. "I was excited. And then it was tough day for us offensively. So there weren't many more opportunities there, but I always cherish that chance to make a play and kind of get us rolling on that first drive."

Even though the drive stalled in the red zone, the Broncos got a field goal out of it and gave the Panthers their first deficit of the postseason.

Denver would not relinquish that lead, and even though Daniels wouldn't record another catch, he was just happy enough to be a champion — and to help send off his high-school hero, Peyton Manning, as a champion, too.

"Just to be in the huddle with him, for me, that year was just a dream come true," Daniels says. "I was a quarterback growing up — in high school and a couple of years in college — and that was a time when Peyton was doing his thing at Tennessee. I remember wearing a No. 16 Tennessee jersey to school — and now I'm in the huddle with this guy in the Super Bowl. Kind of a surreal experience, kind of just one of those things I'll never forget. And I'll probably never be able to show my appreciation for him as much as I feel."

When the game ended, Daniels sprinted from the sideline in an instance of pure emotional release.

"When it finally hit zero, I just ran," Daniels says. "… I ran, like, looking to the sky with my arms out, like I couldn't believe that I was in that position, on that field. I'm thinking back. The Super Bowl in general was a very reflective time for me, as far as thinking back to when I first started playing the game, up until that point in my life. I had been playing the game for about 25 years at that point. Just reflecting on my idea of the Super Bowl when I was young, and that I was actually living that, that dream, at the time. It was just my way of kind of soaking it all in, I think. There's a couple pictures that the press got of me running, and when I look at it, I can just go back to that moment, every time I look at it, and just feel exactly what I was feeling right then. Literally, it looks like I'm trying to just absorb all the energy that was flowing around the stadium at the time. I wish I could go back and do it again, man."

In the moments after that, Daniels sought out the people who had supported him the longest. One of those people was Head Coach Gary Kubiak, for whom Daniels had played his entire NFL career.

But more than that, he wanted his family on the field with him. He and his wife, Angela, had become parents a few months earlier. Their son Henry, about 6 months old, was with them, and even though he wouldn't remember this moment, it meant everything to his father.

"I couldn't find my wife and my son quick enough after the game," Daniels says. "… This was right after the game. Henry's got his headphones on — obviously it's super loud. This was the first game he had ever been to — way past his bedtime, way too loud in there. And with all the ticker tape falling, the confetti, you can just see the smile on my face right there. He obviously had no idea what was going on, but just pure joy out of me. I couldn't wait to get my hands on him and give my wife a hug and a kiss. My parents were there, my brothers and my sister were there. Just the people who mean the most to me were right there. I could touch 'em and hug 'em and kiss 'em after the game. It couldn't have been better."

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