DENVER** – There's never been any doubt that every member of the Denver Broncos has played for the teammates who stand beside him on the field, and the Broncos' AFC Championship victory against the New England Patriots was no different.
Their ticket is punched to Super Bowl 50 and they're excited to be named the AFC Champions — but a World Championship would mean much more to anyone on the team.
No one wants to think about the Broncos' previous Super Bowl appearance against the Seahawks, but it's on the minds of outside linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe. All three Broncos missed the previous Super Bowl due to injury and now will be essential cogs in the Broncos No. 1-ranked defense.
The Broncos lead the Patriots in the first half of the AFC Championship.
The Super Bowl will also be a first for new members of the Broncos team, including veteran tight end Owen Daniels and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Both Daniels and Ware have played in the NFL for more than 10 years without advancing to even a conference championship and turned in big performances against New England.
Daniels, who has played under Head Coach Gary Kubiak for 10 seasons, hauled in two touchdowns in his first AFC Championship appearance.
"I'm thankful for the opportunities today," Daniels said. "They're not always there for you. You never know when it's going to happen, what kind of game is going to happen. For it to happen today in this game, a game I've never played in, it really means a lot to me."
Ware, an 11-year veteran, helped the Broncos hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 20 times with seven hits of his own. But his major contribution to the game may have come Saturday night.
"The night before the game, I always talk to the guys, but I'll have one player address the football team before we call it a night," Kubiak said. "I let DeMarcus do that. I could sit here all day and talk about it, but he was just tremendous for this team. He basically told them how much the opportunity to possibly play for a Super Bowl meant to him and how much it meant for him to be a part of the team. It was very powerful."
"We have a motto on this team that iron sharpens iron and another man sharpens another," Ware said. "I said, 'We melted down that metal. I said, 'The only way you're going to make metal hard, is if you beat it down.' I said, 'We beat it to this thing,' and I opened up and I pulled out the first Super Bowl trophy that the Broncos won. I sat it on the table, and I just got really quiet. I saw in all the guys' eyes how they felt, what they felt, because I felt the same way. […] I said, 'The Patriots are coming into our house trying to take what we built.'"
Miller in particular was empowered by Ware's speech, as he grew up idolizing Ware's physical style of play.
"He's a natural leader," Miller said. "The only thing that he needs is a Super Bowl. Him being my idol, I'm going to lay my heart on the line for him."
The Broncos will now get a week off before leaving on Sunday for Santa Clara, turning their attention to the Carolina Panthers.
But unlike their last Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos feel stronger than ever.
"We're here. We're back," Miller said. "It's not just me -- it's Wolfe and Chris. When I look at those guys and you can just tell it's more than just today. It's more than just the Super Bowl. When you have guys like that and you have teammates like that, it's easy to lay your neck out on the line for those guys. That's what I intend to do."