ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Emmanuel Sanders knows what it takes to be a champion.
The former Broncos wide receiver, who announced on Wednesday that he would be retiring from the NFL as a Bronco, posted an outstanding 12-year career, which consisted of two Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl championship.
Sanders came to Denver to play with Peyton Manning and win a championship — and that's exactly what he did. The 2015 Broncos' dominant season en route to a Super Bowl 50 victory was made possible by the formidable duo of Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, who each posted 1,000-plus receiving yards that year.
The 2015 team was special, and many people see the same potential in the 2022 Broncos. Having won at the highest level, Sanders had advice for this year's team on how to put together a championship season.
"It's going to be ups and downs," Sanders said in the press conference following his retirement. "You're going to have to jell as a team, you're going to have to believe in each other — offense and defense, special teams, everybody has to play off each other. It can't just be one-sided. Truthfully, it's one of those situations where, I remember when we got in the playoffs, I was just like, 'I'm going to give it my all,' but at the end of the day, if it's part of our destiny it's part of our destiny."
As important as on-field success is — and the 2015 Broncos had a lot of that, with a 12-4 record in the regular season — Sanders said that it was the team's close bond off the field that allowed them to form the necessary trust and belief in each other. To Sanders, the silliness, the laughter and the friendship were important parts of that championship season.
"That team, we had fun," Sanders recounted. "…Our camaraderie on the field was the same as off the field. [The 2022 Broncos] don't have to do this, but that 2015 team, we were crazy, dude. Like, truthfully, we were crazy. You know how much money we spent on clothes? I think Sports Illustrated named us the most fashionable team or something. … We would have a pot of, 'Okay, you're the best-dressed this week,' so I'm like, 'I've got to top them, I've got to top them next week.' We had fun, and one of my fondest memories is, I remember all of us had the jewelry and Peyton would come in and say, 'I want to try on the jewelry,' so we all took our jewelry off and put it on Peyton, and Peyton's sitting there with all the jewelry on."
Sanders explained that even if all the right pieces are in place, winning a Super Bowl sometimes takes an individual leader convincing the team that they have what it takes to become champions.
"It was just a special group, and in order to do something special, you've got to come together and be special," Sanders said. "Sometimes it just starts with one or two people saying, 'We're going to be special,' and start to change everybody. That's why we were able to do it."
One of the players on the 2022 Broncos who can inspire the team to be special, Sanders noted, is Courtland Sutton.
Sanders and Sutton overlapped on the Broncos for less than two seasons, but Sanders could immediately tell that the young wide receiver had what it takes to be a star. Now as a veteran and a captain for the second straight year, Sutton has become one of the team's most respected leaders.
"You should see this guy play ball," Sanders said. "If somebody's coming into the Broncos organization, on this team, go put on the film and watch Courtland Sutton play. Every single play he's going 100 percent, every single rep. He's a guy that I'm saying … is the example that can make this place special. Because how can you practice bad when you're looking at this guy and saying, 'Man, look at this guy go hard. Look at the accolades he's obtaining. Why am I going half-speed?' That's why he's a captain, because he's a great example. And he will continuously be that because that's how Courtland is."
Sanders is not the only one who recognizes Sutton's strength as a leader. Sutton has come to see this quality in himself, and he said that he tries to use his experience to guide and uplift younger players.
"You probably won't hear me as much, but I try to lead by example and try to show the guys what the right way [is]," Sutton said after being named a 2022 team captain. "I'll take guys off to the side and talk to them. …Take them off to the side, talk to them and help them understand because I feel like that's the best way to be able to learn. I try to do that for the young guys and anybody else who needs advice or help with whatever is going on."
With players like Sutton inspiring his teammates to reach their highest potential, the 2022 Broncos are on the right track to emulate the 2015 team's success.