CANTON, Ohio — As DeMarcus Ware officially entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2023 this weekend, he welcomed the company of many of his friends and former teammates to help celebrate the occasion.
Several Broncos teammates and coaches who helped him reach the pinnacle of the sport with a championship victory in Super Bowl 50 made the journey to Canton to watch his crowning moment, and they were thrilled to be there.
"[I'm] really proud of him," fellow Hall of Famer Peyton Manning said Saturday. "What a great teammate. Unselfish, hard-working — we saw all those things kind of play in his speech. All the people that he thanked that's been part of his life, the sacrifices that he's had to make, and it all came to fruition today. Wish I could have played with him longer. He was that good of a teammate. His leadership and work ethic really kind of permeated throughout our whole team, especially our defense with young players like Von. And obviously a huge part of that Super Bowl 50 championship team."
Manning knew Ware well from their extensive overlapping time in the NFL — especially since Manning's brother, Eli, had the unfortunate distinction of being the quarterback Ware sacked the most in his career. When Ware became a free agent in 2013, Manning helped make the push to bring Ware to Denver.
"I thought we had a chance to get him, and you go back to your college days when you were recruiting a freshman," Manning said. "I knew DeMarcus. I said, 'Look, I'm tired of watching you sack the Mannings — either me on the Colts or Eli. I want you to come play with one of us.' I was glad he came to Denver. And his impact was immediate, right away. It was a real honor and privilege to play with him, and especially now, to call him a friend."
During that 2015 championship season, Manning and Ware each battled back from injuries during the season to return for the postseason run, and during that time, they continued to form a unique bond.
"You saw DeMarcus talking ... in his speech about his teammates and how you help each other out and check on each other," Manning said. "DeMarcus, he and I being veteran players on that team, talked a lot, spent a lot of time together as the offensive and defensive leaders. It was a special relationship."
For the Broncos' head coach at the time, Gary Kubiak, that was a luxury — one that he very much appreciated.
"I thought we had two of the greatest leaders in football," Kubiak said. "One on offense in Peyton, and [Ware] on defense. Made my life very easy. You always admire them as a player, but when you get to know them as people, that's how they end up here. He's a special person."
Ware also had a particularly meaningful bond with Von Miller, the other big star from Super Bowl 50. Miller, a Texas native, looked up to Ware and was mentored by the legendary pass-rusher, helping mold him into one of the best players of his generation.
"DeMarcus, I owe him my career," Miller said. "When he came to the Denver Broncos, it was life-changing for me as an example of how to do it, on and off the football field. One of my golf buddies … one of my brothers, man — I love DeMarcus. This is where he belongs."
In their years on the field together, the Broncos' pass rush was a force. Ware created highlight plays — remember the fake spin move against the 49ers? — but also pushed the team forward beyond his level of play.
"His ability to get to the quarterback helped us win a Super Bowl," Miller said. "But I think his leadership qualities and the energy that he had and that he brought to the room was definitely a catalyst of getting us over the hump."
Younger players like Shaq Barrett found support from Ware, too, and for a guy just entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Ware's advice was crucial for his own development.
"D-Ware was everything," Barrett said. "His willingness to teach us and just give us all the information that he had — he was so knowledgeable about the game. So him extending an invite to me was a no-brainer that was I coming. I was just so happy and grateful that he did and that I meant as much to him as he meant to me, to send me the invite. So I'm like, If you send me the invite, I'm coming for sure, no matter what. [There's] nothing holding me back from coming to support him."