When the clock hit all zeroes at Super Bowl 50 and confetti filled the air, chaos reigned on the field.
Broncos players, coaches and staff members rushed in from the sideline and those from the Panthers made their way to midfield to offer their congratulations, and hundreds of media members swarmed to the middle of the field to capture the indelible moments of ecstasy for the victors and anguish for the defeated. At the same time, the stadium crew worked to build the impromptu stage used to present the Lombardi Trophy.
Amid that pandemonium, Owen Daniels wanted to find one person more than anyone, family members excluded: Gary Kubiak.
Among players on the roster, Daniels was perhaps the closest with the head coach, who announced his retirement from coaching on Thursday. He had been with Kubiak ever since 2006 — eight years with the Texans, one season with the Ravens when Kubiak was their offensive coordinator, and then the 2015 season in Denver. Without Kubiak, Daniels says, he believes that his career may have ended after 2013 because teams were hesitant to sign him due to some lingering knee problems.
"Once I got released from Houston, I had visited a few teams and they're all failing me on my physical," Daniels says. "I was like, Oh my God, will I get another chance to play? I know I can play. I feel fine to play. There's that other side of it, the business and medical side, that I didn't really have to go through that process when I was in Houston. And partly, probably, was because of Coach Kubiak. Him getting the OC job in Baltimore and, at that time it was April, I don't think I had signed anywhere yet. It was kind of getting to that point where, Well, am I going to play or am I not going to play?
"I don't know if this is true, but I think that he was vouching for me. … Like, Hey, he can play. I know what the knee looks like on an MRI, but he can play. And I think it was kind of the same thing coming to Denver, getting an opportunity to go to a place and continue to work for Coach Kubiak."
In Baltimore and Denver, Daniels continued to prove that he was up to the challenge. The two-time Pro Bowler caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns with the Ravens and 46 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns with the Broncos. In the leadup to Super Bowl 50, Daniels was invaluable, as he caught two touchdowns in the AFC Championship.
So in the afterglow of the Super Bowl, the hard work and memories that he shared with Kubiak came flooding back to him.
"We had been through a ton in Houston together as far as … helping take the franchise from a losing franchise to something that was respectable and would win division championships," Daniels says. "That took a lot of work, and that helped our relationship grow stronger."
What made Kubiak special as a coach hadn't been the achievements, though. It was about the person he was and the way he treated others.
"With 'Kub,' he wants to teach you the game and he wants every player to become a really hard worker and he wants everyone to be accountable and sacrifice for their teammates, but really it's, for me, him sharing his life experiences and the lessons that he's learned in life and passed that down to us," Daniels says. "It's something that I really appreciate and respect. And he's a guy that I can trust. I think I've always had that perspective of him just because looking at his history and his experience in the NFL, his experience with football, his experience with life, that I think that's part of the reason why I trusted him so much over the years.
"Like, why does a player like a certain coach so much? For me it was OK, this guy played as long as he did — eight, nine or 10 years or something like that — and obviously backed up one of the greatest of all time, and coached [in] Super Bowls. So if you're a player that wants to get to the point that we got to — I mean, for us it took 10 years together to get there, but it was worth the wait and almost made it even more memorable and makes me cherish that time even more so, because it didn't come easy. It was a lot of work over those years and a lot of trust that I put in him and that he put in me over those years. He's a fantastic individual."
Below the Fold
Kubiak, who won three Super Bowls with the Broncos (two as offensive coordinator, one as head coach), has had a remarkable and lengthy career in Denver. As Aric DiLalla notes, he is the only individual to play, coach and serve in the front office for the organization.