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Seeing is believing: Von Miller's path to become the Broncos' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee

Von Miller had been betrayed.

The Broncos’ star outside linebacker had been told he was needed for an interview about his 100th career sack, but it was a ruse.

Miller was walking into a trap as he entered the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, and not only was he unprepared, but his mouth was full of food as he tried to scarf down his lunch before the supposed interview.

“Peyton Manning,” he managed to muffle without choking.

Miller’s friend, former teammate and fellow Super Bowl 50 champion was there waiting for him, dressed exactly like a James Bond villain in blue jeans and a brown quarter-zip sweater.

“You probably don’t like surprises, just like quarterbacks don’t like it when you surprise them and hit them in the back, but I’ve got a little surprise,” Manning said.

But Manning had no dastardly motive for this meeting. Rather, he was the bearer of good news.

“It was great being your teammate for four years and seeing you do great things on the field,” Manning said, “but it’s even been better to watch how you’ve been so great to the community here in Denver [with] Von’s Vision, your foundation — 7,000 kids that you’ve impacted with eyewear for lower-income children helping them in school and the classroom and in life — all the things you’ve done with the Broncos’ community relations, with Make-A-Wish, the Boys & Girls Club, Global Down Syndrome [Foundation]. So I’m proud of you on the field, but even more proud of you for what you’re doing off the field and how you’ve grown.

“You are the Broncos’ nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.”

With that, Manning took a blue draping off an easel in front of him and Miller, unveiling a framed No. 58 Broncos jersey with the letters “WP MOY” on the nameplate.

Miller was speechless.

And then Manning revealed the next step of the surprise. From a supply closet off to the side, Miller’s mother emerged, and then his father, his brother and finally, Tony Jerod-Eddie, his longtime friend and someone he considers a brother.

“They’ve been in there since last night,” Manning joked.

Surrounded by his family and Manning, Miller added another triumph to a career and life that has no shortage of them because of his skills on the football field.

When the NFL announces the winner in February the day before Super Bowl LIII, Miller will have the chance to follow in Manning’s footsteps (he was named Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2005) and continue making a legacy worthy of his name.

If that were to happen, it wouldn’t just be a testament to Miller’s community work since joining the NFL. It would be a testament to the kind of person Miller has grown to become ever since he was a child.

When Von is asked about why he does what he does in the community, he usually brings it back to Uncle Ben. That would be Peter Parker’s — or, should we say, Spider-Man’s — uncle, not Von’s.

Von connects with Uncle Ben because of his famous quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

But even before Miller had great power — well before he was even a star linebacker at Texas A&M — he felt great responsibility and did his best to act upon it.

Naturally, that has created countless memories for each member of his family over the years.

Gloria, Von’s mother, remembers a time when Von, then in kindergarten or at about that age, divided the donut holes he brought in to school so that everyone in his class who didn’t have snacks would have something to eat. Jerod-Eddie cannot forget when Von invited him to live in the Miller household after hearing that Jerod-Eddie’s family was moving and that he’d have to transfer schools. That, of course, is why Von considers him another brother.

But there’s one story that has stood out over the years for many of them.

“I got a story,” said Von’s brother, Vins. “Way, way, way back, when we were young.”

At the time, Von was 6. Vins was 4.

The family was in line at a drive-thru at a Burger King in south Dallas when a homeless man approached the car window while they were idling by the intercom to order.

“He’s asking my mom for quarters, or anything,” Von said. “And I’m in the backseat, and I had never seen a homeless guy. This was my very first time seeing a homeless guy, and he’s asking my mom for money.”

South Dallas was a part of the city with which Von wasn’t familiar. Compared to his hometown of DeSoto, a suburb just south of Dallas’ city limits, the neighborhood of South Dallas was “a whole different world.”

Gloria hesitated at the request — no doubt in part because she was surprised by the unexpected contact. Von, being just 6 years old, couldn’t completely grasp the situation, but he knew someone should do something.

So, Von did something.

“Von started crying,” Vins recalled. “My dad was like, ‘Von, why are you crying?’”

For Von, it was simple.

“Keep in mind, this is the early ages, and I’m looking at what we have,” Von said. “I’m looking at what me, my mom, my brother were driving in. I’m looking at the type of home that we live in. And I’m like, Man, we can give something back to him.

Now, 23 or so years later, Von can put it eloquently. Then, however, it came out a little differently.

“I’m 6 years old and I’m bawling in the back,” Von said. “That moved my mom to go back and buy him whatever he wanted on the menu. I think she got him three or four burgers and drinks and stuff.”

That, all the Millers would come to understand, was just Von being Von.

“He’s kind of always been that way,” said Von’s dad, Von Sr. “He’s always had that heart to see people in need and want to help them.”

And that won’t change.

“I haven’t lost that spirit,” Von said. “If anything, it’s gotten greater. When I wake up in the morning and I roll out of bed and I see the things that I have, I feel there’s so much that I can give to people. And if I can do it, I’m going to do it.”

Wearing glasses has been a constant for Von Miller since he was a kid. At this point, it’s hard to imagine Von without them.

But he almost made a decision to get rid of them.

“Actually, what we were going to do was get his eyes fixed coming out of college,” Gloria said. “And he’s like, ‘No, no. I’m not going to get it, because I want kids to know it’s cool to wear glasses, that they’ll be OK to wear glasses.’

“And so he never got ‘em fixed.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t. By thinking that way, Miller retained a reminder of something that is inherently him, and that in turn informed his decision for what his foundation would be.

“It took me a year to really figure out what I wanted to do, what did I want to have [be] my fingerprint,” Von said. “I was sitting down one day and was playing with my glasses and I was like, ‘Glasses, contacts — that’s what I’m going to do for underprivileged kids.’ My whole entire life, I’ve battled with vision problems, not having a decent pair of glasses or contacts. I figured that that was my way to give back. That’s something that could have my fingerprint on.”

Through that path, Von has made an impact that connects him to every individual Von’s Vision touches.

Most times, those are kids who didn’t have the resources to get vision checks and eyewear, if they need it.

Once, however, Von’s Vision had a bigger impact on a kid’s life than they expected.

“Through one of the exams on Von’s Vision Day, we found out that one of the kids had cancer in his eye,” Von said. “And he would have never known unless he had that eye exam. We took care of all his treatments and everything that came after that. But to know that one of Von’s Vision Days potentially saved one of these children’s eyesight or vision — or life, for that matter — is pretty cool. It’s pretty amazing.”

These are the things that build a legacy beyond football.

That’s something Peyton Manning came to understand during his career — that’s what made him a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner — and that’s the kind of person Miller wants to be.

“I learned with Peyton Manning — for one, he’s the most consistent guy that I know — and I learned that no matter what the situation is, it’s never too big and never too small,” Von said. “And in every situation, he’s going be Peyton Manning. He’s going to be the Peyton Manning that he’s on the football field, off the football field — whether that’s giving back or being a teammate. He’s always going to be Peyton Manning. He’s going to be the GOAT in life.”

Von wants that kind of balance, too. He wants to have the same kind of impact on the community that he has on the field. But he knows he won’t always have the spotlight he has now. He’ll have to maximize his time in the NFL to maximize his efforts elsewhere, and he’s devoted to that.

“As a football player, you have a short moment to be great, and you want that short moment to live as long as possible,” Von said. “I do think about it a lot, and whether that’s on the football field or off the football field, I want to create a legacy that’s going to last a while.”

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