Plenty to talk about

Demar­cus Ware re­fused to look at sto­ries about him­self dur­ing his ca­reer. But his for­mer team­mates have a lot to say.

The Denver Post - - NFL SUNDAY - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Demar­cus Ware is a sto­ry­teller and he’s got a few fa­vorites.

There’s that one from 2005, when he was a rookie with the Dal­las Cow­boys. Ware took the ad­vice of Greg El­lis, a guy he’d even­tu­ally eclipse to be­come the Cow­boys’ all-time sack leader, but of­ten re­counts what El­lis told him way back when.

“He told me all the time, ‘D-ware, I’m not fast. The thing is, I’m a tech­ni­cian and if you learn tech­nique, you can learn to be fast, you can learn to be quick, you can learn to over­come your in­ef­fi­cien­cies and be­come a bet­ter player,’ ” Ware re­called. “‘But if you’re very good and you have the tech­nique, then you’re un­stop­pable. Be­cause now you’re a think­ing ma­chine.’ ” Ware likes that story.

He also likes the one from 2014, when he was re­leased by the Cow­boys and hopped on a flight for Den­ver to meet with gen­eral man­ager John El­way and even­tu­ally sign a three-year deal. Cor­ner­back Aqib Talib was on that flight. Ware had no idea he, too, was go­ing to sign with Den­ver.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to pick up and start over, which is hard, but I ac­cept change,” Ware said. “I also knew what El­way was try­ing to do by bring­ing T.J. (Ward) in, bring­ing Talib in, bring­ing me in, and I thought to my­self, ‘I get to pass rush with Von (Miller), too.’ ”

Ware told that story upon his ar­rival and many more times over the fol­low­ing three years.

But through­out his ca­reer, Ware never al­lowed him­self to read the sto­ries about him, about his 138½ ca­reer sacks, about his big wins and try­ing losses, about the myr­iad in­juries that even­tu­ally be­came his rea-

son for walk­ing away. Not un­til after it was all done. Ware an­nounced his re­tire­ment in March, cit­ing his health and his fam­ily. He left of­fers on the ta­ble and 12 sea­sons worth of sto­ries col­lected by his team­mates in Dal­las and Den­ver.

Sun­day af­ter­noon, when Den­ver hosts the Cow­boys, Ware will be rec­og­nized by the Bron­cos and serve as an alumni cap­tain for the coin toss. He has said he’ll ar­rive in a neu­tral shade of navy blue, maybe don a hat with “D” for both Dal­las and Den­ver, and stand on the 50-yard line to root on for­mer team­mates from both teams.

The day will be his, but the tales from oth­ers will last for­ever.

Von Miller, Bron­cos OLB

Miller’s first NFL game was in the pre­sea­son of 2011, against the Cow­boys in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

“It was a pre­sea­son game but it didn’t feel like the pre­sea­son to me,” said Miller, who was raised in Dal­las as a Cow­boys fan. “I was looking for him after the game and he was looking for me. I was a fan. I was play­ing for the Bron­cos, but I was a fan and I went up to him and was talk­ing to him and he knew me. That spoke vol­umes for me, that a guy of his cal­iber could know me and re­ally rec­og­nize my game.

“I was a rookie. So for him to give me words of en­cour­age­ment and wish me luck and he knew about my col­lege ca­reer and all that stuff — that meant a lot.”

When the Cow­boys re­leased Ware in ’14, Miller was hop­ing the Bron­cos would sign him.

“The en­ergy, I could just kind of feel it,” Miller said. “We needed him and it was a great fit for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, great fit for our de­fense and even big­ger fit for me. So it was in­cred­i­ble.”

C.J. An­der­son, Bron­cos RB

An­der­son, an un­drafted free agent out of Cal­i­for­nia, played only five games as a rookie in 2013 and to­taled 38 yards. But his big break came mid­way through his sec­ond sea­son when, be­cause of in­juries, he started the fi­nal seven games. After heed­ing a mes­sage from Ware, An­der­son busted loose for a ca­reer high in rush­ing yards in a Week 13 game.

“We played Sun­day night against the Chiefs. I rushed for 168 that game and be­fore the game he said, ‘You did it last week. The great ones — can you do it again? Rep­re­sent the name on your back and keep run­ning,’ ” An­der­son re­called. “I took that — ‘keep run­ning’ — whether it’s prac­tice, whether it’s in games, when I’m train­ing. Just keep run­ning. Good things hap­pen when you keep run­ning. That’s what he told me.”

Shane Ray, Bron­cos OLB

Shortly after the Bron­cos de­feated the Pan­thers in Su­per Bowl 50, Ray pre­pared for his sec­ond NFL sea­son. The Bron­cos traded up to draft Ray in the first round in 2015, and the young line­backer felt the pres­sure that came with it.

“I re­mem­ber one day, I wouldn’t say I was down on my­self, but I was get­ting a lot of re­ac­tion from the older guys and Demar­cus,” Ray re­called. “I re­mem­ber Demar­cus sat me down and was like, ‘Hey, does it bother you that I’m on you ev­ery day?’ I was like, ‘Nah. Be­cause I’m learn­ing from the best.’ He was like, ‘I want to tell you some­thing. You don’t have a choice but to be great. Ev­ery day that I come in here, I’m go­ing to push you as hard as I can be­cause you don’t have a choice but to be great.’

“Demar­cus telling me that, it just boosted my con­fi­dence level as a player to know how he felt about me and teach­ing me. That just stuck with me.”

Shaquil Bar­rett, Bron­cos OLB

Bar­rett, an un­drafted line­backer and fa­ther of three, was of­ten seen to the side of prac­tice lis­ten­ing to Ware as the vet­eran showed him tech­nique to use his hands, or how to bend un­der a tackle or how to pick up on a quar­ter­back’s cues.

“Demar­cus, he was just an all-around great guy,” Bar­rett said. “He was al­ways teach­ing and al­ways will­ing to just tell us all the knowl­edge that he had. Then, off the field, he al­ways in­vited me over. We’d go to Wa­ter World to­gether, my fam­ily and his fam­ily. He was just an all-around great per­son, and I ap­pre­ci­ate him for that.”

Ja­son Wit­ten, Cow­boys TE

Wit­ten was with Ware for all nine of his sea­sons in Dal­las and calls the for­mer pass rusher one of his fa­vorite team­mates. He, like so many oth­ers, is quick to point out Ware’s freak­ish ath­letic abil­ity on the field and ge­nial­ity off.

“Kind of the defin­ing trait for Demar­cus is just who he is — a big smile on his face, a good-looking guy and he al­ways was mak­ing other people around him bet­ter,” Wit­ten said.

“I think Von would be the first one to say that. Just watch him. Watch how he plays, watch how he prac­tices, see how he tries to work at his craft.

“I re­al­ized early on as a rookie — we had a run­ning joke. He would want to get me in pass pro­tec­tion and I was al­ways want­ing to get him in pass routes, get him in cov­er­age. When you play with some­one that long, you just grow a re­la­tion­ship and a bond that is big­ger than just foot­ball.

“He’s wor­thy of all the ac­co­lades he’s re­ceived in his ca­reer, and I think it’s great that Den­ver is hon­or­ing him and he was able to get a Su­per Bowl. Be­cause he de­serves it. Just an un­be­liev­able player but an even bet­ter per­son.”

Ja­son Gar­rett, Cow­boys coach

Gar­rett’s rec­ol­lec­tion of his time with Ware is sim­i­lar to Wit­ten’s. He lauds the per­son and the player, and es­pe­cially the one who played through mul­ti­ple se­ri­ous in­juries.

“He had a unique abil­ity to get off the foot­ball and dis­rupt the other of­fense by af­fect­ing the quar­ter­back as well as any­one I’ve been around,” Gar­rett said. “There were so many times when he played through things, when he was banged up, when he wasn’t quite right and got through prac­tice and was re­ally pro­duc­tive in games and I keep us­ing the word in­spi­ra­tional, but it was. It was in­spi­ra­tional for the rest of us. I hate to pick out one mo­ment, but that’s re­ally what he em­bod­ied.”

Ware’s Day

For­mer Bron­cos and Cow­boys line­backer Demar­cus Ware will be rec­og­nized dur­ing Sun­day’s game at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High.

Ware will serve as a coin toss alumni cap­tain and the Bron­cos will air a video trib­ute on the sta­dium’s big screen be­tween the first and sec­ond quar­ters.

Ware re­tired in March after nine sea­sons in Dal­las and three in Den­ver.

His 138½ ca­reer sacks rank eighth on the NFL’S all-time list. His nine Pro Bowls (seven with Dal­las from 2006-12 and two with Den­ver from 2014-15) were the most among ac­tive de­fen­sive play­ers at the time of his re­tire­ment.

In his fi­nal sea­son with the Bron­cos, he was se­lected as the team’s Dar­rent Wil­liams Good Guy Award, given to the player who best ex­em­pli­fies Wil­liams’ “en­thu­si­asm, co­op­er­a­tion and hon­esty” in deal­ing with the media.

“He’s wor­thy of all the ac­co­lades he’s re­ceived in his ca­reer, and I think it’s great that Den­ver is hon­or­ing him and he was able to get a Su­per Bowl. Be­cause he de­serves it. Just an un­be­liev­able player but an even bet­ter per­son.” Cow­boys TE Ja­son Wit­ten, on Demar­cus Ware

John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

Chris Har­ris Jr., sec­ond from left, and C.J. An­der­son smile as Demar­cus Ware holds up the Su­per Bowl tro­phy dur­ing a 2016 cel­e­bra­tion.

Getty Im­ages file

Ware and Cow­boys team­mate Ja­son Wit­ten meet Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush be­fore a Sept. 11, 2011, game in East Ruther­ford, N.J.

Joe Amon, Den­ver Post file

Demar­cus Ware, right, jokes with team­mate Von Miller at a news con­fer­ence be­fore the AFC cham­pi­onship game in Jan­uary 2016.

John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

Ware, right, of­fers ad­vice to line­backer Shane Ray be­fore a 2016 game against the Buc­ca­neers in Tampa. Ware was in­jured and did not play.

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