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.
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.”
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
Chris Harris Jr., second from left, and C.J. Anderson smile as Demarcus Ware holds up the Super Bowl trophy during a 2016 celebration.
Ware and Cowboys teammate Jason Witten meet President George W. Bush before a Sept. 11, 2011, game in East Rutherford, N.J.
Demarcus Ware, right, jokes with teammate Von Miller at a news conference before the AFC championship game in January 2016.
Ware, right, offers advice to linebacker Shane Ray before a 2016 game against the Buccaneers in Tampa. Ware was injured and did not play.