PHOENIX — The Denver Broncos didn’t always get the best of DeMarcus Ware, but they most certainly did once.
It was the 2015-season AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, who were favored as visitors.
Overcoming a balky back that had caused him to miss five games that year and limit his effectiveness in many others, Ware may have taken an extra pain shot knowing it would be his best chance of playing in a Super Bowl.
"Actually, I didn’t,'' Ware said in an interview with 9NEWS after the announcement here Thursday that he had been elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I knew that if I got an opportunity and I told the guys if I get an opportunity to play in a playoff game I’m going to play.
"Back was hurting, neck was hurting. I was in a lot of pain. But I didn’t think about myself. I was thinking about Broncos Country, I was thinking about the players I was playing with and I was willing to sacrifice that.''
It was in his second year of eligibiilty that Ware was one of five modern-era finalists elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in a vote of 49 media members.
"It feels good knowing that the sacrifices we went through to be the best we know can say all those sacrifices will be enshrined forever,'' Ware said.
Immortality was far more certain for the pass-rushing outside linebacker than a Super Bowl ring as he was winding down his career.
“First of all, DeMarcus should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer,’’ said Brandon Marshall, the Broncos’ play-calling inside linebacker on that iconic 2015 Denver defense. “Top 10 [officially] in sacks. He had an illustrious career. I understand the Hall of Fame is about what you do on the field, but off the field he embodied everything a Hall of Famer should be. He should have been in on the first ballot, but I’m excited to see him finally get enshrined [on the second ballot] and get what he deserved.”
A first-round draft pick out of Troy in 2005, Ware had played nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, averaging 13.0 sacks a year, but his playoff record there was 1-4. Never had he come close to playing in the Big Game.
He also went one-and-done in the playoffs to finish his first season with the Broncos in 2014. But in 2015, the Broncos under coach Gary Kubiak won nailbiter after heartstopper, and with a resurgent Peyton Manning at quarterback, Denver used its No. 1 AFC playoff seed to pass through the first round with bye, rally to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round and host Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Ware hit Brady not once. Not twice. Not three times. Not four times. Not five times. Not six times.
DeMarcus Ware hit Brady seven times in the AFC Championship Game. And then he hit him again to blow up Brady’s game-tying, 2-point conversion attempt with 12 seconds remaining to preserve the Broncos' 20-18 win. No statistical credit is given on 2-point attempts, except the 2 points, so Ware didn’t get his deserved eighth quarterback hit.
Which is OK, because in the next game, Super Bowl 50, Ware registered four quarterback hits and two sacks on Carolina’s Cam Newton in the Broncos’ 24-10 victory. Von Miller stole the show with two strip-sacks that led to two touchdowns and the Super Bowl 50 MVP award.
All Ware did was combine for 12 quarterback hits (we’ll give him his 2-point strike on Brady) and 2.5 sacks in the final two games of the Broncos’ magical 2015 season.
“His run at the end of ’15 was ridiculous,’’ Marshall said. “He helped power us through those playoffs. Our defense set the tone for our team, and the pressure he put on the quarterback made it easier on our DBs, easier for me to cover the running backs and tight ends.’’
Ware may be considered primarily a Cowboy as he gets ready to pose for his bronze bust that will be forever placed in Canton. But the Broncos would not have won their third Lombardi Trophy without Ware’s play at the end of the 2015 season.
Another Hall of Famer, safety Brian Dawkins, also played his final three seasons in Denver after a distinguished career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Dawkins forgot to mention the Broncos in his Hall of Fame speech. Ware promised the Broncos would get mentioned in his during the Hall of Fame ceremony in August in Canton.
“Yes. It’s one of those places in my life where it was life changing,'' Ware said of Denver. "To where it was the rebirth of me. When the Dallas Cowboys released me I was able to become a leader in a new locker room and do something that I didn’t get to do with the Dallas Cowboys and that’s win a championship. There were some amazing players that goes down in … when they say etch your name in stone in a team, I feel like we did that. Me and Peyton (Manning).''
Ware then held up his Super Bowl ring for the 9NEWS viewers.
"Broncos Country it’s … see this? There’s no other words, that’s it.”
Ware played three seasons in Denver, registering 7.0 sacks through his first six games in 2014 before his back acted up and slowed him to 3.0 in his final 10 games.
He had a seven-game sackless skid before he finally got one in the season finale against the Chargers – a game the Broncos had to rally to win in order to earn the No. 1 seed and home field advantage in the playoffs. Then came Ware’s dominant play in the postseason that included a powerful team speech on the eve of Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.
Forced to take a significant pay cut in 2016 despite his superb postseason – general manager John Elway was known to put business ahead of sentimentality as Manning discovered the previous year – Ware managed just 4.0 sacks in 10 games in his final year before conceding his back could no longer hold up.
Mature and handsome with a big smile and an immaculately shaven bald head, Ware was also instrumental in mentoring Miller, whose enormous talent was sometimes negated by his rambunctious youth.
“Von is like my brother, I’m just going to start there,'' Ware said. "And to be able to come and mentor Von and then him doing the same thing and going to win that championship with the Rams and then try to do the same thing with Buffalo. It was like that little seed I planted and it’s still living.’’
Ware ranks 13th (unofficially) all-time with 138.5 career sacks. Among those on the NFL’s top 15 sack list, all who are eligible have already been inducted into the HOF (Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs are not yet eligible.).
A Cowboy, first? Sure, he was. But DeMarcus Ware also had his Hall of Fame moments with the Broncos.
Other modern-era electees into the Hall of Fame: Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Ronde Barber, middle linebacker Zach Thomas and left tackle Joe Thomas. They will join senior electees Joe Klecko, Ken Riley, Chuck Howley and coach Don Coryell in the Hall of Fame class of 2023.
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