Von Miller, Linebacker / Denver Broncos - The Players' Tribune

Let me tell you about a little spy operation my mom and I used to run. When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to play peewee football so bad. So I went up to my dad after school and told him he had to go sign me up.

He just laughed.

“Boy, you not ready. You’re way too skinny to be playing football.”

“I’m ready, dad! I’m ready!”

I was begging him, but he wasn’t having it. This was ’99 in DeSoto, Texas — right outside Dallas.

Deion Sanders. Michael Irvin. Emmitt Smith. Leon Lett. Every day, I’d be throwing the ball around at recess pretending I was them.

There was just one problem, though. I was a nerd.

You think I’m joking. I’m not joking. I’m talking nerd.

These glasses are not a fashion statement. I’ve been blind without them since I was a kid. Now it’s cool. In ’99, it wasn’t cool. But it wasn’t just the glasses.

In fact, you can’t really understand if I just tell this story. And three of my best friends are sitting right here with me. We’ve been doing everything together since we were kids, so we might as well do this together. Tony, tell ‘em.

Tony Jerod-Eddie / San Francisco 49ers:
You was a nerd, bruh. You were skinny. But you were also a geek. You were into sci-fi and National Geographic. You were the total package.

I still watch NatGeo. I love NatGeo.

Damontre Moore / Miami Dolphins:
To this day! We’re all sitting at Von’s house the night before the AFC championship game. This dude turns on a show about the 10 most exotic extinct animals. Biggest game of this dude’s life coming up, and he’s talking about the Dodo Bird. Then he put on a documentary about coral reefs. He was so adamant about it.

It’s relaxing. Sometimes I like to relax. Come on. Back to peewee football. My dad was shutting me down. So I started working on my mom. I started wearing her down. You know how it’s done:

“Mom. Mom. Mom, come on. I’ll make my bed every day. I’ll mow the lawn. Mom, just let me play football. I’m ready!”

Thank God for my mom. She finally broke down one day.

“Alright Von, I’ll let you play. But listen to me. This has to be our secret. Do not tell your father.”

My mom and dad have been together for 27 years. They tell each other everything. So this had to be a CIA operation. I couldn’t even have my pads in the house. I’d get undressed in the back of her Suburban after practice and then we’d leave the pads in the back seat with a blanket over them.

Miler Rec Specs Pull Final

My dad would come home from work and look at my arms, all scratched up — giving me the suspicious eye.

“What happened there?”

“Oh nothin’, dad. Got scratched up sliding into home plate.”

Then he’d do that real suspicious walk away, like in the movies.

Oh man. That was Mr. Miller’s move. That was the classic. He didn’t even have to say anything. He’d hit you with the side-eye. He was the Godfather.

You don’t mess with Mr. Miller, man. Tell them about the alarm.

Hang on. We’ll get to that. Because the thing is, my dad was right. I wasn’t ready. I was ready for the game of football. But I wasn’t ready for the abuse I was gonna get from the other kids.

Yo, listen: This was before the days of the custom visor. I had a $20 helmet. I had to wear my glasses to play. But they kept falling off in the heat of battle. You remember Rec Specs? Horace Grant. Rec Specs. I would strap them over the top of my helmet to keep my glasses in place, motocross style.

Cyrus Gray / Denver Broncos:
Those glasses were not regulation thickness. They were super-super thick. But then in the sunlight, the lenses would change from clear to purple. They shape-shifted into shades. You had some Star Trek glasses, bruh.

Let me paint a picture for the people at home. Texas. September. Eight teams playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back on one field. Starting at 8 a.m., until it got dark. People would literally be tailgating at the field all day. 

Literally. People would be grilling. The ice-cream man would post up. The candy man would post up. People would fire up the grill at 7 a.m. For peewee football.

This an alpha, macho Texas football vibe. And I’m rolling up with my mom in the Suburban, getting dressed out of the back of the trunk. Skinny little nerd with the Rec Specs strapped over his helmet.

Like Snoopy.

I got it bad. I got called every name you can think of.

But the thing about football is, it’s not the playground. If you call me four-eyes on the playground, you can laugh in my face and I can’t touch you without getting detention. On a Texas football field, I could run your ass over.

We had 11 players total on my team. We had to play both sides of the ball. I played every position. There was no sitting out. And we went undefeated. I’d come home after every win and be dying to tell my dad that we were good. But I kept my mouth shut, for my mom. When we made it to the championship, though, I had to tell him.

“Hey dad, remember when you said I wasn’t ready? Well, guess what?”

You should have seen his face.

Seriously, that fifth grade championship game was one of the hardest fought games I’ve ever played in. We played the DeSoto Hurricanes. They had 24 players. They had a whole sideline. They had fly uniforms.

The Hurricanes used to recruit. I’m serious. They used to recruit for peewee.

It was chippy. It was real football. But we pulled it out by a touchdown. With 11 players. That feeling is indescribable. I don’t care if it’s peewee or the Super Bowl. When you’re the last team standing in football, it’s the craziest feeling.

We celebrated at CiCi’s pizza. The after-party was at the arcade. But I remember we all stayed at the field for an hour after the game, tossing the football around. Pretending to be Deion. Pretending to be Michael Irvin. We didn’t want the football to be over.

Even back then, you were telling people you were gonna be a top five pick. LOL. Tell them about the alarm though.

You got a better memory for this stuff than me. You tell it.

So one night, Von gets this bright idea. He sneaks into my room at midnight and whispers, “Hey, let’s sneak out.”

Let me back up. Von is not my blood brother. But he’s my brother. When we were in high school, I was supposed to move away from DeSoto with my mom. Our bags were packed. It was my last day at school. Our football coach gathered the team around in a circle, and I broke the news to everybody.

I was crushed. I told my teammates goodbye.

Then Von ran up to me after we broke the huddle.

“Hey bro, why don’t you just stay with me?”

He said it like it was nothing. I’m like, “What do you mean stay with you?”

“Aww, it’s no problem. Let me talk to my mom.”

Like it was nothing.

The next thing I know, I’m moving my stuff into Von’s house. I had my own room! I was sitting on my bed thinking, Yo, this is not real life. This is in the movies. This does not really happen.

The next day, we come home from school and Mrs. Miller is giving me the eye.

She’s like, “Tony! You didn’t make your bed this morning. We make the bed in this house.”

That was it. I was their son, Day One. I still call her Mom to this day. I have two moms.

This is a long story, bruh.

Well, I’m giving the people some backstory. You had your own room, I had my own room, and your little brother had his own room. So Von’s mischievous ass comes tiptoeing into my room, talking about, “Let’s sneak out so I can see my girlfriend.”

So Von’s mischievous ass comes tiptoeing into my room, talking about, “Let’s sneak out so I can see my girlfriend.”

It wasn’t my girlfriend.

It was your girlfriend. This is classic Von.

Classic Von.

I thought we were sneaking out to go repaint somebody’s car. Remember we used to go out at like 2 a.m. and put shoe polish on each other’s cars? This sounds ridiculous, but this was when Jackass was big. We used to prank each other.

Nah, you wanted to see your girlfriend. So you being you, you thought you had tripped the ADT security alarm your mom set to keep us in the house. You were on your Jason Bourne. Only you messed it up.

I disabled the timer. Or I thought I did. We climbed out the window in my room — Tony, me and my little brother. We put the car in neutral and pushed it down the driveway until we got far enough away to start the engine without my mom hearing. So, everything was perfect. We were stealth about it. We start cruising in the ’96 Oldsmobile Intrigue with the tape deck. We were playing the new Lil Wayne mixtape. All of a sudden, everybody’s phone starts ringing.

Our phones were supposed to be off. We were on some pay-as-you-go thing. Von’s mom was supposed to re-up the phones a few days later. And now they were popping off. That’s when we knew.

We were done. My mom turned the phones back on and was calling everybody.

Ya’ll are crazy. You don’t mess with Momma Gloria. I never lied to her a day in my life. She knew everybody. She knew every girl we talked to. She knew our friends’ friends. She had informants in the streets.

You know how we got caught? Von’s mom used to get up in the middle of the night and take a walk around the house. So we put pillows under our covers to make it look like a body was still under there.

But you messed up. You put too many damn pillows. That’s what gave it away. I remember driving back and sitting in that driveway at 1:30 in the morning, arguing about who was gonna go in first. The lights were off.

That was the creepy part, bruh. The lights were off.

So we all sneak in the front door, thinking maybe we can get to our bedrooms before they know we’re home. And we get into the living room and …

Mr. Miller is sitting there on the sofa in the dark. Like a movie. Just sitting there, not saying anything. Lights off.

She knew every girl we talked to. She knew our friends’ friends. She had informants in the streets.

The Godfather.

That’s when you know it’s bad.

We got it good. We deserved it. Remember when we got in trouble, we all used to sleep in the same room?

Band of brothers. We were in it together. From DeSoto to Texas A&M to the NFL. Me, Tony, Cyrus and Damontre. All went to A&M. All made it to the NFL. Think about that. Four friends who played on the same hot, crunchy grass field in DeSoto, made it all the way to the League. 

You were right, though. You went top five. The skinny little nerd with the Rec Specs. No. 2 pick. Listen, I am not an emotional guy. But when we were in New York for the draft, and I heard Von’s name called by the commissioner, I broke down in tears. To think how far we’ve come. You won the Super Bowl. You won the Super Bowl, bruh.

People have asked me 5,000 times this week, “How did you guys beat Cam Newton? What was your game plan?”

I was driving around with Tony in San Francisco the night before the game. We were talking like we normally do. We never talk about football. But I asked him, “What do I have to do out there to be a Super Bowl champion?”

And Tony told me, “Just do what you been doing since you were a kid. Get after that ball, and you’ll win the Super Bowl.”

The game plan against Carolina wasn’t that much different than it was when we played the DeSoto Hurricanes, 11 vs. 24.

When you hear Hut, everybody’s playing the same position: Go get that ball. Take it. Take it.

Before the AFC championship game against New England, DeMarcus Ware stood up and addressed the entire team.

Let me tell you what DeMarcus means to me.

You know why I wear all-white gloves with the white wrist tape? DeMarcus Ware.

You know why I have the towel hanging out the back of my pants? DeMarcus Ware.

You know why my stance looks like DeMarcus Ware? DeMarcus Ware.

In high school, I wanted to be DeMarcus Ware. Now I get to line up alongside him.

DeMarcus stood up in front of the entire team, almost tearing up.

“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “Iron sharpens iron.”

It was our saying all year long. Proverbs 27:17.

Just as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

“The Lombardi trophy is so close,” he said. “We can almost reach out and touch it. So let’s take it. Let’s take it.”

Why the Broncos? How did we do it? We were boys. We were brothers. We took it.

When the confetti was coming down, it didn’t feel real. I wanted to stay on that field for a while and throw the ball around. I didn’t want the football to end.

Afterward, to see my mom as a Super Bowl champion. Man

She’s never missed one game. She hid my pads in the back of the Suburban. She opened her house to Tony and so many of my brothers. She put up with us sneaking around, trying to be Jackasses.

You’re gonna get me emotional again. It’s crazy. It’s crazy!

It still doesn’t feel real. After the game, we went to the club to celebrate with everybody. Mom, Dad, my brother, all of us. There’s no CiCi’s in San Francisco. I would’ve had a CiCi’s pizza at 3 a.m., though.

Von got a call after the game. “Lil Wayne wants to party with you.”

Wayne played the after-party. We used to listen to this dude in the ’96 Oldsmobile with seven big-ass football players stuffed into the car. And now the real guy is standing in front of us, like, What’s up?

The Super Bowl MVP has a real chicken farm. A legitimate farm. That he maintains himself. He’s even got roosters. If you go down to DeSoto, Texas, you can stop by Von’s farm and get yourself a dozen organic eggs. This is real.

You’re the first Super Bowl MVP with a tattoo of a rooster, I’m pretty sure about that.

Roosters are dope.

You might be the Super Bowl MVP. You might have been on SNL. But you still a nerd, bruh. You still flying remote control helicopters. We’re gonna get you a job on the Geek Squad when you retire.


For Mamma

There was a little trailer back behind where we lived where people would come and go. My mamma and grandma would go back there. They always told me to stay away from that trailer. I knew what was going on.

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