SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It’s been more than eight years in the making. Now Von Miller stands before us having achieved his dream.
“I went to [Texas] A&M, started off by taking one easy class, an introduction class, and I liked it. I took another class the next semester, I liked that, too,” Miller said Tuesday. “And here I am today: Von Miller, the chicken farmer.”
Miller liked the classes so much that he became a poultry science major at A&M. Two years ago, he began Miller Farms at his house in Dallas, building a 3,000-square foot chicken coop with 35-40 chickens. He hasn’t gone commercial with his chicken farming venture yet, but envisions it becoming his lifelong career.
“It was poultry meat production. I liked everything about it,” Miller said of his coursework at A&M. “My professor, he was a great instructor, the way he was just interested in chickens. Really got me into it.”
Miller’s full-time job for now, of course, is attacking quarterbacks as the Broncos’ strongside linebacker. Miller leads the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense into Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 against the Panthers after wrecking the Patriots’ championship hopes with a one-interception, 2½-sack performance for the ages in the AFC title game Jan. 24.
The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011, Miller has met and exceeded expectations throughout his five NFL seasons. He’s been a Pro Bowler in his four healthy seasons (he tore his ACL in 2013), a two-time All Pro (2012, 2015) and in September became the third-fastest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks (58 games).
“He can do whatever he wants,” Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He is relentless. Even when you think you have him blocked, he can turn the corner at the end and knock the ball out. He is special.”
And he does it with a quirky sense of humor and a flair for the spotlight. Chicken farming is just one of his many odd passions. He wears thick, plastic-rimmed “geek chic” glasses, wears a giant Russian fur trapper hat and eccentric cowboy boots, and covered his body in random tattoos, including one of a chicken, or “Chicken Fred,” on his leg. He was the only rookie to put his name on the NFL Players Association’s lawsuit against the NFL in the 2011 lockout. His sack dances and celebrations are worthy of “Amercia’s Best Dance Crew.”
“Von loves to dance,” fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said to a reporter who asked Ware to dance to a song. “When you go over there, you tell him that I told you to come up with a dance to go with that, and I promise you, he’ll do it. He dances to every song. It’s just the way he is, he has so much energy, and he’s one of those guys where he keeps the heartbeat of the team.”
Miller also couldn’t help but make a Deflategate jab after beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, quipping that the football he intercepted “felt a little flat.”
Everyone loves Miller’s antics when things are going well on the field. And the 2015 season was all roses for the Broncos and Miller, who had 11 sacks and four forced fumbles during the regular season.
“He’s goofy and jokes around, but when it’s time for business he locks it in,” said Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. “He brings a different kind of energy. He gets paid to party.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Miller, 26, has grown up a lot over the last five years. In 2013, Miller served a six-game suspension for trying to cheat an NFL drug test. He also racked up several traffic violations and gained 20 pounds after tearing his ACL in December. His parents moved in with him to keep an eye on him.
“It hasn’t always been positive — it’s hasn’t always been good — but it got me to the situation and the moment I’m in right now,” Miller said of his bevavior earlier this season.
Miller hasn’t had an off-field incident over the last two years, and seems to have figured out the right balance of goofing off and taking life seriously. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent and could make upward of $50 million guaranteed if the Broncos don’t use the franchise tag on him.
“It’s great for our team chemistry,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said of Miller’s personality. “He’s a character, but in the right way. He loves to play. I don’t think Von’s missed a practice this year other than maybe me sitting him down back there in the offseason [during] OTAs or training camp.”
“I’ve known Von for a long time, being an Aggie. He has really grown up to become a really big-time pro.”
The last time the Broncos were in the Super Bowl, two years ago, Miller watched from the sideline thanks to his torn ACL. He badly wants to make an impact this time around, and certainly won’t curtail his antics.
“I like to show emotion and celebrate with my teammates,” Miller said. “Whoever is dancing the most is probably going to win the game on Sunday.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.