ARLINGTON, Texas -- As soon as DeMarcus Ware walked into AT&T Stadium last weekend to speak to girls from 15 Fort Worth high schools playing flag football, he took out his phone and started filming.
Through the camera he could see the names of Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor members, from Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Tony Dorsett on one side of the stadium to Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith on the other side.
All of them are Hall of Famers.
On Thursday, Ware could join them when the 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame class is announced during the NFL Honors show (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
“You know what’s so crazy, I don’t get any anxiety because I was always the one who brought the pressure,” said Ware, who is in his first year as a finalist. “I look at it as I put my résumé in and now it’s up to everybody else to say if you’re getting into the Hall or not. ...
"But like I told those young ladies, if you make it this year, if you don’t make it this year, you’ve got to still keep knocking at the door. I’m one of those guys that no matter what, will keep knocking because that’s how I’ve gotten to where I’m at right now. It feels good when I look around here, I see the Ring of Honor, I see all of these guys. I’m in the Cowboys stadium. It feels like home. Again, the Hall of Fame feels like home. I feel like I’m ready for that, but you don’t know until that time comes.”
Ware has a Hall of Fame-worthy résumé.
His 138.5 sacks rank ninth on the NFL’s official list. His 117 sacks with the Cowboys are a team record. Only Reggie White reached 100 sacks faster than Ware (96 games to 113). Ware had seven straight seasons with at least 10 sacks and led the league in sacks twice, with 20 in 2008 and 15.5 in 2010.
Ware was a nine-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and was named to the 2000s All-Decade Team. He would be the first Cowboys Hall of Famer to not earn a Super Bowl ring in Dallas, but he did win a title in 2015 with the Denver Broncos. He’s most proud of being an 11-time captain.
“Ability and attitude, I think of those two things,” former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said. “He has the ability obviously, but those great ones, they want to be better all the time. They know they’re great, but they’re always trying to get better, especially the ones I’ve been around and especially DeMarcus. Not only his attitude in football, but his attitude in life. What a guy. Always positive and upbeat, smiling. He radiates energy.”
Phillips, who was also Ware’s defensive coordinator when the Broncos won the Super Bowl, knows Hall of Fame players. He coached the all-time leader in sacks, Bruce Smith, in Buffalo. He coached White, who is second, in Philadelphia. He coached Rickey Jackson, who is 16th, in New Orleans. And there are a few more he has coached who will likely be added to the Hall of Fame list some day -- J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Aaron Donald.
“Pass rush is feel and he could feel when he could get around them and he could feel when he could go inside them,” Phillips said. “The great ones make the right decisions. Some guys you say, ‘Hey, contain the passer. Don’t let him get out of the pocket, but guys like him you say, ‘Rush the passer.’ You’ve got to give him the ability to do what they do well. Some coaches want to say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,’ and we always told those guys, ‘Go get him.’”
Tight end Jason Witten was Ware’s teammate for nine seasons in Dallas. They practiced against each other daily. They developed a close relationship borne from shared sacrifice, work and a love of football.
“I don’t know if I ever went against somebody that was so complete,” Witten said. “Pass rush, yeah, he had all the measurables. He was long and athletic and could bend, but he was just as dominant in the run game. He had an unbelievable anchor, great hands, a great feel for blocks and where the ball was going. And the other trait he had, I’d say he was constantly evolving. His hands, a new pass-rush move. I vividly remember for six months him working with Tyron (Smith) and sharing as much information as he could share.”
That remains a trait Ware still uses today.
Ware talks regularly with Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who had 13 sacks in 2021 and is likely to be named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. The message wasn't just about specific pass-rush moves, but also the ability to sustain success.
“Just how to take care of my body, what to do weekly, find a routine and things like that,” Parsons said. “And I really took it in because obviously he’s done it.”
Miller, who will play in his second Super Bowl on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC), counts Ware as something of a savior. Miller grew up in Dallas, watching Ware. He would tape his hands the way Ware taped his hands to “try to capture some of the energy.”
“I come from the DeMarcus Ware tree, probably one of the last ones that come from the DeMarcus Ware tree on and off the football field,” Miller said. “He’s my idol. I look up to DeMarcus ... He ends up coming to the Denver Broncos at a vital point in my life. I was coming off ACL surgery and really just trying to find myself again. He helped me with that and he still continues to help me. We talk all the time. It’s more than just a brotherhood. It’s more than just fellowship. That’s truly my guy, man. I love him to death.”
Ware was in Canton, Ohio, last summer for former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s induction and during his speech, Ware made eye contact with Irvin and Ray Lewis.
“They were pointing at me. Michael Irvin like, ‘You’re next,’” Ware said. “I’m sitting there like, ‘Man, this here is the opportunity of a lifetime when those things happen.’ I did an appearance with Michael Irvin and he said in the car, he said, ‘D, it took me five, six, seven years to get in there. It doesn’t matter when. It matters you getting in there.’ He said that gold jacket is that gold jacket. It sort of settled me a little bit. This is Michael Irvin I’m talking to. Those memories stuck with me a little bit. This is a prestigious award that many people don’t get, but I’m pretty close.”