At long last, DeMarcus Ware wins elusive title

Ware: We expected excellence (2:14)

DeMarcus Ware discusses the Broncos' Super Bowl win and his teams' mindset heading into the game. (2:14)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Three times during DeMarcus Ware's postgame news conference he was asked how happy he was for Peyton Manning, who won his second Super Bowl ring on Sunday. Twice, reporters probed for descriptions of the exploits of fellow linebacker and MVP Von Miller.

And exactly once, the focus turned to Ware himself, who after 11 stout NFL seasons is finally a Super Bowl champion.

While the 39-year-old Manning will be the runaway lead story from Super Bowl 50, it was the Broncos' defense that actually defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10. The untold story of that dominant unit: Ware is very much its Peyton, and his teammates wanted to win this game for him.

It was Ware and Manning who were selected by Denver head coach Gary Kubiak to address the team before the AFC title game. Ware started by placing one of the team's Lombardi trophies in front of the Broncos and letting that sink in before slipping into a rousing speech -- full-blown preacher mode.

They had worked too hard, Ware and Manning said, to not get the rare chance to play for a title. And, so the Broncos compiled and delivered them to Super Bowl 50.

On Saturday night, Manning and Ware both addressed the team again. It was the same message, but this time there were tears in the eyes of both veterans.

"We really told the guys how important this opportunity is, and you've got to go out there and seize it," Ware told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio after the game. "And you could see it in the guys' eyes that they really, really wanted it."

Ware missed five games this season with a back issue, but finished the regular season with 7.5 sacks in 11 games. Miller was monstrous in this game, with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and six tackles. But Ware, true to his under-the-radar form, was nearly as effective, with two sacks, four quarterback hurries and five tackles.

Miller will tell you that Ware might be the leading reason he's likely to sign a $100 million contract in the offseason. It was Ware who infused him with the motivation that carried the Broncos' defense so far. It is Ware who taps him on the shoulder pads on the sideline and tells him it's time to "unleash the beast," and Ware who gives him a "brotherly look" on the field when the Broncos need a quarterback pressure.

How happy is Miller for Ware?

"It feels great," Miller said. "Peyton and DeMarcus and Coach [Wade] Phillips and all the guys that have been deserving their whole, whole career. I did this for them. I put my neck on the line for those guys.

"DeMarcus has been through just about everything you can imagine and still was the same: high character, great idol every single day."

Ware played for the Dallas Cowboys from 2005 to '13. He was released, ostensibly, for salary cap reasons, but the team also was concerned about his physical condition. His back and neck have taken a pounding and are likely to be long-term issues for him. Nevertheless, the Broncos signed him to a three-year, $30 million deal before the 2014 season.

He was the Cowboys' all-time sack leader (117) when he departed and now has 134.5 for his career, a huge number that has a Hall of Fame ring to it.

At the postgame podium, Ware was composed. Sweat was still atop his shaved head. He looked almost regal, as he patiently answered all the questions about his higher-profile teammates.

Based on his emotional speeches before the past two games, some close to the Broncos wondered if Ware would follow Manning on horseback out into the sunset of retirement.

It didn't sound that way Sunday night. When asked if he was coming back for 2016, Ware told ESPN.com privately, "Oh, for sure. For sure."

He added: "I've got a lot of gas in the tank. Von Miller adds fuel to my fire. ... I don't think about retirement. When I start bringing out the cane, tell me, 'DeMarcus, it's time for you to go.'"

And so it seems Ware has no interest in leaving the game now and going out on top like some legends before him.

After completing an 11-season arc and walking off the field a champion for the first time, Ware said, "It's not a sense of relief. It's a sense of I have finally arrived."