Framed jerseys line the perimeter of Von Miller’s expansive basement. The walls are a who’s who of the NFL’s elite from yesterday and today: Drew Brees, Champ Bailey, A.J. Green… Twenty-four players have bequeathed a game-worn jersey to the affable Denver Broncos linebacker, who approaches his peers postgame, Sharpie in hand.
“You the best in the biz!” writes Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“Will never forget playing flag football in the middle of Afghanistan with you and all the soldiers,” writes Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Reading the jerseys feels like peeking at the back pages of Miller’s yearbook, but they’re just the beginning of what makes this basement something to behold. It is a magnificent man cave—basically a football fan’s Mecca—and the Broncos’ refuge.
“Club 58,” as his teammates call it, puts real clubs to shame. It has eight massive TVs, three arcade game systems, a 300-gallon saltwater fish tank, a pool table, and dozens upon dozens of top-shelf liquors, which are neatly organized behind a pristine, white-marble-countertop bar. The nine leather stools that surround the bar are extra wide—an amenity for Denver’s linemen.
Miller designed the basement for his boys.
“In football, camaraderie, the spirit of the corps, and just that bonding you need to be great—it’s essential,” says Miller.
The Broncos relax in Club 58 after Sunday home games until the wee hours of Monday morning. Following Denver’s triumph over the Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship, more than 200 guests flooded into the basement, celebrating until 8 a.m. Cars were parked all the way down Miller’s street, which is located in a quiet Denver suburb near the team’s practice facility.
“We went hard,” Miller recalls. “It was like Project X.”
The amenities are certainly an attraction, but Miller’s teammates also frequent this place because of his magnetism. Warm and inclusive, Miller's the type of guy you want to be around. He befriends teammates and rivals. Last December Miller sent a bottle of wine to every AFC West player.
Is it possible for one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players to also be the friendliest player in the league?
“I really care about what people say about me when I’m not around,” Miller says. “You know that Hall of Fame video, that video where your peers talk about you? That’s what I really care about.”
Miller insists he doesn’t give much thought to player rankings like the annual NFL Top 100 (this year his peers voted him the second-best player in the league, behind only Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who recently described Miller as a “nightmare”). He cares more, he says, about people’s perception of him as a person.
Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about the person he is if it weren’t for the player he is. The 28-year-old Miller has accrued at least 11 sacks in each year of his six-year career. He is only 17 sacks away from surpassing Simon Fletcher and becoming Denver’s all-time sack leader. And if he’s able to play as many career games as Carolina’s Julius Peppers already has, Miller is on pace to accrue the most sacks in NFL history.
The man tortures quarterbacks. “Strip Sack Miller” (a nickname from Jaguars defensive back Jalen Ramsey) has also forced 21 career fumbles.
At this point in his career, it is a weekly guarantee the Broncos’ opponent has game-planned specifically to stop the Super Bowl 50 MVP. A combination of his groundbreaking on-field success and his natural charisma have made Miller one of the most sought-after endorsers in sports.
“I love the game, I love playing, I love everything about it, it’s my childhood dream. But it’s just something that I do. It’s not my whole entire life.”
It’s early October, but Denver already has a light dusting of snow. Miller has opened his home during the Broncos’ bye week for a day of promotions with Chef’s Cut Beef Jerky, a relatively young company that’s starting to gain traction in the market. The marketing team spends the day brainstorming with Miller.
This is not like most relationships between athlete endorser and corporate partner. Miller is a part owner and he has been intimately involved in its expansion over the past two years. He also seems to genuinely love the Buffalo chicken jerky; he gets animated, almost emotional, when he talks about dipping it in dairy-free ranch dressing.
On this afternoon he is an active participant in taste tests and discussions of new Chef’s Cut flavors (should the pepper in the lemon pepper be more pronounced?), an optimal nutrition approach (what’s the ideal ratio of protein to sodium?), and packaging (which color would grab the eyes of a 7-11 customer?).
Miller is fond of comparing his body to a Ferrari that requires premium fuel. He employs a chef, Curtis Bell, who blends green juices, whips up gourmet meals, and scrutinizes everything from calories to macronutrients to micronutrients. When rookies join the Broncos, Miller tells them not to spend their money on lavish cars or jewelry; instead invest it, he says, in a chef.
“I feel better from the lifestyle I’ve created over time,” says Miller, who recently kicked a soda addiction with the help of sparkling water. He has eliminated almost all dairy and eats a high-protein diet, which is one reason he wanted to partner with Chef’s Cut.
Most all-time great athletes are great because they care about one thing: their sport. They’re singularly focused. Miller defies that stereotype.
Spectators are fond of comparing NFL players to Roman gladiators. Miller fits the physical mold, to be sure: he is 6’3,” 250 pounds, and ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine; he is a specimen. But he is as much da Vinci as Spartacus.
Miller is a renaissance man full of passionate and playful curiosity. He is simultaneously a nerd (he watches Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson videos in his spare time), a class clown (ever seen those hip-gyrating sack dances?), and, of course, a jock. Don’t try to put him in a box.
“I just play football,” Miller says. “You know, I love the game, I love playing, I love everything about it, it’s my childhood dream. But it’s just something that I do. It’s not my whole entire life.”
When Miller is lounging on the tan, plush couch in his basement, he is much like the guy you see on TV: light-hearted and easygoing. His enormous, tattooed biceps poke out of the sleeves of a white tee. He has a bushy goatee. He wears black Adidas track pants, white Velcro Stan Smiths, a navy blue Bass Pro Shops trucker cap, and, naturally, a pair of big-ass glasses—clear-framed.
Miller has a style all his own. It toes the line between his native Texas and Hollywood.
He is true to his roots. “Howdy” is his default greeting. He owns a small farm in DeSoto of 60 chickens, which his parents and little brother, Vins, care for, and he hopes to add cattle soon. Club 58 is littered with Texas paraphernalia, from the leather saddle that sits by this sprawling couch to the Texas A&M-themed poker table.
But Miller is also a flashy entertainer. “Dope” is his go-to word. In the 2016 offseason he was a Dancing With The Stars cast member; in the 2017 offseason he appeared on Michael Strahan’s The $100,000 Pyramid and followed Drake’s European tour for a month with Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Depending on the context, Miller will sport a cowboy hat or a $57,000 diamond grill, which doesn’t make much sense until you remember that nothing about Miller fits convention. He has risen to NFL prominence despite lifelong battles with severe asthma, terrible eyesight, and a grass allergy (that’s why he wears long sleeves on most NFL fields). His favorite phrase is, unsurprisingly, a Drake lyric: know yourself. “I’m just Von to the fullest,” he says.
Miller’s dynamic social abilities and wide-ranging interests have led people to wonder: what will he do after football?
Miller wants to play 8-10 more years. But it’s fair to consider whether Miller could blossom into Michael Strahan 2.0. He likes the idea of being on national TV, but he also wants to have an active business career and says he admires executives like Denver Broncos’ president of football operations and general manager John Elway.
As we chill by Club 58’s pool table, Miller is refreshingly real. In a climate of clickbait, tired sports cliches, and politically correct platitudes, he doesn’t dance around questions.
He’s asked about the comparisons to Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, who edged Miller by one vote for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. “People are always trying to put me against Khalil, trying to say, ‘this guy is No. 2 and this guy is No. 1,’ but I feel like his game is totally different from mine,” Miller says. “It’s like The Weeknd and Drake. They’re both killing it in their respective lanes. People are going to try to put them against each other, but they can kick it and chill because their craft is so different from each other.”
“I really care about what people say about me when I’m not around. You know that Hall of Fame video, that video where your peers talk about you? That’s what I really care abouT.”
What about him and Beckham seeing Drake perform 25 times in Europe this spring? “That was really the coolest thing ever,” he says, smiling as he reminisces. “That shit was wild—it was wicked.”
Miller and Beckham, big fans of The Boy, have built friendships with the Canadian hip-hop star.
“Drake’s not regular by any means, but when you’re kicking it, he just feels like one of the homies,” Miller says. “After a while you stop being a fan, you stop being starstruck—just his demeanor, he makes everyone feel comfortable. All the greats have it, like Peyton Manning is the same way... you’re just all enamored, but after a while it goes away, it’s normal.”
If Miller spending a month of his offseason with Beckham seems strange, remember that convention neither appeals nor applies to the Broncos linebacker.
Two days before this interview, Beckham and Watt suffered brutal season-ending injuries, the type that make you turn away when the replay airs on TV. Miller, who tore his ACL in 2013, has already reached out to both players.
The Broncos will play the Giants in five days. Miller and Beckham had anticipated the matchup and exchanged friendly trash talk for months.
“Whenever you get a chance to play your little brother, it’s exciting,” Miller bemoans. “I felt like this was my Peyton-and-Eli game.”
The Broncos’ defense—which had a rough weekend against Philadelphia, but is still ranked at the top of the league—is their backbone. It was the same way in 2015, when Denver won the Super Bowl with the ghost of Manning under center.
If Denver is going to rebound and compete with the Chiefs, Patriots, and other AFC juggernauts, it will likely be because of its ravenous defensive unit... and because of its leader. For the first time in his career, Miller is a captain.
The team’s future rides on its agile speed rusher. Miller is the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history; he is currently in the second year of a six-year, $115 million deal.
The man who bears his franchise’s future moves from the pool table to the Pop-A-Shot and shoots on the mini hoop. Broncos kicker Brandon McManus has the game’s record score with 176. “He’s good at everything,” Miller says.
Wait, even the kicker chills in Club 58? Guess this is, as Miller calls it, a refuge for the whole team.
Of the 24 jerseys on the walls of this basement, only one is unsigned: that of Cam Newton.
The Panthers’ quarterback and 2015 NFL MVP was selected first overall—one pick before Miller—in the 2011 draft. Miller used that as motivation leading up to Super Bowl 50, the game that thrust him into national celebrity. In Denver’s triumph over Carolina he had 2.5 sacks, forced two fumbles, and was named Super Bowl MVP.
Miller has an abundance of framed action shots around his house. There is no question which opponent appears most frequently in these photos: it’s Newton, being tackled by Miller.
If the NFL’s most amiable man has any rival, it is Cam Newton. Miller is asked about the jersey. Why isn’t that one signed?
“Cam will probably never sign that for me,” Miller laughs. “But,” he adds, “I got the jersey, though. It’s one of my favorite jerseys. I like Cam Newton.”
It is safe to assume Newton—perhaps begrudgingly—likes him, too.