This is a big week for Mike Sherman. The former Texas A&M head football coach will watch his son-in-law, Zac Taylor, lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in just his third season as head coach, which means Sunday’s game will be the best kind of family reunion.
And then there’s Von Miller.
The Los Angeles Rams’ future Hall of Famer is a DeSoto native, former Texas A&M superstar, and pass-rushing specialist. He’s also one of the names to remember when watching the big game this weekend.
The Rams acquired the 32-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowler from the Broncos last November as the final step in a series of splashy transactions that told the entire NFL that Los Angeles was going all in on its chances to reach and win the Super Bowl this season.
Miller has already won a Super Bowl MVP, back in 2016 when his Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, he has a chance to become the sixth player in NFL history to win that award multiple times—Tom Brady has done it five times, Joe Montana three. (A knee injury prevented Miller from playing in Denver’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.)
Miller is one of the best and most compelling athletes Mike Sherman coached during more than forty years in football, including six as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers and four in charge of the Aggies at Texas A&M.
When I called Sherman this week at his home on Cape Cod, I asked about his famously close—and volatile—relationship with Miller during their time in College Station. Miller once got so mad at Sherman that he quit the team and headed home to DeSoto. That story has been told a few times through the years, and Sherman is happy to tell it again. Only that’s not what he remembers most about Miller.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a player that had the impact on the locker room Von had,” Sherman said. “His teammates just gravitated to him. He’d sit there at his locker after practice and hold court. He’d tell jokes, get on guys, and have the entire room laughing. He loved football. He loved it. And the entire room changed when he walked in. I didn’t know he’d end up in the Hall of Fame, but I could see he was special.”
I asked Sherman about the impact that kind of strong personality can have on a football team. “I once talked to Brett Favre about that,” he said, “and he offered his perspective. This is a tough game. Guys play in pain. Guys play in bad weather. When you’ve got a guy like Von Miller, who loves it so much and is such a great player, it impacts everyone. That’s the thing I remember about Von.”
This week, Miller told reporters covering the Super Bowl that he considers that passion one of the factors he brings to the Rams. “I just try to bring great energy every single day,” he said. “I just try to sense when guys are not feeling it and try to uplift the guys. I’m a fun guy. . . . I like to have positive energy. I like to have a good time and I like to be around people in the locker room. I’m an entertainer. I love telling jokes and keep the spirit high, and I definitely think that I brought some positive energy to this team.”
Oh, and one other fairly important tidbit to remember about Miller: “He was an unbelievable athlete,” Sherman told me. “He could have played any position on the field except quarterback. He would have been a great punt returner, a great running back, a tight end, you name it. He’s one of the special ones you sometimes get a chance to coach.”
Theirs wasn’t always a happy marriage. Sherman kicked Miller off the team before A&M’s spring game in 2008 because the player had skipped some classes and wasn’t attending required study hall sessions. Miller headed back to DeSoto and considered transferring to another school.
“I think back on that now and still am not sure if that was great coaching or a dumb move,” Sherman said. “He’d skipped some study halls and things like that. That was a big thing with me. Most of these kids aren’t going to play in the NFL, and a degree from Texas A&M is something they can fall back on for their rest of their lives.
“Fortunately for me,” Sherman added, “he had a dad who backed me up and told him to get back to campus and do the things we were asking him to do. If not for that, he could have ended up at another school. From that point forward, he was very accountable. Sometimes, guys get in trouble and blame everybody else. He didn’t do that. He fixed what needed to be fixed.”
The Broncos made Miller the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and in ten seasons, he made first- or second-team All-Pro seven times. In Super Bowl 50, he had two and a half sacks and a pivotal strip of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton late in Denver’s 24–10 victory.
“These opportunities, they don’t come often, I’m here to tell you that,” Miller told reporters last week. “That’s just been my message to everybody. . . . Being here and taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Miller first dreamed of playing in a Super Bowl back home in DeSoto in 2005 when he ordered a pizza and a two-liter bottle of soda and watched the Patriots defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. “I remember saying to myself, ‘I hope I get to play in one of those games,’ ” he told reporters.
As for Sherman, he’s thrilled that his former player is back in the Super Bowl. But the retired coach’s primary focus will be on the other sideline, on his son-in-law. He had some fun this week recounting how Taylor flew from Nebraska to Houston to ask permission to marry Sherman’s daughter, Sarah. Taylor had met her when both were students at the University of Nebraska.
Mike Sherman was an assistant coach with the Houston Texans at the time, and Taylor had to cool his heels in the team cafeteria while waiting for Sherman to finish chatting with Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain.
“I only had an hour before my flight,” Taylor said recently on Cris Collinsworth’s podcast. “He’s sitting there having a conversation with John McClain; I’m sitting at a table. Matt Schaub’s at the next table; Ahman Green—and I’m nervous as you can imagine.”
When McClain left, Taylor saw his opening.
“All the players are around me, but him and I are at a little table,” he said. “And I had to ask, ‘Hey, can I—can I marry your daughter? And I got a flight to catch in fifteen minutes, so I need a quick answer.’ ”
Sherman laughs about it now, admitting he used the conversation with McClain as an excuse to make Taylor’s wait as uncomfortable as possible. “I remember telling him this was a big commitment, that it was a lifelong commitment,” Sherman said.
Taylor ultimately joined Sherman’s staff at A&M for four seasons before beginning his own coaching journey. He and Sarah have four children.
“Obviously, he has done a great job with the Bengals,” Sherman said. “He has put together a great staff, and those guys play with such purpose and composure. It’s not easy to do what they’ve done as quickly as they’ve done it.”