"In the next 5,000 years there won’t be any more freckles or red hair," says Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. "That’s the way humans are evolving." Miller is sitting in Venice, California, during an offseason in which he’s become one of the most famous athletes in America. He’s stopped dealing himself cards so that he can focus fully on recounting a particularly juicy internet deep dive that led him to a batch of information he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about. "We will all eventually be bald, too," he adds, removing his hat and rubbing the thin layer of hair atop his head. "We lose hair because it helps us cool our brains faster. The smarter we get, the less hair we need, because our brains need to be cool. Also, we will lose another toe. We will have four toes."
You already know that Miller is the best player in football. The transcendent linebacker cemented his status as the sport’s most dominant force by registering 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl 50 and by signing a new contract worth $114.5 million earlier this month. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he’s become the prototype for the modern disruptive defender, with Broncos executive vice president of football operations/GM John Elway calling the 27-year-old "as talented as anyone I’ve ever seen."
You might not know, however, that Miller is the weirdest player in football as well — by all accounts, including his own. He’s a superstar who’s graduated from watching run-of-the-mill nature shows to spending hours on YouTube trying to piece together his passion of the moment, and the weirder a given discovery, the better. He’s a part-time chicken farmer and a full-time sleuther, and in the past few months, he’s become obsessed with a certain amusement park ride, the food chain, extinct animals, and human evolution.
"It’s not like I’ll be around for this," the Super Bowl MVP says of a freckle-less, four-toed future. "But I think it’s dope."
"He’ll start these conversations and I am not interested in any of the things he brings up," says San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie, who’s been Miller’s best friend since the two attended Texas’s DeSoto High School together and Jerod-Eddie lived with Miller’s family.
Jerod-Eddie can’t pinpoint exact dates when he recounts his exchanges with Miller because, he says, they happen too frequently to track. He shares a sample back-and-forth:
"What do you think living species on Pluto would be like?" Jerod-Eddie says Miller asked him this summer.
"Bro, I don’t know and I don’t care," Jerod-Eddie responded.
"Just think about it," Miller shot back. "Just think what living beings on other planets would be like."
It’s not hard to think about other planets (dwarf or otherwise) when talking to Miller, who’s living in a wonderfully wacky world of his own.
That universe includes a particular affinity for roller coasters. Earlier this offseason, after coming home from a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain with Odell Beckham Jr., Miller approached Jerod-Eddie gleefully and said "Bro, we gotta go back." And so they did — six more times to Magic Mountain and once to a location in Arlington, Texas. Miller and his friends arranged for a park guide that allowed them to skip the lines. That kind of efficiency might have helped Miller test the escorts’ claim that it’s possible to enjoy the entire park in two hours, had he wanted to; it turned out, however, that he mostly just wanted to ride the "Superman" roller coaster over and over again. Six times in a row, in fact, on one visit. When Miller discovered that the Superman ride was different in Dallas, he devoted himself to the Mr. Freeze ride instead.
"It makes you feel like a little kid again," Jerod-Eddie says when asked about Miller’s urge to visit theme parks.
There are plenty of thrills outside of amusement parks, of course. When Jerod-Eddie bought a new car, he says Miller asked about the fastest speed he’d reached. When Jerod-Eddie responded with a number around 90, Miller asked to drive and shortly thereafter, the number had dramatically changed.
"Anything we do, he wants to go as fast as possible — jet skis, dirt bikes, four-wheelers," says Jerod-Eddie, who’s 301 pounds. "And I’m the exact opposite. I’m always the guy saying ‘I don’t know if we should go this fast.’"
The theme parks and adventures are all part of Miller’s well-designed plan to be far away from football when he’s not at the facility. "Maybe I should try making football 24/7," Miller says.
Star football players tend to be boring. Getting creative and adventurous on the field and deviating from the plan can cost a player his spot in the league. Football players are trained to follow rules and regulations, and for the successful ones, that extends to consuming as much film study as possible.
Miller is the exception. "I watch film on my iPad and stuff, but, not really," Miller says with a laugh. Unless it is the playoffs — more on that later — he’s totally finished with football once he’s home each day. He tries to complete all of his game preparation and film study at the team facility so that he can use his free time to be free: namely, to watch National Geographic or dive into a new online theory. This offseason he’s become intrigued by the last ice age, and more recently by a creature called "Haast’s eagle," which piqued Miller’s interest by going extinct because its primary food source, the flightless moa, went extinct due to hunting by humans and other causes.
"I spend a lot of time looking up extinct animals," he says. Miller describes this chain of events as though spending hours learning about Haast’s eagle was a highlight of his offseason. He’s particularly fascinated by the moa going extinct so quickly. It took only 100 years, he says. "That is so super fast. It normally takes at least 1,000 years. But that’s what happens. Humans hunted the moa to extinction, and the Haast’s eagle went extinct right after because that’s what he ate." (Dinosaurs are not a part of Miller’s fascination with the extinction process because "everyone already talks about them.")
"I guess I’m just weird," Miller says. "I don’t know why I like giant animals in New Zealand, it just interests me. But when you see pictures of this — you’ve got a 12-foot bird that looks like an ostrich or an emu and you’ve got these little humans and they are hunting down these birds, I thought it was just dope. We’ve come far since then, people don’t really even go out there and hunt like that. I think it’s dope to learn about humans, about ourselves and where we come from."
This is where life can get tricky for Miller, who doesn’t have anyone in the NFL to speak with about such topics. "I think there’s only one Von," Miller says. "The way I think about stuff, there’s only one. It would be dope to talk about the moa or the Haast’s eagles [in the locker room], too. I just think it’s dope to expand your mind."
Teammate Brandon McManus says that despite being an NFL superstar, Miller "never wants to be the center of attention, he is just so unique and goofy."
"I mean, most guys in the league, if they can’t sleep, they either go out or they get a game of cards together or whatever," Jerod-Eddie says. "He goes on YouTube to learn about the galaxy."
"I think the typical football player watches World Star or Chive," Miller says before a fashion shoot at a small house for the apparel company ’47. He admits he watches a little bit of that, too, but not much. He wants to focus on finding rabbit holes that will help him think differently. He compares himself to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler — not because he’s a sociopath, but because his passions are self-taught.
Sometimes Miller’s obsessions evolve into more than just thought exercises. Ever since taking a chicken farming class at Texas A&M ("I wanted to take an easy class"), for example, he’s continued to study the process, and now owns a full-fledged chicken farm in suburban Dallas. His studies on the matter helped him forge the belief that humans need more organic, pastured chickens and that raising chickens in a happy and humane way would lead to premium birds, which would mean more profits. He estimates that he wouldn’t have to sell the 90,000 chickens that most farmers would consider a haul in a given year, instead needing to sell just 10,000 of his premium flock. "It’s a billion-dollar industry and if I could get like 5 percent of that, I would be good and my children’s children would be good," Miller says.
Miller may be focused on his chicken operation long-term, but his football playing will pay the bills for now, with $70 million in guarantees in his new deal. After the Super Bowl, Miller said that he will eventually start a full-blown commercial farming operation once he gets more money, meaning a major expansion should come soon.
Miller transformed from run-of-the-mill football star to can’t-move-in-an-airport megastar midway through the first quarter of the Super Bowl. He took off from the left side of the Broncos’ defensive line, casually strolled around Carolina Panthers tackle Mike Remmers, and got to quarterback Cam Newton so soon in the progression that he was able to simply rip the ball from Newton’s hands, no big hit needed. This is not a play that is supposed to happen against Newton, one of the NFL’s best and most mobile passers. But Miller pulled it off, then held the ball for a brief second before it flopped into the end zone, where teammate Malik Jackson hopped on it for the score.
This was partially the product of an internet deep dive, too. Miller has been picking the brains of pass-rushing legends like teammate DeMarcus Ware for years, and often runs into former stars like Lawrence Taylor at events. He decided to hit the web as well because he realized that he’ll never get to glean any in-person advice from former Kansas City Chiefs legendary pass rusher Derrick Thomas, who passed away in 2000. Miller wasn’t necessarily interested in the way Thomas played — he’d seen plenty of that. He was interested in the way Thomas thought.
In recent seasons, Miller has sat at the computer and watched every Thomas interview he could find, seeking to learn about the mindset of someone he so admired. Miller kept clicking until he found something that changed his perspective about his position, eventually stumbling upon Thomas discussing how he imagined that he played offense. "He felt like the offensive linemen were on defense and trying to stop him, as if he was a running back," Miller says. "And when he explained himself, I saw myself. I’ve never felt like I was going to stop the offense. The guys behind me are trying to stop all those guys. I’m trying to get after the quarterback."
Miller recently started studying something else as well: the concept of positive energy, so that he can help out in the locker room by better understanding others in the organization. One day he just started searching, and he called this rabbit hole the best thing he’s ever found on the internet. He recently came across "The Rice Experiment," a scientifically questionable study that claims that yelling angrily at a pile of rice would have ill effects on the rice, and it made him think about how to use positive reinforcement with teammates. He looks up different mannerisms to analyze why a teammate is walking a certain way "and then try to figure out a way to make his day better." He’s researching facial expressions and self-visualization.
Though Miller may be studying ways to improve others, teammates and friends say he hasn’t changed himself. Fame didn’t make Miller weird because, well, he’s always been weird, always been cool.
When Miller saw teammate McManus at Peyton Manning’s retirement party in Los Angeles recently, the linebacker was so happy to see him he sent cars to usher McManus to every party in town. McManus didn’t ask for special treatment, but he barely paid for anything the whole weekend.
McManus says he couldn’t believe how calm Miller was during what should have been the most stressful weekend of his life. "It was the heat of the moment because the contract deadline was coming up and he was just with a bunch of his friends, acting like a regular guy," says McManus, who adds that Miller was able to show he was his normal self by doing something he loves: "Dancing, a lot. He loves to do crazy dances all the time."
Miller admits he’s thought about changing his habits and focusing more on football after hours. During the playoffs, he dialed back his internet usage and ignored social media, and he had the run of his life. "Maybe this season I should try that every single week," he says.
No one buys that he could ever be a normal, eat-sleep-breathe football player, though: "He wants to be outside the box," Jerod-Eddie says. "He looks past what everyone else sees. He’s the only person who could think things like ‘If I could start my own farm I would get the happiest chickens living.’"
Miller has big plans for the chicken farm, but he returns to the Broncos’ facility this week to prep for the 2016 football season. He’ll use all the tricks he learned on YouTube about how to "help the lowest guy on the totem pole improve, and not just on the field, but figuring out a way for him to want to be great."
"I just think," Miller says, "positive energy is dope."