For the first nine years of his career, DeMarcus Ware was locked in a shiny glass box, one lorded over by a slick-talking carnival barker by the name of Jerry Jones, the owner and GM of the Cowboys.
A native of Auburn, Alabama, Ware was raised by a single mother. As a teenager, he cut grass and stocked groceries to help cover some of the household expenses. After only two years of high school football, his lone D-I scholarship offer came from nearby Troy University.
While the lazy narrative around NFL players revolves around guns, drugs, violence and promiscuity, Ware is a devoted family man who married his high school sweetheart while in college. For someone so young, the hardships and pain that he and his wife have endured are beyond sad. But you'd never know his about his personal hardships while watching him on the football field.
The hopes around Dallas, the team that drafted him with the eleventh overall pick out of Troy in 2005, was that the gifted defensive end/linebacker could help restore the franchise to the bygone era of glory they'd once experienced with head coach Jimmy Johnson and Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin in the '90s, and with Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett in the '70s.
Jerry Jones talked a good game about building a Super Bowl winner, but the fantasy never materialized. In the end, his words never amounted to much more than empty promises.
But Ware kept up his end of the bargain. In 2005, he led the team with eight sacks in addition to piling up 58 total tackles, 14 of those for losses, and three forced fumbles. He experienced no sophomore slump the next year as he again led the franchise in sacks with 11.5, the most ever by a Cowboys linebacker.
By his third year in the NFL, he was widely recognized as the best outside linebacker in the league, a menace that could also wreak havoc as a defensive end. He had 14 sacks, the most by a Cowboy since since Jim Jeffcoat did it back in 1986, along with four forced fumbles and 80 tackles.
He collected 84 tackles, nine for loss, six forced fumbles, two passes defended and 20 sacks.
In 2009 and 2010, he finished with 11.0 and 15.5 sacks respectively, joining Mark Gastineau, Reggie White, Kevin Greene, Jared Allen and Michael Strahan as the only players to ever lead the NFL in sacks on two separate occasions.
In the opening game of the next year Ware sacked Eli Manning twice, reaching 101.5 career sacks for his career. In only 113 games, he became the second-fastest player to reach 100 sacks behind only the incomparable Reggie White, who did so in 96 games. He went on to become the Cowboys' all-time leader in sacks.
Ware continued to be one of the NFL's best defensive players, but was released by the Cowboys, in a salary cap move to save money in 2014.
“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones in a statement.
Instead of taking care of that supposed franchise cornerstone, Jerry Jones combed the police blotter and court dockets to find his replacement, Greg Hardy. But Dallas' dumb move has been Denver's gain.
Over the past two years, Ware has teamed with linebacker Von Miller and buzzing Denver secondary to form one of the top defenses in the National Football League. In Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, they'll see another squad that is their defensive equal in the Carolina Panthers.
Once Denver's former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio left to become the Oakland Raiders' head coach, Ware was allowed to return to Wade Phillip’s 3-4 defense, the same scheme and coach that he'd performed at his apex with in Dallas.
"I know when they changed to a 4-3 in Dallas, going against a tackle all the time in the game I think wore him down a little bit," Phillips told the Denver Post when he became the Broncos Defensive Coordinator prior to this season. "He seems refreshed here. In this defense, he's standing up; he doesn't have to go against the tackle all the time, except in pass-rush situations.”
Teaming with Miller, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan, Ware is free to use his instincts to give opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators nightmares
With their experience and versatility, along with the athleticism, cover skills and sure tackling provided by the rest of the linebacker corps, the Denver Broncos defense will provide robust opposition to the Panthers' formidable offensive attack.
Although Cam Newton has proven himself to be exceptional, facing off against Ware and company in Super Bowl 50, no matter how you slice it, will be the most daunting task he's faced to date..