The two players emerged from the locker room late Sunday night, their struts strong, their grins wide.
The Denver Broncos had just won Super Bowl 50, and Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. — two proud former Kansas Jayhawks — were together again.
In their mind, they were the NFL’s best corners, and now they were officially on the league’s best team, following their 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. Nothing was going to ruin this night — or keep them from telling everyone how good they were.
“No time for losers … ” Talib sang loudly, finishing the chorus to “We Are the Champions” as they headed toward the team bus in a festive black suit with gold trim. “Ten points is the maximum! No fly, no fly, no fly zone!”
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The truth is, for all the talk about the Denver secondary’s self-dubbed “no-fly” nickname, even they would tell you it was the Broncos’ front seven — led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller — that did much of the heavy lifting on this night, as they harassed Carolina quarterback and league MVP Cam Newton all-game long by piling up a Super Bowl-record seven sacks.
“Von was amazing, D-Ware (DeMarcus Ware), all the front got that pressure,” Harris said. “we were trying to give an extra three seconds — those extra three seconds are key, and they’ve been huge for us all year.”
The secondary deserves credit, too. The Broncos yielded 265 passing yards, but one of the members of their secondary — safety T.J. Ward — made a huge play in the third quarter, his interception near the goal line thwarting a potential scoring Carolina drive with Denver leading 16-7.
“If T.J. would have scored, then he and Von would have been wrestling over that MVP,” Talib said.
For the game, Newton completed only 18 of 41 passes for zero touchdowns and the aforementioned interception.
“We knew he wasn’t going to be comfortable,” Harris said. “We were going to load the box, play man-to-man outside.”
Harris said the Broncos — who were 5 1/2 -point underdogs — doubted the Panthers’ cast of young and journeymen receivers would be able to beat their corners. Both Harris and Talib made the Pro Bowl this year, while nickel corner Bradley Roby was a first-round pick in 2014.
“We felt like we had an advantage right there,” Harris said.
They were right, and what resulted was a huge night for the league’s top-ranked defense that afterward prompted many players on it to boldly proclaim it among the league’s best Super Bowl-winning units ever.
“I watched TV one time, I think it said 96 (percent) of the country had them winning, so that just gave us even more motivation,” Harris said. “People swept our defense under the rug and now it just feels so great to be one of the greatest of all time.”
The legitimacy of that claim can be argued — the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers might have something to say about that — but the Broncos’ defense provided most of the highlights on Sunday.
“That was the most fun game I’ve ever played in, by far,” Talib said. “I had about four or five catches on me and I still had the most fun in a game in my life.”
It’s a remarkable statement — and a testament to the Broncos’ defensive dominance — considering the catches he allowed weren’t the only issues Talib had on Sunday.
In the first half alone, he drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for trash talking that extended a Panthers drive, committed a personal foul with a excessive face-mask penalty and, following a touchdown on the next play, was offsides on an extra-point attempt.
“(They were) B.S. flags,” a defiant Talib said afterward. “One was on our sidelines, the guy was talking on our sidelines. One I just did on purpose and I just had to show him. It’s probably going to be a fine, but hey, we’re world champs.”
Funny thing was, none of the flags hurt the Broncos. The taunting penalty extended the drive, but the Panthers ended up punting. The face-mask penalty came at the Broncos’ 2, which moved the ball one yard. And the offsides penalty was enforced on the kickoff, which resulted in a touchback.
These were among the things that happened during the course of the game that made it feel like it was just the Broncos’ night. Turns out it was, hence the celebratory strut by the former Kansas corners long after the game ended. This was each player’s first Super Bowl title, and both were intent on soaking up the moment as they headed into the night.
Harris, who strolled right behind Talib wearing a tan suit and a gray Super Bowl champions hat, laughed and nodded as they headed toward the door.
“The no-fly zone!” Harris yelled, right before unleashing a sharp cackle that echoed through the hallway.