SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The last time the Broncos went to the Super Bowl, Chris Harris, Jr., didn’t arrive until Thursday. He’d torn his ACL in a January 2014 playoff game and was told two weeks later — along with the rest of the Broncos’ Injured Reserve players — that they wouldn’t spend the first five days of Super Bowl week with their teammates.
The cornerback pleaded with his head coach, John Fox, to fly in earlier. It didn’t work.
“He didn’t want us to be a distraction to those guys,” he said. “I definitely felt left out, man.”
Outside linebacker Von Miller, who had an ACL tear, was upset he had to stay in Denver until the Thursday before Super Bowl XLVIII.
“I just missed time with my teammates,” he said.
When the Broncos defeated the Patriots to reach Super Bowl 50, then, new head coach Gary Kubiak did the opposite of Fox — to raves from his players.
He flew all the team’s Injured Reserve players out for the full week.
He even brought the team’s cook.
“I know how from a morale point of view, it’s great for those guys,” Miller said. “It’s huge to have the whole team come out, and we did that.”
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When GM John Elway asserted this week the Broncos fired Fox last year to get over a playoff hump, he was referring to two Broncos home upsets in three years — but also, likely, a Super Bowl week gone bad two years ago.
On the first play of the game, quarterback Peyton Manning walked toward the center to make an audible. With the Seahawks faithful roaring, the center snapped the ball over his head for a safety. Afterward, players said the Broncos didn’t practice in crowd noise.
Some thought Fox’s practice didn’t taper off properly during the week. The team, too, stayed in Jersey City, N.J., all week — until Saturday, when Fox moved them to Newark and away from their families.
Coaches felt confident all week leading up to the 43-8 loss. One still on the Broncos staff said this week they merely picked a bad time to have a bad day.
Asked later what he would have done different, though, Fox told the Denver Post, “Probably everything.”
“We just didn’t get the job done with ‘Foxy,’” Harris said. “Things happened. He did a great job of developing a lot of the guys here to where we are now.
“Kubiak, man, he just took us to another level.”
Elway’s statement about his former roommate aside, that won’t be fact unless the Broncos win Sunday.
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Fox is beloved by his former players, both on the Panthers — who he led to the Super Bowl 12 years ago — and Broncos.
Miller said Fox “loved me first,” and was the first to give the star outside linebacker a chance by deciding to draft him No. 2 overall. Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe detailed how Fox visited him in the hospital after he was rushed there with symptoms of a seizure in 2013. Receiver Demaryius Thomas said he loved Fox, and misses him still.
Fox mentored Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson and, teammate Thomas Davis said, created a culture centered around winning.
Players on both teams know Sunday might not be easy for their former coach.
“I definitely thought about that,” Davis said. “Both his former teams are playing against each other. But me knowing ‘Foxy,’ he’ll probably be watching the game and be excited for his players.”
There could be other emotions for Fox, who the Bears declined to make available for interviews.
“He’s probably telling himself he could be in this situation right now,” Thomas said. “I’m sure any coach would feel like that right now …
“We went to the Super Bowl, didn’t finish. You’d think he’d be back right now.”
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Jared Allen can’t stop raving about the Panthers locker room — “It’s every football cliché,” he said, in a good way. But the defensive end, who the Bears traded for a sixth-round pick in September, sees progress back in Chicago, too.
“I’ve been a fan of (Fox) for a long time,” Allen said. “He does it the right way. You saw through this year, they had their ups and downs, so there’s learning curves involved. Any time coaches are getting plucked away for head coaching jobs, you’re doing something right. It’s a good sign. ….
“I think Coach Fox, his whole history speaks for itself. They’re going to be all right.”
Fox led the Broncos to four playoff berths in four years before they decided that wasn’t good enough.
Bears fans would surely take a Super Bowl appearance — win or lose.
“He’s been there,” Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman said. “A lot of coaches haven’t won one. A lot of great coaches haven’t won one.”
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