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Column: Without John Elway, there would be no Denver Broncos

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June 28, 2015

 

Happy birthday, John Elway!

The most iconic man in Denver Broncos history – possibly all Denver sports history – turns 55 years old today. And without Elway, his beloved Broncos wouldn’t be the world class franchise they’ve become.

Rewind 32 years to that fateful day he was drafted No. 1 overall, then traded to the Mile High City after threatening to play baseball; it was a turning point for the Broncos organization. Sure, the orange and blue participated in one Super Bowl at that point in time, but Denver die-hards will remember how consistently bad the team was back in the day. Only two winning seasons in their first 15; Denver football was at times a disaster.

A year after Elway was drafted, Pat Bowlen would buy the team, and together they’d help Broncos football flourish on the national landscape.

With Bowlen as owner and Elway as the gunslinging do-whatever-it-takes quarterback, they led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, famously winning in back-to-back fashion in 1998 and 1999. Throughout his ownership, the burning desire to be the best fueled Bowlen. It did the same for Elway; an extremely competitive man, the face of the franchise, the Duke of Denver.

Of course, no one play better sums up Elway’s career than the “Helicopter play” from Super Bowl XXXII. For the entirety of his football playing career, fans became accustomed to the Duke’s flair for the dramatic, utilizing his legs to scramble away from defenders or pick up crucial first downs and ultimately become the “Comeback King.”

Elway retells the story of installing the play in practice and how Mike “The Mastermind” Shanahan said Green Bay was “100 percent” going to play the defense they had played all year long. But, they didn’t. Denver’s quarterback realized the defensive alignment was different than they had practiced against, immediately tucked the ball and took off, gaining a pivotal first down. That drive ultimately led to a Terrell Davis touchdown and the play propelled the entire team to the next level, to Super Bowl winners.

“One of the greatest individual efforts you will ever see in a Super Bowl,” then-fullback Howard Griffith said of the play. “Because, in that split second, you knew that he wanted it. He wanted it more than anybody else on the football field.”

At the end of his playing career, Elway held nearly every Broncos franchise record out there, and still holds onto many even though the game has changed drastically since he emotionally retired in 1999. In 2004, he was the Broncos first ever Professional Football Hall of Fame inductee, opening the door for three more men to join him in recent years.

Even with that mighty accomplishment, Elway’s post-playing days will be defined by what he’s done and currently doing with the Broncos from an executive side of things. In 2011, Elway was hired on as Vice President of Football Operations, expanding his role and reach since then while setting up Denver with enough talent to win four straight AFC West titles.

Elway the executive has been as fiery and competitive as he was as a player, taking the big gambles needed to win in the NFL. Signing Peyton Manning was massive, but his health and advanced age were the risk. One that has paid off for four straight years. Other incredible signings include; stealing Wes Welker and Aqib Talib from the New England Patriots, getting DeMarcus Ware, seeing the potential in Emmanuel Sanders and signing All-Pro guard Louis Vasquez. His drafts have been highlighted by Von Miller, Chris Harris (undrafted), Malik Jackson, Bradley Roby and likely more who have yet to reach their potential.

Maybe no move has been bigger than the firing of John Fox and hiring of Gary Kubiak as head coach. Kubiak backed Elway up at quarterback in the 90s, the two shared a room in Greeley during training camps and “Kubee” was the team’s offensive coordinator during the Super Bowl years. In Kubiak, Elway knows he has a man nearly as competitive as himself as well as an extremely intelligent football mind leading.

When he was hired to Denver’s front office, some questioned whether it would ruin his reputation as a god-like football figure in Colorado. Instead, Elway’s become one of the most exciting executives in the NFL.

His win-at-all-costs mentality is perfect for the Broncos, and thanks to Elway, they remain one of the most respected and prestigious organizations in all of American professional sports.

Without John Elway, there would be no Denver Broncos. At least, not like we know them today.

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