You know he is thinking about it.
That moment when he gets to stand on the stage in front of the entire world, hoist the Lombardi trophy high above his head and proudly declare “This one’s for Pat.”
For the last five seasons, John Elway has been the stoic architect of the Denver Broncos. He has overcome Tebowmania, poor draft selections, and a Super Bowl-sized debacle. He has revitalized the Broncos and re-established the franchise as a professional football powerhouse.
The Broncos have won the AFC West every year under John Elway. They have a winning record in the postseason under John Elway. Now, for the second time in three years, the Denver Broncos are representing the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl under John Elway.
To say his tenure has been successful would be an understatement. That hasn’t stopped some, this writer included, from criticizing him. However, at this point, criticizing Elway over a few misses in the draft like Montee Ball or Philip Blake seems like nitpicking. Criticizing him for overspending on free agents who helped turn this Denver defense into one of the most dominant forces in football seems equally silly.
John Elway has proven himself to be right. He’s led the Denver Broncos with a steady, but swift hand. When Tim Tebow, a quarterback Elway rightfully didn’t believe in, took the nation by storm, Elway moved swiftly to sign Peyton Manning, perhaps the only quarterback who could make Broncos fans forget about Tebow.
When the Broncos got sandblasted by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Elway moved swiftly to build a defense like the one that had dismantled his record-breaking offense.
When his entire coaching staff checked out ahead of a playoff loss against the Indianapolis Colts, Elway cleaned house, despite that coaching staff's impressive 49-22 record. He deserves an enormous amount of credit for that decision.
Gary Kubiak, Elway’s former backup, and the man he hired to replace the Broncos previous coaching regime, had nothing but good things to say about his boss during his last media availability prior to this weekend’s big game.
“He’s just competitive in whatever he does,” Kubiak said. “I watch him in the draft room. I watch him during free agency. I watch him with our team as we go through the season. He’s a tremendous sounding board. There’s not a thing in the National Football League that John Elway hasn’t been through.”
When owner Pat Bowlen hired John Elway to re-build the Broncos, Bowlen said Elway’s experience would prove key to his success. “John has won championships as both a player and an executive, and his experience will be a valuable addition to the franchise,” Bowlen said in 2011. “He’s the perfect fit for this role, and I’m excited to welcome him back to the Denver Broncos.”
As a player, John Elway stood next to Pat Bowlen after winning a World Championship. Bowlen, who easily could have made the moment about him, raised the Lombardi trophy and famously proclaimed, “This one’s for John.” Now, Elway says it’s experiences like that as a player that have shaped his mentality as an executive.
“I’ve been proud that we’ve been able to field good teams since I’ve been back,” Elway said. “My experience as a player has helped me tremendously in this position because of having been in a locker room. Having played the game, I know what I liked in a teammate and being drawn to those types of players that I want on my football team.”
Hiring Elway was effectively the last football decision Pat Bowlen made as the owner of the Broncos before a battle with Alzheimer’s disease took away his ability to lead the organization. Joe Ellis, the man who has been running the Broncos in Bowlen’s place, knows Bowlen would be proud of Elway’s success.
“He’s done a wonderful job,” Ellis said. “When we first talked to him about coming back, it was you can dip your toe in the water and see if this is something you really want to do.”
Instead, Elway took the opportunity Bowlen was handing him and jumped at the chance to come back to the Broncos and compete. “I want to jump in all the way,” Elway said. Part of that enthusiasm must have to do with Elway’s admiration for Bowlen.
When Bowlen officially gave complete control of the organization to Ellis in 2014, a teary-eyed Elway referred to the man he’d worked with for with reverence. “He’s given me so much, as a player to be able to play for him. Now, having worked for him for three years, he’s given us every opportunity to succeed.”
Now, Elway has an opportunity to return the favor to an ailing owner who gave him this opportunity to become one of the most successful executives in the NFL over the last five years. In fact, there’s only one box Elway’s yet to fill out. He may get that done this Sunday.
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