Does John Elway have the best CV in the NFL?

Posted Aug 7, 2016

There are only two men in the fifty Super Bowls who have rushed for a touchdown in four of those games.

The fact that Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas is one of them hardly came as a surprise to me but to discover that Denver Broncos quarterback, John Elway, is the other was less expected.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the man whose 16-season, one-club playing career produced the following stats:

  • Five-time AFC champion
  • Two-time Super Bowl winner
  • Super Bowl MVP
  • Nine-time Pro Bowler
  • First-team All-Pro
  • Two-time second-team All-Pro
  • Two-time AFC offensive player of the year
  • NFL man of the year
  • NFL 1990s all-decade team
  • Member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Had his Stanford University and Denver Broncos No.7 shirts retired.
  • Consensus All-American at Stanford
  • 51,475 NFL passing yards and 300 touchdowns.

And none of that even begins to tell the story of how thrilling he made the ride during those 16 pro seasons.

The list of Elway’s playing achievements could go on for pages if you started talking single season or single game.

Under the column headed notable achievements for his days as a general manager, there is probably just one entry - Super Bowl 50 champion. But in that four-word declaration, I wondered this week if there was perhaps a recognition that he has actually done as much if not more for Denver from behind a desk as ever he did from behind the line of scrimmage.

The task of general manager of an NFL team in this era is one that demands a person of many skills. You have to run a billion-dollar-per-year company with some highly-expensive assets inside a multi-billion-dollar larger company. Those expensive assets in various teams over the years have shown a happy knack for displaying strutting egos and finding legal trouble with alarming regularity.

As a GM you have to take decisions about spending huge salary sums on players you hope will make you successful while recognising they may be one knock to a knee away from wrecking that dream.

You have to answer to a fan base that pays good money and wants entertainment AND success in return, and who can let you have both barrels if you fail to deliver.

Against that background why would anyone who was already a local hero as a player want to jeopardise their reputation by taking on a role which could turn a happy man grey overnight.

Elway was not just that local hero figure when he retired following the 1998 season. He was a sporting god in Colorado. There was surely nothing he could do to go up in people’s estimation, but the same burning desire that raged in him as a player told him to accept a challenge.

He decided that the cosy life of the commentary booth or television studio was not for him. Where was the challenge in TV analysis for a guy who could break the huddle and work out a defensive set in the four seconds it took from there to get his hands under center?

It is a similar debate to the one that has been going on recently in English soccer. There are very few of the elite players who have retired in the past 10 years who want to consider the harsh, critical world of soccer management when a warm studio sofa beckons with a salary that is not what they had in their playing days but which keeps a man comfortably.

Not so with Elway whose drive for a challenge and success meant he saw the front office life as a natural step, perhaps the only career progression he could follow after retirement from playing. Once a leader, always a leader.

Elway has known plenty of devastating losses during his playing career. He was the losing quarterback who had to watch from the sideline in college as his team lost to California on the infamous Stanford Band play, perhaps the most notorious 10 seconds of football at any level.

As a young pro, he suffered three crushing losses in the Super Bowl in four seasons, each one progressively worse - 39-20, 42-10, 55-10. The final one was the sort that would embarrass anyone but Elway came back eventually to win the big one in each of his last two seasons.

He had a similar experience two years ago as a GM, losing a Super Bowl many people expected them to win. He went back to the drawing board, rebuilt his defense, and came back six months ago to stun the Carolina Panthers and add another championship ring to his collection.

Last week, Elway told the Denver Post: “I try to learn in every situation. Once I quit learning, I feel like it’s time to move on. But I like the challenge of continuing to try to be good.

“When I came in here, we were coming off a 4-12 year, so there was a lot of stuff we had to do. It’s hard to stay on top. It’s easier to get there than it is to stay there. It’s difficult, and you have to make a lot of tough decisions on guys on who’s staying, who’s going, also looking in the future and trying to blend all those things. The hardest decisions are on who can we pay, who can’t we pay, who can we keep, who can’t we keep.”

With a solid college career behind him, No1 overall pick in the 1983 Draft, two-time Super Bowl winner, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, 16-year pro, NFL GM, and having built a Super Bowl champion, is it just me that is left with the following question on my mind - if Roger Goodell decides to retire in the next five years, isn’t John Elway the perfect candidate to be the next commissioner of the NFL?

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