Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Breaking The Mold : How John Elway Rather Not Be Like Mike And Succeed

Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, Wes Unseld, Otto Graham, Bart Starr, Norm Van Brocklin, Elgin Baylor, Larry Wilson, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Mike McCormack, Pete Retzlaff, Dick Szymanski, Mike Reinfeldt, Stew Barber, Bucko Kilroy, Matt Millen, Eddie LeBaron, Dwight Clark, Gene Shue, Mike Dunleavy, Phil and Tony Esposito help represent Group A.

Ozzie Newsome, Jerry West, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Wally Walker, Danny Ainge, and even the influence of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux can be put into the category of Group B.

Group A is a list of some of the greatest athletes ever to take jobs running professional teams via the front office, only to fail at finding any of the successes they did as players. Group B is the smaller more exclusive list of great athletes who won championships even after replacing their uniforms for a coat and tie a front office executive often wears.

National Football League legend John Elway is back as a Denver Bronco for the first time since retiring after the 1998 season when he became the oldest quarterback to even win a Super Bowl. Now he returns to a franchise that has been struggling to win consistently for several years, hoping his influence upon arrival can propel the franchise to the excellence it enjoyed when he played for them.

Elway's story up until now has been well publicized. The son of a successful collegiate coach, he attended college for four mostly exciting years that had little success. He was an All-American who won the Pac-10 Player of the Year twice and once finished second in the Heisman Trophy race despite never leading his school to a single bowl game.

The biggest moment in his career at Stanford would be in his last game. As Stanford kicked off leading California University 20-19 with little time on the clock, "The Play" transpired. With several laterals and the steamrolling of the Stanford marching band on the field, California returned the kick for a winning score. Ironically, Elway's father was named head coach at Stanford two years later and lasted five seasons. Jack Elway is the only Elway to lead his team to a bowl game.

Selected with the first pick of the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway refused to sign with the Baltimore Colts. He played summer baseball with the New York Yankees until the Colts buckled by trading Elway to the Denver Broncos.

The move worked out for Denver. The Broncos posted a .500 or better record in in six of the previous years, including four years with 10 or more wins. Elway started 10 games as a rookie and won four times. He would have just two more years where he posted a losing record until he retired after the 1998 season.

Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowl's over his 16 seasons, winning twice in the final two years of his career. He went to the Pro Bowl nine times while throwing for over 51,000 yards and 300 touchdowns, chipping in over 3,400 rushing yards and 33 more scores before being the very first Bronco inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He has enjoyed a post-retirement life where he ran several automobile dealerships, restaurants, and even an Arena League football team successfully. Elway majored in economics while attending the prestigious Stanford University.

Now he is being asked the run the Broncos. Unlike several sports legends who failed trying to handle this type of job before him, Elway grew up breathing football almost daily because of the fact his father was so heavily involved in the game. He spent his childhood moving a few times as Jack Elway climbed the coaching ladder to build his resume by being an assistant at the University of Montana and Washington State University before becoming head coach at California State University, Northridge.

Denver is opening a new era, but still have luxuries in some respect despite such a poor showing last year. Quarterback Kyle Orton had a career year before being injured towards the end of the year. His replacement, Tim Tebow, was a first round pick last year and performed well in his few starts. Whether Denver trades Orton or keeps both will be a question that may not get answered until draft day.

Elway spent his rookie year learning from Steve DeBerg before taking over.DeBerg had served the same role for Hall of Famer Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers before moving on to Denver. After leaving the Broncos, DeBerg mentored future Hall of Famer Steve Young with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elway knows the value of that type of learning but realizes moving forward is necessary.

If Tebow is handed the keys to the franchise by trading Orton for more draft picks on top of the draft picks they received by acquiring Orton for Jay Cutler, Denver could find themselves in the thick of a battle for the AFC West crown next year. If they feel it prudent to retain Orton, they keep a man who threw for over 3,600 yards and 20 scores in just 13 games during 2010.

Denver is expected to lean heavily on improving the defense now that John Fox has been named head coach. Fox is a defensive oriented coach who won a Super Bowl ring as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants before taking the head coaching job with the Carolina Panthers. In nine years with Carolina, he took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship appearances.

When Fox was a defensive backs coach with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers, as well as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders, Elway faced his schemes as a player and knows what Fox can give Denver. Most experts feel the Broncos will use their first pick, the second overall in the draft, on a defensive player. They also have two selections in the second round.

Though the task of rebuilding the Broncos may not be as difficult as some other NFL teams, Elway is expected to complete the task. The franchise has not made the playoffs since 2005, but "Captain Comeback" spoiled their fans when coming into town in 1983. Denver went their first 18 years of existence before making the playoffs in 1977 and had three total seasons of post season glory before Elway was drafted.

He took the team to the playoffs in 10 separate years, and the team has experienced just four more years of such success since his retirement. He was used to such pressure as a player, as have most of the legends who later took over teams from the front office after retiring as players.

Though the list of failure is long for legends, those few who have succeeded prove one can find glory by pushing buttons behind a desk. Newsome won his Super Bowl ring as an executive while never getting the chance as a player. History might be against Elway in his quest, but he has generally spent most of his professional athletic career coming back when the chips were down with circumstances slightly crumbled around him.

While Denver fans brace for his moves to get the team better, Elway is also on the verge of possibly putting the NFL on notice by certain roster moves. Champ Bailey will soon be 33-years old and entering his 13th season in a career that will eventually find him in the Hall of Fame. While Bailey is still an excellent player opposing teams rather not challenge, he is a free agent and is is questionable Denver will offer him the $9 million salary he earned annually during seven years spent with the Broncos.

What Elway decides to do with Bailey and other free agents is certainly worth watching as much as his first draft as Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Broncos, which has him overseeing the general manager and head coach of the team. He is expected to have a prominent hand in who and how the team drafts and builds the roster even though he readily admits that "I don't have that kind of experience to be able to pick those players day in and day out and such".

What the team does will be credited to him much like other legends who went to the front office. As the AFC West improves in trying to be the powerhouse it once was, Denver is attempting to set a pace of their own as well. No one should discount John Elway or the impact he could have, but this has been said before when so many great athletes before. Which group Elway will join gets decided over time, but Broncos fans must thank their captain for once again coming back trying to win.


c note said...

For Denver's sake they better hope he's more Ozzie Newsome than Michael Jordan or Matt Millen

afrankangle said...

Interesting breakdown list at the beginning of the post. Personally, I hope Elway does well. Great analysis.