"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
In the sports world, we obsess over age. We marveled as Kobe Bryant electrified the NBA straight out of high school. As Michael Jordan started his 14th All-Star Game in 2003, we cheered for him to show the kids a thing or two.
Every once in a while, an athlete, who should be beyond his years, strings together a set of performances that leaves us in absolute awe.
In Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway showed us the number of wrinkles in a man's face means nothing when his game, his season, and his legacy are on the line.
Super Bowl XXXII: 12-22, 123 yards, 1 INT; 5 carries, 17 yards, 1 TD
Having already lost three Super Bowls, Elway had gained a stigma he could not shake: "Can't win the big one."
Elway had already appeared in three Super Bowls (XXI, XXII, XXIV), losing each one by monumental proportions.
To remind him of the lack of a ring, Jewel sang the national anthem. To remind him what happened in this city ten years ago, the quarterback—Doug Williams—and coach—Joe Gibbs—of Elway's painful game stood at midfield for the coin flip.
Elway's fourth Super Bowl opponent was the Green Bay Packers, an 11.5 points favorite entering the game. The Packers all but shut down Elway's passing game, but it was his feet instead of his arm that made the headlines.
Elway put the Broncos ahead, 14-7, with a fake to running back Terrell Davis, and taking it in himself from a yard out. With the score, Elway became the oldest player to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl, at 37 years old.
His run late in the third quarter, with the score tied 17-17, made heads turn.
Facing a 3rd down with six yards to go deep in Packers territory, Elway took the game into his own hands. With no one open to throw to, Elway tucked it and ran towards the goal line, with Packers linebacker Brian Williams and safety LeRoy Butler waiting for him.
Elway took the smack, spun nearly 360 degrees in the air, and landed on the 2-yard line for a first down, shifting the momentum of the game.
"When I saw him do that and then get up pumping his fist, I said, 'It's on,'" former tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the game. "That's when I was sure we were going to win."
The Broncos won 31-24, and prompted owner Pat Bowlen to attempt to put the teams love for Elway into words, holding the Lombardi Trophy saying, "This one's for John!"
Super Bowl XXXIII: 18-29, 336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Elway returned to the Super Bowl, this time in Miami, Florida. There, Elway would have to face haunting memories once again.
Dan Reeves was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Elway's opponent. Reeves also was the Elway's coach in the Super Bowl losing years in Denver. Elway had a chance to prove that he was not the reason for the years of disappointment, and he took it.
His best play of the game, and the most talked about afterward, was an 80-yard dart to wide receiver Rod Smith for a touchdown. Most of the play was not seen, however, because FOX was still airing a commercial during the play.
Smith streaked past Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, who was arrested the night before the game for offering an undercover police officer $40 in exchange for oral sex. Robinson was allowed to play in the game, but could not stop Elway from winning his second Super Bowl.
With his stellar play, Elway became the oldest player to win Super Bowl MVP at 38.
He retired following the game, doing what every athlete dreams of:
Leaving as a champion.