John Elway guided the Denver Broncos to their two Super Bowl titles as a superstar quarterback. Now the 53-year-old has made a tremendous transition to the front office, serving as the franchise's executive vice president of football operations.
Thanks largely to Elway's personnel savvy and ability to evaluate talent, the Broncos have advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they will square off with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Feb. 2.
In an interview on CNN's Unguarded with Rachel Nichols—which will air in its entirety on Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET—the retired signal-caller and current front-office wizard will zero in on the story behind his biggest move, which was signing legendary QB Peyton Manning.
But that's not all. Elway is familiar with the feeling of preparing for the NFL's biggest stage as a player, but the situation is quite different now that he's not taking to the gridiron.
Elway also gives some insight into the dynamic change in the sensations he's experienced in preparing for this epic showdown at East Rutherford's MetLife Stadium:
It feels a lot different, actually. You know, as a player, this is the biggest game of your career. And you know, especially as a quarterback, there's, you know, a lotta things that ride on this game because of the fact of the attention that the game gets. And so being with a coat on, you're a lot more in the background which is a little bit more enjoyable. And especially physically, it's a lot easier. 'Cause I know physically I can't handle it these days.
While it could have easily been viewed as a sentimental choice by the organization to appoint Elway as the roster czar, the bold move has paid off in a big way.
Between drafting superstar pass-rusher Von Miller to taking a chance on Manning in free agency and nabbing steals such as linebacker Danny Trevathan, Elway has made a ton of great moves since taking his new position in in 2011.
Nichols asked Elway how he dealt with not being able to use the rocket arm to bail himself out of the new situations he's encountered these days. He implied that Manning was his centerpiece and it was his main objective to surround the 37-year-old with the best supporting cast possible:
...Obviously when I had the arm that I had, that was my security blanket. And so, I mean, when you move away from that, I think that's-- you know, as a football player you have all control. You have the control of everything that goes on on the field, really, as a quarterback. Whereas in the position I'm in now, now you're putting those guys together with no control between the lines. And so, you know, fortunately, I've got no problem in turning that control over to Peyton. He's done a tremendous job with that. And my job has been to get the best people around him.
Speculation has been stirring throughout the off week ahead of the big game that Manning will retire if the Broncos bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Denver.
That draws inevitable comparisons to Elway himself, who couldn't quite win pro football's biggest prize in his first three tries, but made the most of his final two Super Bowl trips, then retired thereafter.
After all, the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account highlighted how Elway and Manning are the two oldest starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history:
Oldest starting QB in Super Bowl: -1998 John Elway DEN 38 yrs 217 days -2013 Peyton Mannning DEN 37 yrs 315 days (on 2/2)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 26, 2014
Elway believes Manning still has something left in the tank, though. It makes sense since "The Sheriff" just came off a record-setting season where he threw for an unprecedented 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns:
Well, I think Peyton still has a lot of football left in him. And I think his body is still in really good shape. He still enjoys the preparation. And he still works hard at it. So no, I think there's more in his future. And I think he's got a lot still to do. So I don't think it's time for Peyton to walk away.
Whatever happens to Manning moving forward, there is a stellar ensemble of talent on both sides of the ball for the Broncos to be competitive for years to come.
One of the biggest evaluations of Elway's tenure will be how his chosen QB of the future fares in succeeding Manning.
Ex-Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler was a second-round pick in 2012 and has been sitting behind Manning for the past two seasons to learn. This past draft, Zac Dysert was chosen in the seventh round and has remained on the roster all season despite how late he was selected out of Miami (Ohio).
Replacing Manning will prove impossible, but if Elway hadn't taken a leap of faith on the former Indianapolis Colts icon, Denver may not have ended up playing this Super Bowl Sunday.
Once again, Rachel Nichols' full interview with Elway will air on CNN at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 31.