Breaking Down A Bronco: A Look Back At The Career Of John Elway

The Wrestling WizardContributor IOctober 30, 2009

The Journey Begins

John Albert Elway Jr. was born in Port Angeles, Washington June 28, 1960. John began playing organized football in Pop Warner leagues and elementary school. Elway’s father recognized his son’s athletic abilities and duly noted that his glaring strength was his accurate and strong arm.


Thinking of his son’s future, Elway’s father moved his family to the Los Angeles area so that his son can play in Granada Hills High School’s pass-oriented offense. Obviously, Mr. Elway knew what he was doing as this move paid quick dividends when John completed 60% of his passes for 5,711 yards and 49 touchdowns over his four years at Granada Hills. In his senior year Elway threw for 3,711 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was known as a dual-threat quarterback – he can light you up with his arm, and would burn you with his feet if given the opportunity. John was the number one recruited high school player in the country and received over 60 scholarship offers. Playing football was not the only talent Elway had; he also was a highly touted baseball prospect.


In 1979, the Kansas City Royals drafted him out of high school. Hall of Famer George Brett was quoted by saying “I wish this kid plays football”; Brett and Elway would have competed for the third base spot. Much to George Brett’s satisfaction Elway decided to go to college and attend Stanford University.




Entering Stanford’s already high-octane passing offense, Elway fit right in and excelled immediately. He set school records for passing attempts and completions -- 774 of 1,243 giving him a 62.1 completion percentage for his four-year tenure at Stanford. He also threw for a total of 9,349 yards and 77 touchdowns. Elway set an NCAA record for the lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a career, with a stunningly low 3.13 percent. Elway ended his college football career in one of the most dramatic games of all time. In 1982, the heated rivalry of Stanford vs Cal went down in history as one of the most bizarre endings to a game ever. After kicking a field goal to take the lead with only seconds remaining, Stanford kicked off, and after a series of laterals and with the help of the Stanford band charging the field, Cal pulled off a miracle win. Elway led his Cardinal to a 20-23 record during his reign, but he never was able to take them to a bowl game. Despite that, Elway had a very accomplished college career, graduating with nearly all Pac 10 and Stanford career records for passing and total offense. In his final season he led the nation in touchdown passes with 24 -- the same year he finished second in Heisman voting.  While, breaking and setting all of these records, and winning Pac 10 player of the year honors twice (1980 & 1983), Elway still found the time to continue his baseball career. He finished his senior year at Stanford with a .361 AVG, 9 HR’s, and 50 RBI in 49 games. Not only that, but he boasted a 5-4 record with a 4.51 ERA. In the 1981 summer draft, the New York Yankees made John Elway their first selection. The following year he hit for a .341 AVG and a club-high 24 home runs for the Yankees single-A club.


By the time the 1983 draft rolled around, Elway had already completed two minor league seasons for the New York Yankees. With the number one selection in the draft the Baltimore Colts chose John Elway. However, Elway refused to join the Colts, stating that he felt they could not allow him to be successful. Elway threatened that if the Colts did not trade him, he would pursue his career in baseball. Robert Irsay finally gave in and traded John to the Denver Broncos for quarterback Mark Herrmann, rights to offensive lineman Chris Hinton and a first round pick, which turned out to be Ron Solt. The Broncos wasted no time in locking up Elway and signed him to a 6-year $12.7 million contract.

Elway went through the regular growing pains of a quarterback during his first few years. In his first year he played ten games, replacing injured starting quarterback Steve DeBerg. The following season, Elway was handed the starting position and led the Broncos to a 12-2 regular season record, while throwing for 18 touchdowns. The 1985-86 season saw Elway make Bronco history. Elway set team records for passing attempts, completions, and yards. John threw for 3,891 yards, 22 touchdowns on 605 attempts, completing 54% of his passes. It is no surprise that the Broncos led the league in total passing plays and total offense.

The Drive”

January 11, 1987 – a star became a legend. Trailing to the Cleveland Browns 20-13 in the AFC championship game, with five minutes left to play, John Elway put his superman cape on and paved his path to legendary status. Pinned back on their own 2-yard line, Elway knew what he had to do – march down the field 98 yards and somehow get the ball in the endzone. The ever cool, never shaken, #7 did just that. He led a flawless 15-play drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson. Tying the game with only 39 seconds left to play, overtime was looming, and it seemed inevitable who the victor would be. Elway orchestrated a 60-yard drive in overtime, which set up Rich Karlis to kick the game winning field goal that propelled the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending was not to be in this case and the Broncos lost to the New York Giants 39-20. However, this marked the beginning of something special, and the NFL had just witnessed the first of what would be many memorable comebacks led by John Elway.


Elway led the Broncos to a second straight Super Bowl appearance, knocking off the Browns once again in order to reach it. Elway torched the Browns for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns, however the game will be remembered for the infamous “fumble”. Browns running back Ernest Byner seemed to be on his way into the endzone for the game-tying touchdown, but fumbled the ball on the Bronco’s 3-yard line with only 65 seconds left to play. Another heart breaking defeating for the dawg pound, led to another Super Bowl appearance for the orange and blue. However, Elway was denied his first Super Bowl ring once again, this time to the hands of the Washington Redskins 42-10.

Third Time’s a Charm?

The 1989-90 season saw the Broncos and Elway reach the Super Bowl once again. Once again, much to the dismay of Cleveland Brown fans, it was at their expense. However, it was de ja vu all over again for Elway and the Broncos as the San Francisco 49ers disposed of them handily 55-10. The Broncos played an awful game, and Elway was the only Bronco to score a touchdown and the 49ers set all kinds of Super Bowl records. The 49ers became the only team to score eight touchdowns in a Super Bowl, the only team to score two touchdowns in every quarter, 55 points was the most points scored ever in a Super Bowl game, and the 45-point margin of victory was the largest ever in a Super Bowl. It is no surprise that the Broncos entered a state of depression after this loss and Elway’s chances of getting a Super Bowl ring became ever so dim. The 49ers victory made them the first team in ten years to win back-to-back Super Bowl’s. Foreshadowing much?

The 90’s

Elway kicked off the 1991-92 season with a bang, tallying up his first ever, and only, receiving touchdown. In the same game he also recorded two rushing touchdowns, and two passing touchdowns. Elway continued to put up staggering numbers but the Broncos wouldn’t reach the Super Bowl again until Elway’s final two seasons.

The 1997-98 season was a season of change for the Broncos. New uniforms, and a whole new team, Elway was surrounded with talent at every position and a Super Bowl berth seemed inevitable. Elway was playing his best football, tallying up a club record 27 touchdown passes, and with Terrell Davis carrying the ball, the Broncos were a force to be reckoned with. For the fourth time in his career, Elway reached the Super Bowl. However, one man stood between him and the Lombardi trophy, that man was Brett Favre. In a showdown of Goliath vs Goliath, two of the best quarterbacks of all-time faced off against other. One (Favre), searching for his second straight Super Bowl victory, and the other (Elway) seeking his first ever ring.  Elway’s fierce competitive prowess and his desire to win a Super Bowl showed in this game, and one play sums up his love, desire, and will for the game. On a crucial third down play, John sacrificed his body, plunging forward, spinning in the air on contact and reaching for the first down.

It was evident that Elway was not to be denied for a fourth time, and thanks to three rushing touchdowns by the Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis, Elway had reached the summit after 15 years. During the post-game victory celebration, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen held the trophy in the air and said “this one’s for John”.

Elway ended his career on the highest note imaginable -- back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Starting the season off with 13 straight victories, two wins shy of a perfect season. A fitting end for a man of his caliber, and well deserved. At 38 years old, Elway became the oldest player to win the Super Bowl MVP, completing 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards with one passing touchdown, and one rushing touchdown. The Broncos took care of the Falcons easily, 34-19. 




There are reasons why John Elway is referred to as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Elway ranks 3rd all-time in passes completed with 4,123, behind only Marino (4,967) and Favre (5,377). He is 3rd all-time in pass attempts with 7,250, behind Marino (8,358) and Favre (8,758). Elway is also ranked 3rd all-time in passing yards with 51,475, behind Marino (61,361), and Favre (61,655). He is 5th all-time in passing touchdowns with 300, behind Peyton Manning (306), Tarkenton (342), Marino (420), and Favre (442). Elway is also one of only three quarterbacks to be drafted #1 and go on to in the Hall of Fame; the other two quarterbacks are Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. He is the only player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for over 200 in seven straight seasons (1985-91). Elway is also the only player ever to rush for a touchdown in 5 Super Bowl’s.