Elway having super success in Broncos' front office

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John Elway, executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos, celebrate after they defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

NEW YORK - It will never be like it was for John Elway.

If the Broncos manage to beat the Seahawks Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII, Elway, who, as executive vice president of football operations put this team together, will be jubilant.

But he knows it won't feel the same way it did as a player in the late '90s when he was down there on the field with the ball in his hands and his teammates counting on him, when he led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

"It's very different [as a front-office executive], and it takes some getting used to," Elway said. "As a player, it was so exciting to be in this [game] because this is what you work for.

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"It's not nearly as much fun upstairs as it is down on the field. But I'm proud of being a part of it and being able to help put the team together, put the coaches together, put the personnel side and everything that comes together. So there is a lot of pride in that. But it's different than it was as a player. There's more of a quiet pride than there is being the quarterback, where everyone is patting you on the back."

No one quite knew what to expect 3 years ago when owner Pat Bowlen gave the greatest player in franchise history the keys to the team's football operation following a 4-12 season.

Being a great player isn't a guarantee that a guy is going to be a terrific coach or front-office boss. Just ask Matt Millen.

But in just three seasons, Elway has managed to turn the Broncos from a four-win joke into a team that is 60 minutes away from claiming the Lombardi Trophy.

"First, we had to clean up the locker room," he said. "We had to get the locker room right and get the right mentality in there because that is really the life bread of what your organization is about.

"Secondly, I've always said that if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them. And if they're out there [on the free-agent market], then we'll sign them."

That's exactly what he did after the 2011 season. The Broncos managed to win eight games and make the playoffs with Tim Tebow as their quarterback. But Elway knew the Broncos weren't ever going to win a Super Bowl with Tebow behind center.

So he traded him to the Jets for a couple of packs of bubble gum and took a calculated gamble on Peyton Manning, who had missed the entire 2011 season with a career-threatening neck injury. All Manning has done is throw 92 touchdown passes in two seasons.

Elway wasn't exactly sure what he wanted to do with the rest of his life after he retired as a player in '99.

"When I first retired, I wanted to kind of get away and see if there was something else out there other than football," he said. "It took me 2 years to figure out there wasn't, and 3 years to really figure out that I'm built to be involved with football somehow.

"That's really what I know the best because that's what I've spent all my time in. My entire adult life has been in football. I had the [car] dealerships and restaurants, but those don't have scoreboards on Sundays. When you're used to seeing a scoreboard - even when you're 6 or 7 years old - I don't think you ever break that."

Elway ended up going the Ron Jaworski route and becoming co-owner and chief executive officer of the Denver Crush, an expansion team in the Arena Football League. Ran the team for 8 years. Took the team to a league title in its third year of existence. Spent a year as a consultant for the Broncos before Bowlen asked him to take over the football operation.

Many people were skeptical. Troy Aikman wasn't one of them.

"I thought he'd be great," said Aikman. "I've been around John. We had The Quarterback Club back when we were playing. John's a really bright guy, despite the fact that he went to Stanford.

"He was with the Crush and a lot of people probably didn't pay attention to that. But he was very involved in running it. I think it was a good training ground for him to move into the Broncos organization, and he hit it running. I wasn't surprised at all that he took the job, or by the job he has done."

Like Elway, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was a Hall of Fame player. He has won two Super Bowl titles and is considered one of the best talent evaluators in the league. But Newsome didn't start at the top like Elway.

"Ozzie came up through the ranks," said NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, who was the Ravens' head coach when they won their first Lombardi Trophy in 2000. "He was a scout, coach, administrator. He built that base, those credentials. Ozzie Newsome would've been a good general manager even if he weren't a Hall of Fame player.

"John came by way of the way we've seen some others. And it didn't bode well for a lot of them. But John obviously has put together the right structure, has the comprehensive view and has shown that he's an outstanding administrator."

It never will been like it was for Elway. The view from the club box is much different than the view from behind center. It's a helpless feeling being up there and knowing you have zero control over what's going on down on the field. But he's adjusting.

"I'm getting better with letting the control go and knowing that there's nothing I can do," he said. "It was tough early. And there have been certain games that, for us to be successful, we had to get over it.

"The San Diego [playoff] game for me was a crucial game for us, so I was more nervous for that game than I had been since I took the job just because of the impact that I knew it would have on us as an organization, win or lose. It took me 4 hours to get the pit out of my stomach after that game was over."

 

Inside the game

* Marshawn Lynch isn't easy to bring down. This season, 752 of his 1,262 rushing yards came after contact. Only the Vikings' Adrian Peterson had more (829). But despite his "Beast Mode" nickname, the 5-11, 215-pound Lynch also has some gazelle in him. Maybe not quite as much as the Eagles' LeSean McCoy, but he can make people miss as well as run them over. "People talk about 'Beast Mode' and what that represents for Marshawn," Troy Aikman said. "And he's as tough as they come. But I don't know that people really realize how elusive he is. He's got some wiggle to him. He can make people miss in the open field. That's a rare combination to have that kind of power and still be able to make people miss."

* Because they have a big, physical secondary that likes to roughhouse with receivers, there is a perception that if the zebras don't call the game tight Sunday, the Broncos are going to be in trouble. But their receivers hardly are shrinking violets. They can roughhouse as well. With the exception of 5-9 slot receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos' pass-catchers are big. Demaryius Thomas is 6-3, 230. Eric Decker is 6-3, 214. Tight end Julius Thomas is a sturdy 6-5, 250. "Our physicality may be a little underrated as opposed to how much attention they get for it," Julius Thomas said. "But we expect a physical game. We expect to go out there and earn everything. You know they're not going to give us anything. So if the game is reffed more physical, then we just have to step up the physical nature of the way we play. I think we'll be fine either way."

2-minute drill

FROM THE LIP

* “He took it to a level that it didn’t need to be. I was just talking about his résumé. I didn’t say anything about his gap tooth or his ‘S’ words or his ‘F’ words that I don’t understand. What the hell is he saying? So if he wants to go personal, we can go personal. But I was just stacking his résumé against the [rest of the Hall of Fame] class.” — Hall of Famer Warren Sapp after being called a coward by HOF finalist Michael Strahan for saying he didn't belong in Canton

* “I mean, if y’all say y’all is our bridge from the players to the fans, and the fans really aren’t tripping, then what’s the point? What’s the purpose? They’ve got my back and I appreciate that, but I don’t get what’s the bridge then built for.” — Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch when it was suggested he needs to talk to the media because they are the bridge between the players and the fans

* ]“When I watch film, I don’t see the effort in him. And I never, ever want to question somebody’s effort. But the tape, it doesn’t lie. And I don’t see the desire I saw when he was Chris Johnson, the no-big-contract Chris Johnson.” — Former Broncos RB and current NFL Network analyst Terrell Davis on Titans RB Chris Johnson

BY THE NUMBERS

* The Broncos scored 50 or more points in a game three times this season. They’re the fifth team in league history to do that, and the first since 1969.

* The AFC has won 10 of the last 16 Super Bowls, but has lost three of the last four.

* Twenty-six of the 48 Super Bowl MVPs (Super Bowl XII had co-MVPs) have been quarterbacks, including six of the last seven. Seven have been running backs. Six have been wide receivers. The other eight: linebacker (2), safety (2), defensive line (3), cornerback (1) and returner (1).

* Just six of the last 17 teams that won the Super Bowl coin toss also won the game.

 This and that

* While he is happy and content in the Fox broadcast booth, Troy Aikman said he could see himself following Elway’s lead and taking an NFL front-office job at some point. “If the time was right and the team was right, would I have an interest? Yeah, I probably would,” said the former Cowboys quarterback. “It would be something that would get me excited. But if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to be all in. And all in is a huge commitment, and you don’t have much of a life outside of that.” The natural spot would be with the Cowboys. He led them to three Super Bowl titles. He lives in Dallas. But owner/general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t seem interested in giving up control of personnel decisions. Another Hall of Fame quarterback, Dan Marino, took a front-office job with the Dolphins a few years back, but decided very quickly that it wasn’t for him and went back to his NFL studio job with CBS. “I think Dan realized it’s a big change of lifestyle,” Aikman said. “This is a good life as a broadcaster. I’m a single father with [two] young daughters. So I’m spending a lot of time running to practices and games and things like that.”

* Think nobody watches the Pro Bowl? Think again. Team Rice vs. Team Sanders finished seventh overall in the Nielsen ratings last week, ahead of new episodes of “Criminal Minds, “Modern Family,” “CSI” and “Castle” and just behind “American Idol.” The game was watched by 11.4 million people. While I initially wasn’t a big fan of the new choosing-sides format they used, it did seem to energize the players and made for a more competitive — and watchable — game.

* The halftime entertainment for Super Bowl I was the marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling. That first Super Bowl between the Packers and Chiefs was watched by 39.9 million people. Last year’s Super Bowl between the Ravens and 49ers was watched by 164.1 million.

* Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2004 to ’06 when Michael Vick was the quarterback there. Knapp has kept in contact with Vick since he was released from prison in ’09, and has been impressed with the way the he’s turned his life around. “It’s great to see,” Knapp said. “I always felt down deep that he was a good human being. He just couldn’t say no to his friends. And that’s what got him in trouble.”

* Brian Billick still remembers the collective groan from NFL personnel people at the 2011 scouting combine when Russell Wilson stepped on the scale and his height was announced. “Going into the combine, everybody liked Russell, everybody,” said Billick. “They were saying he was Drew Brees-like. Then he stepped on that scale, and when whomever it was yelled out ‘5-10-1/4,’ everybody was like, ‘Geez, I thought he was at least 5-11.’ That’s why he slipped to the third round. Now, because of his success the last 2 years, there will be a whole bunch of sub-6-foot guys coming out and they’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re Russell Wilson-like.’ ” Despite his size, Wilson had just six batted passes this season. That’s four fewer than the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (6-5), one less than the Bucs’ Mike Glennon (6-7), as many as Peyton Manning (6-5) and just one more than the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (6-5). “He’s able to find passing lanes naturally,” Seahawks general manger John Schneider said. “He moves a lot. He’s very similer to Brees in the pocket. You can watch the way he moves and slides and finds lanes.”

 

 


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