I am crying as I am writing what I hope to be a fitting tribute to one of the most inspirational players to ever pick up a football. Unfortunately, I know I can never do justice to the 16 years that John Elway has dedicated to his loyal and loving fans, teammates, and coaches. How can words properly express the hope and joy John Elway has brought into our lives? How can I describe the modest leadership Elway has given to his teammates? What could I possibly say to share with him our love for his courage in the face of adversity, his disarming smile, his undaunting perseverance in the face of 3 Superbowl losses? Finally, does he know how much we will miss him, how there will be a void in our lives without his sportsmanship and constant presence?
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your lives pass you by
Weep not for the memories. . .
John Elway enter the National Football League in 1983, a rookie who had just graduated from Stanford University. (Dan Marino and Jim Kelly also entered during the same season). John Elway quickly became the 1st string quarterback. His first seasons were hell on him, as he was sacked more than any other quarterback, probably running more than any other quarterback as well. In 1984, Dan Reeves entered Mile High Stadium to take over as head coach for the Broncos. John Elway led the Broncos to become AFC Champions in 1987 and 1988, as well as 1991. The Broncos lost to the Redskins, the Giants, and the 49ers in these games, starting a rumor that Elway choked when the Big Game came around. In reality, Elway was struggling through a great depression brought on by Dan Reeves. Reeves, Elway's head coach until 4 years ago, had a tendency to verbally abuse Elway to the point that Elway had nightmares, and began to lose the love of football. Elway considered quitting during Reeves' term, but fortunately did not. In 1995, Reeves was replaced by Mike Shannahan, a former Broncos Quaterback Coach and close friend of Elway's. Soon the team began to prosper under the leadership of a more confident and healthy Elway. With the help of favored receivers Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith, and runningback Terrell Davis, Elway led the team three times to the playoffs (1997, 1998, 1999), and twice led the team to the Superbowl (1998, 1999), making Elway the only quarterback to start in the Superbowl 5 times. In 1998, Elway won his first Superbowl ring, and was finally vindicated for all of the trouble he struggled through. In 1999, we just might become NFL Champs again.
What makes Elway so special, you say? I mean, I could have been describing the career of any ol' quarterback. That's true, but Elway possess a quality that elevates him above all the rest. It's not tangible. Yes, he has one of the most amazing arms in the NFL, which is capable of launching bullets sure to cause bruises on anyone unaware of his strength. Yes, he is one of the few quarterbacks willing to run when there are no receivers open, in spite of the abuse his body is subjected to. Yes, he has a special cadence in the calls that is designed to pull the opposition off-sides. All of these skills make him a good quarterback. What makes him an outstanding quarterback is his attitude towards the game he loves, towards his fans and teammates. John Elway is the kind of player that makes you actually love the game of football. He smiles his big toothy grin when he makes a good play. He salutes his teammates. He shares the blame when a play goes wrong, and he says "Maybe next time". He is always willing to talk to reporters, and almost always gives the credit for good games to other players. He cheers on the defensive players when he is on the sidelines. He is not above the team, but part of it. All of these aspects of his personality evoke love from his fans, and respect from his teammates. If you ask any of the players who their favorite Bronco is, you will most certainly hear the name "John Elway".
Will there ever be another John Elway? I can most certainly say "No". With players like Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Steve Young, you may say that the NFL has great quarterbacks, but none have the modesty and the charisma of Elway, none command the type of respect and love Elway is capable of garnering. I hope Elway leaves Mile High knowing how much we love him.
So now, I say "See you later" to John Elway, because I am sure that we will.
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