John Elway will be the next owner of the Denver Broncos.
Back in 2011, when Elway was hired by Pat Bowlen to right the sinking ship that Josh McDaniels had captained into an ice berg, I wrote that the Duke of Denver would be the Broncos next owner.
Three years later, he’s only gotten one step closer.
In January of 2011, fans of Denver were distraught. 2010 was the worst football we’d seen played by the beloved Broncos in 50 years. For some of us in the younger generation, it was the worst we’d ever seen; the Broncos were laughably bad that season and, thankfully, Pat Bowlen stepped up to fire McDaniels before the year was over.
Then Bowlen made the best – and maybe one of his final football decisions – by bringing Elway back.
It may seem crazy today, but three years ago, it was a huge risk for both Bowlen and Elway.
For the organization, it meant handing the helm over to a man that may have lived and breathed football, but Elway had little experience in the role he was taking over; de facto owner. For Elway, it was a risk because his legacy as Colorado’s biggest celebrity was at stake; a fumble in the front office by the Duke could spell disaster for his legend.
Still, both parties moved forward and the course of Broncos history was forever altered.
In 2011, Elway had tough decisions to make.
First, he needed a new head coach. John Fox was picked and he’s succeeded as the man in charge. After that, the two had to figure out what to do with another quarterback, Tim Tebow. Tebow was the talk of the NFL, his playing to end the 2010 season likely had something to do with it. Still, Kyle Orton was the starter when the season kicked off and Denver fell to 1-4.
Fox, listening to fans chanting from the stands, put Tebow in and the kid went 7-4 to lead the Broncos to the playoffs – with an improbable win over the Pittsburgh Steelers – before being blown out by the New England Patriots.
After that year, Elway made the even tougher decision; knowing Tebow wouldn’t cut it as an NFL quarterback – an unpopular opinion at the time – Elway went out searching for a new QB. Somewhat serendipitously, Peyton Manning was cut by the Indianapolis Colts and Elway jumped at the chance to have the future Hall of Famer calling out the cadences. Tebow was traded and Elway brought in a bevvy of other free agents to help bolster the Broncos.
They went 13-3, the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but then collapsed in the Divisional round against an emotionally-driven Baltimore Ravens team.
Elway didn’t stop there. He attacked the offseason again, signing Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton while getting many others to re-sign at the chance of another run at a championship.
The Broncos lost starter after starter throughout the 2013 campaign – Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe, Dan Koppen, Ryan Clady, Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson – yet, due to Denver’s depth that was built by Elway, the Broncos still had the talent to make it to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Yes, they were overpowered and outmatched, but imagine that same Broncos team with even a few more of those important pieces.
Now, facing possibly his most important offseason since taking the reins of the Broncos, Elway has been not only re-signed himself, but his role has been expanded. He’s now Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, a step in the direction of adding more responsibilities, not shedding them.
He’s proven to not only be capable of running the front office side of an organization, Elway’s excelled at every turn.
Three years into the job, it seems silly to think some worried Elway would tarnish his reputation, that he may make a fool of himself, Bowlen and the Broncos franchise. He’s not in over his head, he’s taken all that football knowledge from his father Jack – his old coach – added all of his playing experience and is also able to look at the business side of things with his knowledge from Stanford; the sum is simply success.
It’s not just success on the football field, either. Elway’s leadership is crucial. He’s been a voice in the locker room at times, making sure players understood being blown out by the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason wasn’t OK, while settling nerves after the most recent Super Bowl loss.
“The bottom line is we’re going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be World Champions and we’re going to do everything we can to get there,” Elway said in his postseason press conference.
And he’s even leading by being open-minded, not only applauding Michael Sam, but saying he’d draft the first openly gay player in the NFL, too. Other teams aren’t coming close to saying that much.
Elway embodies football on the front range. He may not have been born here, but he’s our hometown hero.
In Elway we trust, with Elway the Broncos’ future is bright.
And in 2017, when his current contract runs out, don’t be surprised when Bowlen hands the entire franchise over to Elway.
Rich Kurtzman is Managing Editor of cover32.com/broncos and is currently writing a book on the 2013 Denver Broncos. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your Broncos news and opinion.
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