30 years ago today the direction of the Denver Broncos changed forever when a late-night trade landed some guy named John Elway. The prize of the 1983 NFL Draft and quite possibly the single best prospect to come out of any draft before or since was a Bronco and remains a Bronco to this day.
The Broncos were a decent team in the late 1970s and early 80s, but they had never had a player the caliber of an Elway. Early on in his rookie season, some people wondered is this guy a bust? He did struggle through most of that first season, but people who knew football could see the talent and knew it was only a matter of time. Keep in mind, the game was different back then. Defenses could be more physical with receivers and almost every rookie quarterback needed time to adjust to the NFL.
There was Elway’s first comeback versus the Baltimore Colts, the team he refused to play for. Trailing 19-0, Elway got hot and led the Broncos to 21 fourth-quarter points. That was the first of 47 comebacks, many of them leaving people speechless and in awe. The most famous comeback, of course, is The Drive versus the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. Trailing 20-13 with five minutes to go and with the ball on their own two yard-line, Elway and the Broncos drove the length of the field tying it with under a minute to go. The Broncos went onto win the game in overtime and made their first Super Bowl since 1978.
The Super Bowl was not kind to Elway in the 80s as he and the Broncos went 0-3 over a four year period and none of the games were competitive. As great as Elway was in getting the Broncos to the Super Bowl, he was that bad in those games. After the last Super Bowl disaster versus the San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos went downhill for a few years and it seemed as if Elway would never get another chance at a World Championship.
Everything changed when the Broncos named Mike Shanahan head coach in 1995. It took him a couple of years, but Shanahan finally put the talent around Elway that he had never had before. Led by Elway, Shanahan, an underrated defense and a player named Terrell Davis, the Broncos made it back to the Super Bowl in January of 1998.
There were facing the Green Bay Packers, were 13 point underdogs, and most people predicted another embarrassment in the biggest game. This time was different, however. Elway had a team around him and the Broncos finally broke through the door and gave Elway the only honor he really ever wanted, World Champion!
The Broncos would go onto win a second title in January of 1999 with an easy win over the Atlanta Falcons. The 1998 team before the 1999 Super Bowl started 13-0 and was never really challenged. The win over the Packers will always be special because it was the first, but the 1998 team is the best Broncos team to date. Elway was named MVP of the Super Bowl win over the Falcons and rode into retirement on top.
12 years after his retirement and with the franchise at an all-time low, Elway returned to Dove Valley. Taking over a 4-12 team that had alienated their fans and appeared to be years away from contending, Elway was named Vice-President of Football Operations in January of 2011.
In just over two years, Elway has once again transformed the Broncos from the scrap heap to contenders. The Broncos have won the AFC West two straight years and are one of the favorites to once again bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2013.
He handled the pursuit of Peyton Manning perfectly, and he drafted players like Von Miller, Orlando Franklin, Derek Wolfe and many more. When the Broncos came up short of their goal last season, Elway set out to make them even stronger. He once again landed one of the biggest names in free agency in Wes Welker. Those are just a few of the moves that Elway had made and he has the Broncos back where they belong in contending for titles.
Time will tell if Elway the executive can do what Elway the player did and lead the Broncos to another World Championship, but one thing is true. 30 years ago, Elway changed the Broncos and the City of Denver forever, and he’s not done yet.
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