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Elway, John

John Elway


American football player

John Elway is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in football history. He retired after sixteen seasons and two Super Bowl championships as the winningest starting quarterback in the history of the National Football League (NFL).

Two Sports

John Elway was born on June 28, 1960 in Port Angeles, Washington. He grew up in a happy home with his twin sister Jana, older sister Lee Ann, and his parents. His father, Jack, was a college football coach, and the family followed his coaching jobs from Washington, to Montana, to Los Angeles, where Elway attended Granada Hills High School. With his father as his mentor and ad hoc coach, Elway learned the basic elements of throwing, running, and reading defenses, as well as the values of hard work and sportsmanship. In his first football game as a sixth-grader, Elway ran for six touchdowns in the first half.

Elway was talented in football, basketball, and baseball. Washington State University basketball coach George Raveling, who saw Elway at a basketball camp, thought he showed significant promise as a basketball player. As a senior he batted .491, had a pitching record of 4-2, led his team to the Los Angeles City championship, and was named Southern California's player of the year. In his final season on the football field at Granada Hills, he completed 129 passes on 200 attempts for 1,837 yards and nineteen touchdowns. His athletic abilities earned the attention of an array of college football

and baseball scouts, as well as professional baseball scouts. The Kansas City Royals selected him in the eighteenth round of the 1979 draft; however, Elway, opting to play college football, signed a letter of intent with Stanford University.

During his four years at Stanford, from 1979 to 1983, Elway set five major National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) records as well as nine major Pac-10 conference records. He completed 774 of 1,243 pass attempts (62.1 percent) for 9,349 yards and seventy-seven touchdowns. Elway also played baseball at Stanford for two years. In his last season as a sophomore, he batted.349 with nine home runs and fifty runs batted in (RBI) in forty-nine games. He was drafted by the New York Yankees and played a summer with the Yankees' single-A farm club in Oneonta, New York. His batting average was .349, and he had a team-high twenty-four RBIs.

Joins the Broncos

Graduating with a degree in economics in 1983, Elway entered the NFL draft with several other celebrated college quarterbacks, including Jim Kelly and Dan Marino . The Baltimore Colts had first pick and selected Elway. However, Elway made it clear that he did not want to play for the Colts, a team characterized by their dictatorial coach, Frank Kush. He also wanted to play closer to home and even considered opting for a professional baseball contract rather than play football in Baltimore. Accordingly, the Colts worked a deal to trade Elway to the Denver Broncos, whose generous contract made the rookie the second highest paid quarterback in the NFL.

Elway's entrance into the NFL proved to be a rocky road. A superstar at Stanford, he was expected by fans to be an instant success in Denver. It was the first time Elway had ever heard booing directed at him. In his regular season debut he completed just one of eight pass attempts for fourteen yards, threw one interception, and was sacked four times before injuring his elbow and being replaced by veteran quarterback Dan DeBerg. After the first five games Elway was benched, but started the last five games of the season after DeBerg was injured. Working much of the year with a sore elbow and a porous offensive line that offered little protection, Elway ended his first season with a completion rate of just 47.5 percent with seven touchdown passes and fourteen interceptions.

Following his rookie year, Elway married his college sweetheart, Janet. They have four children, three daughters and a son. With his feet more firmly under him during his sophomore season, Elway began to improve his performance. In fifteen games Elway led the team to twelve wins. He completed 214 of 380 passes for 2,598 yards, was third on the team in rushing with 237 yards, and improved his completion rate to 56.3 percent. With an overall team record of 13-3, the Broncos were the American Football Conference (AFC) Western Division champions. Elway and his team strolled into the postseason, but lost in the first round to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Hits His Stride

Better in his second year than his first, Elway began to shine in 1985, his third season. No booing could be heard as Elway broke nearly every Broncos record on the books and knocked at the door of several NFL records. He led the league with 605 pass attempts, a Bronco record and just four shy of the all-time NFL record of 609 set by Dan Fouts. Other franchise records set included pass completions (327, second in the NFL), passing yards (3891, second in the NFL), and total offense (4,414, first in the NFL). He threw twenty-two touchdowns, but also threw a career-high twenty-three interceptions, the one blemish on his otherwise incredible season.

In 1986 the Broncos repeated as the AFC champions in dramatic fashion. Locked in a tight game with the Cleveland Browns, Elway took the Broncos from their own two-yard line, in what became known as simply "The Drive," to score a game-tying touchdown with just thirty-seven seconds left on the clock. The Broncos won in overtime on a field goal, 23-20, and Elway was poised to appear in his first Super Bowl. Although he threw for 304 yards against the New York Giants, the Giants came from behind, outscoring Denver 30-20 in the second half, to defeat the Broncos, 39-20. Despite losing the Super Bowl, Elway earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

In a season shortened by a players' strike, Elway still managed to pass for over 3,000 yards in twelve games in 1987, and, in another thrilling AFC championship game, the Broncos once again defeated the Browns. Appearing in his second straight Super Bowl, this time facing the Washington Redskins, Elway threw a 55-yard touchdown pass on Denver's first play from scrimmage, setting a record for the earliest touchdown ever scored in a Super Bowl game. Unfortunately, that was the first and last of the Broncos' highlights on the day as Elway threw three interceptions and the Broncos were stomped by the Redskins, 42-10. Despite his final performance, Elway was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.


1960 Born June 28 in Port Angeles, Washington
1979-83 Star quarterback for Stanford University
1982 Spends summer playing baseball for a New York Yankees' farm team
1983 Drafted by the Baltimore Colts and then traded to the Denver Broncos
1984 Marries wife, Janet
1997 Creates the Elway Foundation to fight child abuse
1999 Announces retirement; joins Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan in forming
2002 Becomes co-owner, president, and chief executive officer of Arena Football League team, the Colorado Crush; separates from wife

Awards and Accomplishments

1983 Received second most votes in bid for the Heisman Memorial Trophy
1986-87, 1989, 1991, 1993-94, 1996-98 NFL Pro Bowl
1987 NFL Player of the Year
1993 American Football Conference's (AFC) Player of the Year
1998 Won Super Bowl XXXII over the Green Bay Packers; 31-24; selected as game's Most Valuable Player
1999 Won Super Bowl XXXIII over the Miami Dolphins, 38-3; inducted into Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
2000 Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame

Super Bowls: 0-3

Missing the playoffs in 1989, Elway led his team back to the AFC championship for the third time in four years in 1990, once again sending the Browns home in the AFC championship game. Facing Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, Elway and the Broncos were embarrassed by the 49ers, losing 55-10. Elway passed for just 108 yards and threw two interceptions; his Super Bowl record fell to 0-3. The following season Elway experienced his first losing season as the Broncos posted a record of 5-11, but in 1991 the team bounced back to win eleven games, winning the AFC Western Division title before being beaten by the Buffalo Bills in the conference championship.

By the early 1990s Elway's relationship with head coach Dan Reeves was becoming increasingly tense. Depending on the viewpoint, Elway came off looking a bit like a spoiled brat, or Reeves appeared to be a stiff-necked, control freak. The conflict boiled over into the press after Reeves fired offensive coach Mike Shanahan, Elway's close personal friend. After finishing the 1992 season with a record of 8-8, Elway was intimating that it was going to be either him or Reeves. The Broncos organization chose Elway, and Reeves' contract was not renewed after the end of the season.

Elway entered the 1993 season with renewed focus. He threw 551 passes, completing 348 (63.2 percent), for 4,030 yards, twenty-five touchdowns and only ten interceptions, but the Broncos struggled in 1994, and Shanahan was invited to return to Denver as the head coach in 1995. After two years of rebuilding, the Broncos, who had added sensational running back Terrell Davis to its roster, posted a record of 13-3 in 1996, and Elway became just the fourth player in NFL history to throw for more than 45,000 career yards. The Broncos made their first appearance in postseason play since 1993, but were upset at home in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In 1997 Elway threw twenty-seven touchdown passes, a career high, and led the Broncos to a 12-4 regular season record. Reaching his fourth Super Bowl, Elway, already considered one of the game's greatest quarterbacks, was under serious scrutiny regarding his ability to perform in the big game. Although Elway only threw for 123 yards in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos' win, 31-24, quieted his detractors and Elway, now with a Super Bowl title, finally got the monkey off his back.

The Broncos came back strong in 1998, and Elway joined Marino as the only quarterbacks to pass for more than 50,000 yards. On January 16, 1999, Elway played his last game at Mile High Stadium, earning his fifth trip to the Super Bowl. In a made-for-television match-up, Elway and the Broncos squared off in the Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons, coached by Dan Reeves. The Broncos prevailed, and Elway won his second consecutive Super Bowl.

Career Statistics

Passing Rushing
Den: Denver Broncos.
1983 Den 11 259 123 1663 47.5 7 14 28 54.9 28 146 1
1984 Den 15 380 214 2598 56.3 18 15 24 76.8 56 237 1
1985 Den 16 605 327 3891 54.0 22 23 38 70.0 51 253 0
1986 Den 16 504 280 3485 55.6 19 13 32 79.0 52 257 1
1987 Den 12 410 224 3198 54.6 19 12 20 83.4 66 304 4
1988 Den 15 496 274 3309 55.2 17 19 30 71.3 54 234 1
1989 Den 15 416 223 3051 53.6 18 18 35 73.7 48 244 3
1990 Den 16 502 294 3526 58.6 15 14 43 78.5 50 258 3
1991 Den 16 451 242 3253 53.7 13 12 45 68.3 55 255 6
1992 Den 12 316 174 2242 55.1 10 17 36 65.7 34 94 2
1993 Den 16 551 348 4030 63.2 25 10 39 92.8 44 153 0
1994 Den 14 494 307 3490 62.1 16 10 46 85.7 58 235 4
1995 Den 16 542 316 3970 58.3 26 14 22 86.3 41 176 1
1996 Den 15 466 287 3328 61.6 26 14 26 89.2 50 249 4
1997 Den 16 502 280 3635 55.8 27 11 34 87.5 50 218 1
1998 Den 13 356 210 2806 59.0 22 10 18 93.0 37 94 1
TOTAL 234 7250 4123 51475 56.9 300 226 516 79.8 774 3407 33

Having reached the mountaintop twice, 38-year-old Elway, who was suffering from some nagging injuries, announced his retirement in May 2000. After sixteen years of play, he walked away with a career record of 142-82-1 (.643), making him the NFL's all-time winningest starting quarterback. With two Super Bowl titles, the Comeback Kid had made the biggest comeback of them all.



Newsmakers 1990, Issue 3. Detroit: Gale Group, 1990.

Sports Stars. Series 1-4. Detroit: UXL, 1994-98.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. five volumes. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.


Attner, Paul. "Smart. Very Smart."Sporting News (May 3, 1999): 12.

Bechtel, Mark. "The King of the Comeback."Sports Illustrated (February 10, 1999): 22.

Elliott, Josh. "Back in the Game."Sports Illustrated (June 24, 2002)

King, Peter. "Where Does He Stand?"Sports Illustrated (February 10, 1999): 84.

Looney, Douglas S. "Elway on Elway."Christian Science Monitor (January 22, 1998).

Reilly, Rick. "Welcome to the Real World."Sports Illustrated (August 19, 2002): 80.

Silver, Michael. "Champions At Last."Sports Illustrated (February 10, 1999): 50.

Silver, Michael. "Last Call."Sports Illustrated (May 3, 1999): 52.


Carter, Bob. "Elway Led Broncos on 'The Drive.'" ESPN Classic. (December 28, 2002)

"Football Scrapbooks: John Elway."Sporting News. (December 28, 2002)

"John Elway." Denver (December 28, 2002)

"John Elway: President and Chief Executive Officer." Colorado Crush Arena Football. (December 28, 2002)

"QB Club: John Elway." National Football League. (December 28, 2002)

Knisley, Michael. "Elway-Reeves Power Struggle Threatens Broncos' Success."Sporting (December 28, 2002)

Sketch by Kari Bethel

Where Is He Now?

A longtime owner of numerous Denver-area automobile dealerships, a few years before retirement Elway sold most of his car business for a reported $82.5 million. So, after retiring in 2000 he didn't need a job; he needed something to do to fill the void created when he walked off the field for the last time. After briefly considering an office job with the Broncos, Elway joined Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan in forming, an online sporting goods store. However, the venture, which Elway later called a good idea at a bad time, went bust. After unsuccessfully making bids on ownership of several professional sports teams, in 2002 Elway became one-third owner and the chief executive officer of the Colorado Crush, a new Arena Football League team set to begin play in 2003.

Elway's ride off into the sunset has been marred by personal tragedy. In the winter of 2001 his twin sister Jana was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two months later, his father died of a heart attack. His sister died in the summer of 2002; Elway was at her side when she passed away. Also during that same summer, Elway's wife of eighteen years moved out, taking the couple's four children, but within a month the family was back on track and reunited under one roof.

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John Elway

John Elway

Considered by some to be the greatest modern American football player, John Elway (born 1960) played in the position of quarterback for the Denver Broncos for 16 years, leading his team to two consecutive Super Bowl wins before retiring in 1999.

Born to Play Ball

John Elway was born in Port Angeles, Washington, on June 28, 1960. His twin sister, Jana, was born 11 minutes after him, and they joined their older sister, Lee Ann, who had been born 18 months beforehand. Elway's father, Jack, made a living as a college football coach, and he encouraged his children to be athletic from an early age. Elway's family fostered healthy competition among the siblings and they got along well; in later years, Elway recalled that playing with his sisters as a boy formed some of his happiest memories. Jack Elway remembered that the twins shared a special bond, even before they could walk or talk, "jabbering at each other in that special language twins have," quoted Michael BeDan in the Rocky Mountain News.

Even as a baby, Elway seemed naturally inclined to play, and when he was old enough to get on his feet, he wore out an average of a pair of sneakers every month. His sister Lee Ann remembered that his competitive spirit sometimes got in the way of having a good time while playing with him. "I love John a lot," she told Adam Schefter in the Denver Post, "But it wasn't always fun playing with him because he took everything so seriously. He was just so competitive, even back then."

Meanwhile, Elway's father taught him how to play baseball in the back yard. He recognized that his son had a talent, and he aimed to nurture it. While Elway's sisters went on skiing trips, his father made him stay home for fear that he would injure himself seriously before he had a chance to play competitive sports. Until he was in the fourth grade, Elway played baseball and basketball. Then, before he entered fifth grade, his parents allowed him to play football, and there his true talent shined. In his very first game, he ran circles around the opposing team's members, scoring four touchdowns by himself. A basketball coach who was present at the game remarked to Jack Elway, as reported Adam Schefter in the Denver Post, "Either every kid on that field is the worst football player I've ever seen or your boy is the greatest player I've ever seen."

The family moved a great deal while Elway was growing up, as his father traveled from one college coaching position to another. Leaving Port Angeles, the family next settled in Missoula, Montana, then headed back to Washington state to live in the town of Pullman, Washington, before finally settling for good in Southern California.

Recruited by 65 Different Colleges

The young Elway learned plenty about the game of football by watching the games that his father coached at Montana State, Washington State, and California State University at Northridge. Elway often acted as ball boy for these games, and he got a chance to see a great many games up close. A star player on his high school football team, Elway attracted the attention of college athletics recruiters, eventually being courted by no less than 65 different schools. He also played high school baseball, leading the team to the Los Angeles City championship. His outstanding performance on the baseball team attracted the attention of scouts for the Kansas City Royals baseball team, which selected him for the summer draft in 1979. Elway decidedly settled on college at Stanford University, in Stanford, California. At Stanford, he immediately established a reputation as being one of the best football players in the history of the school.

Highlights of Elway's college football career included setting five major NCAA Division 1-A records, as well as nine major Pac-10 records. Of his 1,243 college career passes, Elway completed a record 774, or 62.1 percent, traveling 9,349 yards to make 77 touchdown passes. Elway also found the time to play baseball with the New York Yankees' Oneonta single-A farm team. He played his last baseball season in his second year at Stanford. Elway's twin sister, Jana, also attended college at Stanford University, where she played tennis for the school team. She went on to become a professional tennis instructor.

Became a Top Player for the Denver Broncos

Elway became an All-American college football star at Stanford before graduating in 1983 with a degree in economics. He was the number one draft pick among professional football teams in the National Football League (NFL) and proceeded to become a quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He would hold this position for his entire professional football career.

Elway quickly distinguished himself as one of the best players on the Broncos' team. In 1985, he shattered the Broncos single-season record for attempts (605), completions (327), passing yards (3,891), and more. In 1986, Elway led the Broncos to their first American Football Conference (AFC) Championship in almost ten years. In 1987, Elway was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player (MVP) and was named to the Sporting News All-NFL team. He was also named the Colorado Pro Athlete of the Year by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and was voted the Broncos' offensive MVP. Playing in Super Bowl XXII, he made history by becoming the first quarterback in a Super Bowl to catch a pass.

The beginning of 1989 saw Elway at his second Super Bowl in which he scored the only touchdown made by his team. In spite of a persistent shoulder injury, Elway led his team in touchdowns in 1991, with a then career high of six. In the 1992 off-season, he had his shoulder injury corrected by arthroscopic surgery. In the 1992 regular season, Elway was back in action and better than ever throwing the longest touchdown pass of his career, 80 yards.

In 1993, Elway was named AFC MVP by the NFL Players Association, as well as AFC Offensive Player of the Year by United Press International (UPI) and AFC Player of the Year by Football News. Also this year he was named to the all-AFC team by UPI and Football News, as well as second team all-NFL by the Associated Press, College and Pro Football Weekly, and Football Digest. In 1995, Elway scored 26 touchdowns, made 14 interceptions, and threw for more than 300 yards five separate times—all career bests for him. His 26 touchdowns also set a record for the Broncos. He repeated this performance in 1996 with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Also in 1996, he set Broncos records for most games played (192) and most consecutive games scoring touchdown passes (15).

Recognition for Elway's achievements came yet again in 1997, when he received the NFL Players Association Mackey Award as the best quarterback in the AFC. Also in 1997, Elway helped the Broncos' offense become the best in the NFL for the second season in a row.

Playing with the Broncos, Elway became famous for dramatic, last-minute game-winning scores. He also topped the NFL by making first place in the history of the league in victories by a starting quarterback, first in rushing attempts by a quarterback.

During his 16 years with the Broncos, Elway played in four Super Bowls, the final two of which, Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII, his team won. Also during his career with the Broncos, Elway became only the second player in NFL history to throw for over 50,000 yards, and he topped the NFL in victories for a starting quarterback and in rushing attempts by a quarterback.

During the height of his popularity, Elway was an internationally recognized star: he regularly stopped to sign autographs wherever he went, including Europe and Asia. He took to wearing sunglasses while out in public and walking with his head down in an effort not to be recognized. He also had to change his telephone number every month or so to avoid getting thousands of telephone calls.

Retired as a Top Player in the NFL

Looking ahead to his retirement from football, Elway opened an automobile dealership in the Denver area in the 1990s. This business grew to include seven auto franchises by the turn of the century. He also became an active philanthropist, donating time and money to victims of child abuse and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Elway decided to retire in 1999, after two Super Bowl wins in a row and 16 years as a Broncos quarterback.

Immediately following Elway's retirement announcement, the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame Committee waved its usual five-year waiting time after a player retires from the team to induct Elway into the Ring of Fame. The purpose of the Ring of Fame is to honor Broncos players and administrators who have made outstanding contributions to the team. The committee also retired Elway's jersey number, seven, making him the third player in Broncos history to have his number retired. Elway was inducted and his number retired in a halftime ceremony at Mile High Stadium in Colorado on September 13, 1999.

In March 2001, Elway sold most of his stake in his chain of auto dealerships, earning $82.5 million for the sale. Uneasy in retirement, Elway, at 42 years old, wasn't ready to turn to a life of leisure. "I didn't really know what to do," he told Sports Illustrated 's Josh Elliott. "I was searching for something, and that was pretty tough." He found his answer in the form of a part ownership stake in an Arena Football League (AFL) team called the Colorado Crush. The team, which intendeed to begin regularly scheduled games in 2003, gave Elway the spirit of competition and the role in a business for which he had been searching. Best of all, it allowed Elway to stay in the game of football.

Bowed by Tragedy

Elway's happiness was soon dampened by tragedy. Elway's father, Jack, died of a heart attack in April 2001. The two were very close; Elway considered his father his best friend, and Jack was the earliest supporter of Elway's football career. Elway blamed part of his father's illness on stress brought on by news that Elway's twin sister, Jana, had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Tragedy again struck the Elway family in 2002. In July, his twin sister, Jana Elway-Sever, who had become a school teacher in San Jose, California, died after a two-year battle with lung cancer. She was 42 years old. She had been seriously ill at the time of Jack Elway's death the previous year, although she had managed to attend the funeral service.

Learned that Winning Is Not Everything

As if the deaths of Elway's father and sister had not brought enough heartache, his wife Janet moved out soon after Jana's death, taking the couple's four children with her. Elway and Janet had been married 18 years. It was a wakeup call for the football star, who realized that the pressures of his football career, and his later career as a businessperson, had stressed his family life to the breaking point.

Elway learned to shift his priorities, making more time for his family. He began to go to Janet's rented house when she was not home to pull weeds from her garden. He sent her roses every week and took the kids out for shopping trips and other excursions—things he had not done in earlier years. Responding to Elway's attentions, Janet and the kids moved back in with him within a month. Elway told Sports Illustrated 's Rick Reilly soon afterwards that his shift in attitude was permanent. "I'm trying to do things … that aren't necessarily about achieving. I want to put my family first from now on."


Denver Post, November 28, 1996; May 12, 1999; July 25, 2002.

Rocky Mountain News, July 25, 2002.

Sports Illustrated, June 24, 2002; August 19, 2002..


"John Elway,", (March 11, 2003). □

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Elway, John

John Elway, 1960–, American football player, b. Port Angeles, Wash. An All-American quarterback at Stanford, he played his entire National Football League career (1983–99) with the Denver Broncos, whom he led to five Super Bowls, winning the last two (1998–99). An effective runner as well as a prolific passer, he was famous for leading come-from-behind drives and set the record for wins as a starter (now surpassed). Elway retired second only to Dan Marino in several lifetime offensive categories. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Elway was part-owner of an arena football team (2003–8) and has been been an executive vice president (2012–) and general manager (2013–) of the Denver Broncos.

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