After defining football excellence in Colorado for a generation, the Broncos are asking John Elway to attempt the one thing he has never done in the NFL.
Take a step back and let somebody else lead the way.
This is a bad idea. Elway is not the retiring type.
“I’ve done that for a long time, and I have retired before — after I got done playing I retired — so I’ve experienced retiring,” Elway said Monday, insisting he will be happy in a redefined role as team president.
So does this mean Elway is now the team’s Queen of England, waving at parades and kissing babies?
No way. No how. Elway made it clear that coach Vic Fangio and a general manager he hires will report to him.
“What I was excited about is the opportunity to move up, still be involved with the football team, still oversee the head coach and the GM and be involved, not necessarily day-to-day, but to have input in the big decisions that we’re going to make,” Elway said.
From gunslinging quarterback to trophy-winning executive, Elway has done it all and done it all well for the Broncos since arriving in Denver way back in 1983.
But there is no way this is going to work. Why?
Elway is not one to sit back and watch. He doesn’t take orders well (ask Dan Reeves). The Duke of Denver might now be 60 years old, but he ain’t dead yet.
There was a moment in the late-afternoon news conference when Elway was asked about the future with the team of linebacker Von Miller, coming off a serious injury on the wrong side of his 30th birthday.
“Yeah, I’ll be involved in that,” Elway said. “We’d love to have Von finish his career here. He’s been a great Bronco for a long, long time, and that will be one of the big decisions we have in the offseason.”
Know what? If the Broncos are really serious about embracing a new way of doing business, the next general manager will have a serious resume of established success on the NFL level. This team desperately needs a GM with the gravitas and spine to over-rule Elway on tough decisions, not only regarding Miller, but also on draft night, when the team must decide if it’s going to ride with Drew Lock or move on to another quarterback.
It’s foolhardy to believe Elway will sit back and delegate authority on big football decisions to a general manager that he hires.
So, while I would be pleasantly surprised if the Broncos hire longtime Atlanta Falcons executive Thomas Dimitroff, it seems more likely somebody like Champ Kelly, currently the assistant director of player personnel for the Chicago Bears, will be brought in to kiss Elway’s rings.
Take a quiet victory lap during his final year of a franchise Elway has defined? Good luck with all that. Kicking and screaming is more his style.
Until there’s a clean break between the team and No. 7, the shadow cast by Elway will send a chill down the spine of any poor sap who tries to tell him how to run the Broncos’ football business.
After missing the playoffs five consecutive seasons, whiffing on quarterbacks in the draft (Paxton Lynch) and free agency (Case Keenum), as well as allowing the team to fall into the disarray of a 32-48 record since that glorious victory in Super Bowl 50, Elway deserved to be fired.
But franchise president Joe Ellis just couldn’t bring himself to do it, because everybody who loves this team proudly wears an Elway badge close to the heart.
“He gave me the opportunity to move up, and I think it’s the right time for me, with everything that’s gone on this year and being 60 years old,” Elway said.
I don’t need to tell you Elway is sturdier than Longs Peak and tougher to bring down. During 555 regular-season and playoff games, he was sacked 555 times and never flinched. The Broncos, however, lacked the gumption to sack him one more time.
So Elway got kicked upstairs, where he can take the credit if Denver returns to glory in 2021 and be one more step removed from blame should the roster of a new general manager flop.
Way back in 1997, after the Broncos suffered a humiliating upset by Jacksonville in the playoffs and the super-human muscle in his right arm had fallen off the bone, I wrote it was a pity Elway would never win the Super Bowl.
So what did he do? Elway won the next two championships, defining the golden age of Denver sports.
So maybe I’m a fool to doubt Elway now.
But of this much I’m certain: As long as No. 7 is in the building even one day a week, the Broncos are Elway.
Breaking up with the most beloved sports icon in state history? Hey, It’s hard to do. For not only the team and Elway, but everyone who bleeds orange in Broncos Country.
This battered but still proud franchise, however, is fresh out of fresh ideas. And I fear the Broncos will not stop living in the past until Elway has left the building.
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