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John Elway’s revisionist history

In five of his 16 seasons, he threw as many or more interceptions than touchdowns


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I don't have Tim Tebow fatigue. But I do have John Elway revisionist-historian fatigue.

The John Elway Show  that aired Monday nights on the radio during the regular season would open with the play-by-play of his heroics long ago against Cleveland. "The Drive." That was, what, 25 years ago? He's been retired for a dozen years. He's a football executive now. Give it a rest.

Many Denverites have told me with a straight face that Elway is the greatest QB of all time. And you think Tim Tebow's exploits have been exaggerated? May I speak freely?

Elway was a good quarterback over a very long period. He was extremely tough and durable. He had some great moments. Many great moments. And yet, while Elway's father was an accomplished coach, the son with the cannon arm rarely played with the headiness of a coach's kid. Longtime Coach Dan Reeves was routinely chastised for keeping the wraps on Elway through three quarters, then telling him to "go win it" at the end.

Yet it's conveniently overlooked that in 1994, Coach Wade Phillips' second year, a happily liberated Elway started the season by throwing interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in each of the first three games, all losses. Or that a late Elway interception on a needless downfield pass against the Green Bay Packers nearly cost the Broncos their first Super Bowl victory.

In five of his 16 seasons, Elway threw as many or more interceptions than touchdowns. In five Super Bowls, he totaled eight interceptions. He did not muster a single interception-free Super Bowl. (By contrast, Joe Montana totaled zero interceptions in four Super Bowl victories.)

By the time Elway and the Broncos finally won a Super Bowl, his services were no longer critical to the team's fortunes. Yes, he was named Super Bowl MVP in his last NFL game, but that's largely because the terrifying running attack of the Broncos rendered their passing game a surprise element, which Elway and the Broncos duly exploited.

Elway's nickname was "The Duke," and that's apt. John Wayne, of course, was also larger than life, revered by fans and media, and respected by peers for his gutsy if sometimes flawed performances, and he too garnered a trophy near the end (an Academy Award for True Grit).

Elway's proclamation that he's going to "work with" Tebow on the practice field during the offseason was greeted by fans and media with resounding approval. A generous offer, but what really will it produce, other than a photo op? It's about like flame-thrower Nolan Ryan saying he's going to show Ubaldo Jimenez the fine art of pitching.

Anyway, Elway already has tried his hand at QB coaching and mentoring, as a quarterbacks coach at Cherry Creek High where his son Jack played. The young Elway also had an impressive arm and good size, yet despite some genetic gifts and instruction from the master, he was simply a good high school quarterback.

So stop living in the past, Elway fanatics. Or at least recall the past factually. Tebow still has a way to go and may never get there, but instruction from a ghost of Broncos' past won't help.

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Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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