The Shutdown Corner Interview: John Elway

Shutdown Corner

In the Pantheon of great NFL quarterbacks, John Elway's name is always going to come up on the short list. From 1983 through 1998 for the Denver Broncos, Elway defined a team and a town as few players ever have. Now, as the team's executive vice president of football operations, Elway was able to bring Peyton Manning, another member of that Pantheon, to the Mile High City in hope that more Lombardi Trophies could be won by Elway's favorite team.

So far, so good -- Manning looked masterful in the Broncos' 31-19 opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 19 of 26 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Manning, never known as the most mobile of quarterbacks, even ran for a first down on a seven-yard play -- perhaps Manning's tribute to his formerly more mobile new boss.

We recently spoke to Elway about his longtime team, his new quarterback, and his involvement in Dove's "Journey to Comfort" campaign.

Shutdown Corner: It was obviously a big triumph for your team, the opening-week win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Peyton Manning playing the way he did. I spoke with his dad this week, and we discussed the struggle Peyton went through to come back. You persevered a lot through your career -- the Super Bowl losses, the feud with Dan Reeves -- so you're a survivor. You've been through it. What were your impressions, watching Manning, knowing what he went through, and then seeing him play like that?

John Elway: Yeah, no question. I was just so proud, not only of Peyton, but the whole football team. To be dead-honest with you, knowing what I knew about Peyton, and the time I'd spent with him before he came here and just knowing what kind of guy he is -- that's what gave me so much confidence. The fact that he wanted to come back and play football, and play football well ... anytime you challenge a guy like Peyton Manning,  you know he's going to succeed. Because he has that willpower and the will to work.

I felt that when he was released by Indianapolis -- it's still surprising that he was released, though I understand -- it also put a chip on his shoulder. Not that he needed to work even harder, but he really wanted to prove that it wasn't the right move. So, whenever you challenge a guy with the ability and the work ethic that Peyton has, you're going to see good things come out of it.

SC: From a quarterback perspective, are there things he can do that you couldn't? How are you different?

JE: You know, I think we just had different styles. His game is probably a bit more cerebral than my game was, especially early in my career. The older I got, the more cerebral I became -- you lose some of your athletic ability. I was  more a mover and a scrambler, and he's more of a pocket guy. But i think the mentality, as far as a quarterback's concerned -- no matter how you get it done, it's your competitive nature and how bad you want to win. I think we're very similar there.

SC: There's a new guy in the NFL out of Stanford, your alma mater -- Andrew Luck. You've most likely heard of him. What are your thoughts on his overall makeup and skillset?

JE: I think he's going to have a great career. He had it all coming out of college - -not only the physical side, but the maturity on the mental side. He's smart, he ran that whole offense at Stanford under [Jim] Harbaugh, and I think he's going to have a tremendous career. He's going to get better with each start, and he's going to get better as his team gets better around him.

[Also: Archie Manning's sons are in the NFL, but his heart is still in the college game]

SC: Mike Shanahan, one of the guys most crucial in your development, now has a new quarterback in Robert Griffin III. I've seen Shanahan offenses with mobile quarterbacks like you and Jake Plummer, but the system he's set up for Griffin might be the most diverse he's ever done. What were your thoughts about that first game?

JE: That's where Mike is so good -- Xs-and-Os-wise, offensively, I don't know that there's anyone better. He did a tremendous job with a rookie quarterback going into that first game, and how the Redskins brought RGIII through the preseason. Starting him in that first game against New Orleans, they did a great job of putting him in situations that quarterbacks can handle. They did a great job of keeping him in things he was comfortable with, they didn't make him make plays that were difficult for any quarterback, and they created situations in which he was able to flourish. A lot of those quick screens, together with the read option they ran to take advantage of Robert's mobility, they did a tremendous job with the game plan. And then, with Robert playing the way he did, I thought it was great.

SC: It was a bit similar to the way [Denver Broncos offensive coordinator] Mike McCoy handled Tim Tebow when he started mid-season for your team last year. You don't force an NFL game plan on a system college quarterback -- you merge your concepts with what he does well. The Panthers did the same thing with Cam Newton. It seems that there's a greater understanding of the need to meet those quarterbacks halfway.

JE: To me, it s a sign of a great football coach. They can adjust what they do to get the most out of anyone playing any position. In that case, as you said, with the quarterback position, what McCoy did last year with Tim in adjusting the offense to what Tim was best at -- same thing at Carolina with Cam. To be able to get the most out of an athlete, you do have to meet him halfway. What they did with Cam, and what we did with Tim, it's a compliment to those coaches.

SC: Your current position in running the Denver Broncos -- you don't need to do this. You're obviously doing it because you love football, and it's certainly not ceremonial. What is your day-to-day? Take me through what John Elway does every day at Dove Valley.

JE: I'm in charge of football operations, so I oversee all decisions on the football side. I'm heavily involved in personnel -- once we get involved in the season, with the draft and free agency, I make the final decisions on all those things. [Head coach] John [Fox] runs the football team on the field, and I'm here to try and supplement that team the best I can. To give us the best 53 guys during the season, and then we go into the offseason and improve the team through free agency and the draft. So, I'm really most involved on the personnel side. But then again, I'm responsible for anything on the football operations side.

SC: John Fox obviously has a great deal of experience and success as a head coach -- what is your relationship like? What does he bring to the organization?

JE: Number one, he brings great experience. Number two, his ability to motivate these guys -- he has an unreal knack, having spent a year-and-a-half around him, to get these guys playing hard. He allows his coaches to coach, and he really focuses on getting the most out of his players. He has a relationship with the players where we can, week in and week out ... they play hard. That's one of the hardest things to do in this league;  to get that consistency out of the players. And that's his strong point.

[Video: Why Peyton Manning could be 'faking it']

SC: You father, Jack Elway, was obviously a football lifer as a coach. Do you see yourself doing this when you're 70?

JE: I don't know -- I'm enjoying it at this point in time, and I'm happy with the progress we've made. 70 years old? Probably not. I signed a four-year deal, so I know I'll finish that. As we get closer to it, we'll see where we are, and whether I'll continue after that. But I really am enjoying what I'm doing, and I really am working with a lot of good guys here. The longer I'm in it -- and it will be two years in January -- it seems to be more fun in that more time is spent on football, rather than learning all the systems within the organization and the league. I'm enjoying it more and more all the time.

SC: Which quarterback playing today reminds you most of you?

JE: Ben Roethlisberger. I wasn't really his size -- he's a really big guy, but after watching him play last week, he did a tremendous job of buying time and making plays on third-and-long situations. I think he's probably the one who most resembles the way I used to play. That's the way I look at it.

SC: About the involvement with Dove -- the commercials were great, especially the one about your walk. Do you get a lot of people imitating that?

JE: The two guys I can think of the most is ... Brett Favre did it all the time, and he was actually pretty good at it, and Jim Harbaugh also did it all the time. I went down to the Orange Bowl a couple years ago, and [Harbaugh] had to show me how he could do my walk. So, yeah -- it came around quite a bit as we talked about it in the commercial.

SC: Jeff Fisher has attributed his football success to the power of his mustache, and it made me wonder if every successful individual in the NFL has that one totem. Would you attribute some or all of your great football feats to your unique walk?

JE: [Laughs] I'm not so sure, but you know, I've walked that way my whole life, so there's no question it had something to do with it.

SC: Could be something with the throwing mechanics -- it allowed you to do things nobody else could.

JE: That's right -- it had to tie in somewhere. Maybe it gave me the football body to help me stay healthy for 16 years.

SC: I can't let you go without asking you a Tebow question -- I think it's in my contract. Do you think he can succeed in the NFL as a pure quarterback, without all the systemic crutches in place to sort of prop him up?

JE: I'm not going to answer that question, because I don't know. I think that when you look at what we used him for, he was very successful. He's a competitor, and he's still young. So, being in the right situation, Tim Tebow's going to be able to help a football team.

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