John Elway “Duke”
The 1983 NFL Draft is one of the most famous drafts of all time. In that draft, six quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Three of them–John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino–went on to have Hall of Fame careers.
Only one of that trio, Elway, would win a Super Bowl. Not only did he have a highly successful career as a player, he has also had success in his post-playing career.
Before his legendary NFL career, Elway was a two-sport star at Stanford. On the football field, he threw for 9,349 yards and 77 touchdowns in four seasons. In his senior season in 1982, he was the runner-up to Herschel Walker for the Heisman Trophy.
On the baseball diamond, he hit .361 with nine home runs and 50 RBI as a sophomore. That drew the attention of the New York Yankees, who drafted him in the second round of the 1981 draft. Prior to his senior football season at Stanford, Elway played in the minors and hit .318.
His potential as a baseball player proved to be good leverage for his football career. The Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts had the first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, but Elway was adamant about not wanting to play for them. As a result, he threatened to go play baseball. In the end, he got his wish. The Colts drafted him anyway but promptly traded him to the Denver Broncos.
Elway had an up and down rookie season and split time with Steve DeBerg. The Broncos went 9-7 and lost in the wild card round of the playoffs, with Elway throwing twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7). But the next year he led the team to the AFC West title, and they would be a championship contender for much of the remainder of the 1980s.
In the 1986 season, Elway had arguably his most famous individual moment. In the AFC Championship game at Cleveland, the Broncos were down 20-13 in the fourth quarter and backed up near their own end zone. But Elway engineered a 98-yard drive to tie the game in the last minute, and Denver prevailed 23-20 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.
That would be the first of three Super Bowl appearances in four seasons for Elway and the Broncos. Unfortunately they would come out on the losing end in all three. In Super Bowl XXI against the New York Giants, the Broncos led early but lost 39-20. The next year, after an MVP season by Elway, Denver faced Washington in Super Bowl XXII and once again jumped out to an early lead that would not hold. Then, in Super Bowl XXIV against San Francisco, Denver suffered the most lopsided defeat in Super Bowl history, a 55-10 rout.
The 1990s did not bring the same level of success, as Denver went to the playoffs only twice from 1990 to 1995. But in the twilight of his career, Elway finally achieved what had eluded him. In Super Bowl XXXII against defending champion Green Bay, Elway did not star statistically, but a late touchdown saw the Broncos prevail 31-24.
The following season would be Elway’s last. Denver started the 1998 season 13-0 and finished 14-2, which was the best record in the AFC. They went on to achieve the repeat they denied the Packers, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34-19. Elway was named the Super Bowl MVP in his last game for the Broncos, as he threw for 336 yards and a touchdown and ran for a touchdown.
Elway returned to the Broncos in 2011 as the executive vice president of football operations. He currently holds that title and the title of general manager. Denver reached the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in the front office. With their win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Elway added a ring as an executive to the two he won as a player.
Career Achievements and Records
In his 16 NFL seasons, Elway threw for 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns, and 226 interceptions. He also ran for 3,407 yards and 33 touchdowns.
When he retired, Elway held the NFL record for the most career wins as a starting quarterback with 148. He is now sixth on that list. He also went 14-7 in the postseason and is tied for third in playoff wins by a quarterback.
Elway is known as one of the most clutch quarterbacks ever for a good reason. “The Drive” was one of 35 times in the regular season and postseason that he led the Broncos on a fourth-quarter comeback. He also led 46 game-winning drives in his career.
Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He went into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.