When John Elway was named as the Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations in 2011, he brought with him the same passion that he displayed throughout his playing career. Elway was the first overall pick of the 1983 National Football League Draft by the Baltimore Colts, but he would immediately force a trade to the Broncos. In Denver, Elway would win a pair of Super Bowl Titles and become one of the most prolific quarterbacks that that the game has ever seen. Elway was a winner as helped the Broncos make five Super Bowl appearances as a player. After Elway’s playing career, he became the co-owner of the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League in 2003. And by the Crush’s third year, they became champions of the AFL.
In 2011, Elway took over a Broncos team that was coming off of their worst season since 1982. Elway’s first order of business was to hire a head coach that could return to Broncos to prominence. Elway hired John Fox who was coming off of a nine-year stint as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers to lead the Broncos. In 2011, “Tebowmania” took over the Rocky Mountains as quarterback Tim Tebow led the Broncos to the AFC West Title and a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Game.
But Elway knew that Tebow wasn’t his long-term answer at quarterback for the Broncos and he got a reprieve that off-season when the Indianapolis Colts decided to move on from quarterback Peyton Manning.
In 2012, Manning would become the most sought after free agent in National Football League history as a bevy of teams were lining up for his services, but he would ultimately be swayed by Elway and the Broncos.
Business would immediately pick up for the Broncos with Manning as their starting quarterback. The Broncos would go 13-3 in 2012 which was their best regular season mark since 2005. The Broncos would win the AFC West, but they would be eliminated at home by the eventual Super Bowl Champions in the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Broncos would win the AFC Championship in 2013, but in Super Bowl they would get destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8. The Broncos would rebound in 2014 to go 12-4 in en route to winning the AFC West. However after another divisional round loss; this time to the Colts, Elway decided to make wholesale changes.
In a surprising move last January, Elway fired Fox as the head coach of the Broncos and replaced him with former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. Aside from being the head coach of the Texans, Kubiak was Elway’s backup quarterback for the majority of his National Football League career. The Broncos would still run the 3-4 defensive scheme that they did in 2014, but they would have an old, but familiar face leading the charge.
From 1989-1992, Wade Phillips was the Broncos defensive coordinator along with being the team’s head coach from 1993-1994. Phillips would also have stints as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. But whereas Phillips is 82-61 an a head coach in the National Football League, he is only 1-5 in the playoffs which has been his undoing. However, Phillips is a tremendous defensive coordinator as he has had stints with the Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Bills, and Houston Texans in that capacity. Elway brought Phillips back to Denver and he oversaw one of the best defenses in National Football League history this past season. And the construction of that championship Broncos defense began when Elway started calling the shots in 2011.
Elway and the Broncos went into the 2011 National Football League Draft owning the second overall pick which they used on outside linebacker Von Miller. Although that the Broncos were running a 4-3 defensive scheme at the time, and Miller was more suited to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4, his skill set as an edge rusher was too much to pass up on. Elway made the right move by selecting Miller as his 11.5 sacks in 2011 saw him named as the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. In 2011, the Broncos would also make another sharp decision when they signed an undrafted free agent at cornerback by the name of Chris Harris Jr. And very quietly Harris has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.
But as this championship was beginning to take shape, the Broncos were still missing some components. After losing Super Bowl 48 to the Seahawks, Elway got busy in free agency by signing defensive end/outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and strong safety T.J. Ward. Ware is one of the best pass rushers of this era and he would be huge as far as being a bookend end rusher with Miller. Talib is one of the best cover corners of this era, while Ward plays the strong safety position with angry disposition. And the Broncos only needed a defensive guru like Phillips to make it all come together.
The Broncos finished the 2015 National Football League season with the top defense. The Broncos defense became the first defensive unit since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles to lead the league in yards allowed, and points allowed while having the top run and pass units as only the Steelers scored 30 points on them this season.
All season long the Broncos brought pressure from every possible angle on opposing offenses and the end result became a defensive unit that reminded the folks in the Rocky Mountains of the famed “Orange Crush” defense of the 1970′s with the likes of Tom Jackson, Randy Grandishar, and Lyle Alzado. The new “Orange Crush” was on full display in the playoffs where they shut down some of the top offenses in the NFL in the Steelers, New England Patriots, and Carolina Panthers to the point that some people are beginning to compare this Denver defense to that of the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. But Elway’s biggest move might have been getting Manning to buy in to what he was selling.
After being eliminated last January in the playoffs, it appeared that Manning was done in the National Football League. And this sentiment was echoed further on November 22 when Kubiak benched Manning after throwing 5 interceptions in a 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Manning’s benching occurred in the same game that he became the National Football League’s all-time leading passer, but many people including myself thought that he was finished. However with Brock Osweiler as the Broncos starting quarterback, the team’s offense was stagnant at best, and in Week 17, Kubiak decided to go back to Manning.
Kubiak would stick with Manning in the postseason as well, and although that the physical skills of this 39-year old quarterback are not what they once were, the brain still sharp which is what the Broncos needed. In a short period of time, Elway and Kubiak convinced one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the National Football League in Manning that he would be better served as a “game manager”. Once upon a time Elway checked his ego at the door when former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan decided to run the football more which led to the Broncos first two Super Bowl Championships. And it was once again on display for the Broncos; this time with Manning.
When the Broncos arrived in Northern California for Super Bowl 50, all of the talk was about this being Manning’s potential last hurrah in the National Football League while this defense would have their hands full with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. And whether that the Broncos made that public or not, they appeared to have used that as their rallying cry.
From the start of Super Bowl 50, Denver’s defense introduced Newton to a brand of physical football that he is not familiar with. Led by Miller who was the Super Bowl MVP with 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles, the Broncos defense was all over Newton like a cheap suit for 60 minutes. The punishment that was handed out by the Broncos defense led to 15 points for their team which was the difference in the game as Denver defeated Carolina by a score of 24-10 to win Super Bowl 50 which in part was due to Manning checking his ego at the door and buying in to what Elway sold him on which was team football.
Like Manning, Elway is one of the best quarterbacks to have ever played in the National Football League. Elway has been on both sides of the coin as he has won and lost Super Bowls. And as the Broncos lost in epic fashion in the Super Bowl with Elway under center, it was due to the fact that he tried to do too much by himself as Denver was not the better team in any of those games.
The Broncos were clearly not the best team two years ago at the Super Bowl when they were walloped by the Seahawks which is something that Elway sought out to remedy. But it was the Broncos who were the dominant team this past Sunday against the Panthers. Elway has the Midas touch as anything that he touches indeed touches turns to gold. And whereas Manning will more than likely ride off into the sunset now as a two-time Super Bowl Champion, Elway has also cemented his legacy as he built a winner in just five short years.Share: