YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 2 of 2)

PRO FOOTBALL '85 : JOHN ELWAY : He's Had Rocky Start in Denver, Due to Media and Bronco Fans

September 06, 1985|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

When we last saw Elway, he was dragging a gimpy leg up to the line of scrimmage to face the Steeler defense. Elway's body was bloodied and battered, but he refused to leave.

Don't think his teammates, not all of whom had been won over by Pretty Boy John, weren't taking notes.

"If anybody had any doubts about his courage under fire, he answered everybody's questions," linebacker Tom Jackson said of Elway's performance against the Steelers. "He wasn't forced to stay in the game, he wanted to play."

Coming from Jackson, a 13-year-veteran, three-time all-pro and four-time most-inspirational Bronco, that means something.

Said Elway: "It's good for them to know that I'm going to do everything I can to win the football game, even if it means sacrificing my body. Anytime someone plays hurt, and they know he's hurt, you're going to gain more respect."

Respect is something Elway is longing for.

Bronco owner Pat Bowlen went public last week and admitted that everyone concerned had been too hard on Elway.

"I sort of feel sorry for him, quite frankly, because I think he's getting the short end of the stick," Bowlen told the Denver Post. "I think John's a fantastic quarterback, but there's a lot of pressure put on him to perform like other people who are in entirely different situations."

Did anyone say Dan Marino?

Naturally, everyone's going to compare them, simply because they came into the league the same year.

But is it fair? So much more was expected from Elway because he was the first pick in the draft. Marino, the 27th pick in the first round and the sixth quarterback selected, was an underdog from the start.

Elway abhors comparisons with Marino, but did offer this: "It's only human nature. It's something you can't control. But if we win a Super Bowl, all that won't matter."

Denver coaches say to compare the two is absurd.

It's the old story about Marino's walking into an an ideal situation.

"You have to remember that John didn't come to the strongest team in the world," Reeves said. "We were 2-7 (strike season) the year before. And he didn't have the support that Marino had. And he didn't have a coach like Shula, who was a lot more experienced with young quarterbacks than I was."

The Broncos say they are also more of a run-oriented team, which doesn't allow for Marino-type statistics.

Mike Shanahan, Denver's offensive coordinator, said he'll take his guy any day.

"You put Dan Marino at Buffalo and a lot of people would be saying he wasn't that great," Shanahan said. "I don't think the Broncos will win 12 or 13 games this season without John, but I think the Dolphins could win 12 games without Marino."

But there was another thing that separated Elway from Marino--a media barrage that would have made Col. Tom Parker proud.

"John had the toughest first year of any football player in the history of the game," wide receiver Steve Watson said. "It was ridiculous to subject a guy to that."

"Another Tattoo: This one's a raspberry on Elway's knee. Someone kicked him breaking a huddle." --Update from the "Elway Watch," July 16, 1983.

There's a Hollywood adage that says there's no such thing as bad publicity, only too little.

In just two seasons, Elway has accumulated eight volumes of press clippings. To put it in perspective, consider that former linebacker Randy Gradishar, one of the Broncos' all-time stars, had just three volumes in nine seasons.

In a never-ending battle to out-Elway the other, the city's competing papers, the Post and the Rocky Mountain News, started their daily chronicling of what Elway did, their motto apparently being, "Nothing's too trivial to print."

"The Elway Watch was the craziest," Elway said. "It's a lot easier to look back on it than it was going through it. You tend to giggle about it now because it was so bad."

"Early in morning practice, Elway dropped back to pass and lost his footing, landing almost flat on his face. But he scrambled up and completed a short pass anyway." --More from the Elway Watch, July 28, 1983.

John Elway can only hope that the worst is over. These days, he can't wait for tomorrow. Steve DeBerg is gone, having been traded to Tampa Bay. And Elway's got a 13-3 season tucked under his belt and can't wait to start another.

He's even drawing raves from Reeves, who has had communication problems with Elway in the past.

"It's not that we weren't talking," Reeves said of Elway's rookie season. "We were just two young people. I was young at my job and he was young at is. We were both extremely competitive and both tremendously impatient. And when things don't go as you want, there's friction. We haven't had a problem since."

All Elway wanted, once in a while, was a pat on the back. But Reeves isn't one to heap praise on anybody.

"He's got his flaws, I've got mine," Elway said. "There are certain things he doesn't like about me. I wish I knew. But the work atmosphere is a lot easier than it was the first year. Me playing well helps, too."

Elway seems more relaxed, now that he's gotten the monkey and the press off his back. The media crunch has subsided and Elway seems more committed than ever.

He and wife Janet live in Colorado year round now.

"It's still hard to go anywhere, so we stay home quite a bit," Elway said. "I don't like to go out and have people staring at me."

Elway trained heavily with weights in the off-season and added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot 3-inch frame.

"I feel like I can go out and compete and have fun again," Elway said.

Los Angeles Times Articles