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Go Deep! I'll Hit Ya' : John Elway: He's a Living Legend, on the Field and in Comic Books

January 27, 1988|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Drums along Mission Bay, vibrations on the water, trumpets tuning up down the street. This isn't just a game we're getting ready for but a coronation, if things only go as expected:

John Elway's installation-- at long last! --into the pantheon of big guys.

All the groundwork has been laid. In recent weeks, his peers, with little prompting--OK, with lots of prompting but little resistance--have compared him to Dan Marino, John Wayne, Superman, Hercules and Sampson. Yet to be alluded to are Zeus, Roger Staubach, Clark Gable, Albert Einstein or Albert Schweitzer, but the week is still young.

The Elway watch is beginning to whirl off its moorings. The limits of normal inquiry have been expanded so that a disc jockey from WWWE in Cleveland, on the air, asked Elway's wife, Janet, about her pregame sexual life with her husband

Janet demurred.

The DJ persisted: Was John going to face the Browns exhausted?

"My attitude is, John has to win the game first. And then . . . ," said Janet, obviously a good-natured woman.

"You ever going to let your wife do another interview on Cleveland radio?" John was asked last week.

"Anywhere but Cleveland," he said, equally as good-natured.

The things your basic 27-year-old folk hero has to put up with.

He gets to play the game he loves as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos and has a $12-million contract besides, so ordinary cares and woes, as the rest of us understand them, are taken care of. But of course there are new ones.

In the land of Broncomania, which is sort of like a year-long Super Bowl week, he is set off from his neighbors as surely as Gulliver among the Lilliputians, to be stared at if he sticks his head out the door--his home address was once published by a local paper--and dive-bombed by autograph seekers if he dares try a restaurant.

He is asked to live up to the highest expectations. When he can't, he is made to feel he has let the side down.

When he can, he becomes a cartoon character.

Teammate Vance Johnson decided that Elway's walk to the huddle before the famous 98-yard drive at Cleveland last season, looked like John Wayne's and now refers to Elway as the Duke.

"I walk," says Elway, managing to smile and wince at the same time. "That's all I do is walk. Vance is a lot of fun."

The Browns' Bubba Baker, swearing defiance the week before this season's American Football Conference championship game, said he was tired of all this stuff.

"He's not God," said Baker, actually sounding a little unsure. "At least not the God I pray to.

"Was that John Wayne in the Super Bowl? I've had enough of the immaculate John Elway. . . . Hercules and Sampson are retired, the way I hear it."

Elway, who is still working, then proceeded to guide the Broncos past the Browns once more, and Elway's prowess and repute became someone else's problem.

"He's a one-man show but believe me, he can be stopped," said Washington's Dexter Manley last week. "He's not like Superman."

It's true. He's not. It would be a better story if he were, and maybe it's the one we secretly yearn for, but he's just a guy.

Good player, though.

" The Denver Broncos . . . were looking at 1st-and-98. They could've laid down. They could've rolled over. They could've quit. But not this team. Not this quarterback. "John Elway--the 26-year-old phenomenon just four years out of Stanford University--and the Broncos reached down into that secret place only champions know and found themselves . . . found the strength and determination to begin. . . . "

--Sports Action Comics

Denver, Colo.

$2.50, $3.50 in Canada

It isn't true that this has replaced "Dick and Jane" in the Denver elementary school system, but . . .

Teach your children well. First you need to know where John Elway actually ranks.

On top, it appears.

"Oh, well, what can I say about him?" said Dick Steinberg, personnel director of the New England Patriots.

"I think he's got the strongest arm in the league, and we see Marino twice a year. And that's not taking anything away from Marino. The advantage Marino has is that great release, but I think Elway's got the strongest arm from the standpoint of getting it down the field distance-wise and from the standpoint of velocity.

"Of the many things Elway does well, probably the best is improvise, scramble out of the pocket--to start off with, feel pressure from the back side, I don't know how he does it--scramble and still on the run, find the open guy. And if he finds 'em, don't worry about him getting the ball there, because he's got the gun to do it.

"I think he's the best thing going. He's the one guy who can beat you if nothing else is working for them. Marino is great but Marino can't scramble around and beat you. Marino is not going to run 35 yards up the field to beat you.

"We've had pretty good luck against Marino because we've got guys who match up pretty well with their receivers," Steinberg continued.

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