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Hmmm, Elway or Herrmann? You Make Call

January 25, 1998|T.J. SIMERS

SAN DIEGO — John Elway has a twin.

Sure, Fran Tarkenton, a three-time Super Bowl loser.

No. John Elway has a twin.

Sure, Jim Kelly after today, a four-time Super Bowl loser.

No! "I am his twin sister," says Jana Elway, younger than John by 11 minutes. "I don't like it when people say that--oh, that upsets me. My brother doesn't have to win the Super Bowl to be great. He's still great no matter what happens."


May 2, 1983: The night that would impact Denver to this day.

"This is the closest I've been to heaven," said Dan Reeves, the third-year coach of the Denver Broncos. "You hate to lose Mark Herrmann, but that's part of the business. John has greatness in him."

Denver quickly got over the loss of Mark Herrmann, the greatness evident in John Elway from the very minute he stepped to the podium at 10:30 that night, still a shaggy-haired kid in his only sport coat--a basic college beige camel hair--ready to take on the world.

"He's as good as I've seen since Joe Namath," said Dick Steinberg, one of the NFL's premier personnel directors before his passing. "He can't miss in the pros."

Baltimore had selected him with the first pick in the draft, and seasoned NFL observers believe to this day Baltimore would never have lost its team to Indianapolis--and therefore Cleveland would not have lost its team to Baltimore--had the Colts not given in to Elway's demands to trade him or watch him play for the New York Yankees.

"I see a lot of Mickey Mantle in him," Yankee owner George Steinbrenner said after Elway batted .318 four home runs and 25 RBIs in 43 games for New York's Class-A team in Oneonta.

Steinbrenner, known for exaggeration, would say later that Elway was probably not good enough to make it to right field in Yankee Stadium, but by that time Colt owner Robert Irsay had given away the franchise's future, dealing Elway to Denver.

"I got the quarterback I wanted in Mark Herrmann," Irsay said, qualifying for one of the dumbest quotes in sports history.

May 13, 1983: The Broncos must drive 59 miles to the Air Force Academy for their first mini-camp workout because of poor weather. A media caravan follows to document Elway's first day in uniform.

"I'm an idiot," Denver assistant trainer Ed Speiler said that first day in the Cadet Field House, "and even I can tell he's super."

Craig Morton wore No. 7 for the Broncos, the only quarterback to take the city to the Super Bowl, and out of respect to Morton, Elway asked to wear any other number so long as it remained a single digit.

But Morton stepped forward. "It would be great with me if John wore No. 7. Of course, he would have to play well to keep it," Morton said.

Pitted against Steve DeBerg to become the Broncos' starting quarterback, Elway made his first training camp appearance at 10:31 a.m. on Tuesday, July 13, as noted by the Associated Press, which ran an alert: "John Elway weighed in at 206 1/2 pounds this morning."

The spotlight had found John Elway and has shined brightly on him ever since.

"The only thing I worry about sometimes," Elway said after his first day in training camp, "is that I'll be able to live up to everything."

Jana Elway: "One of the happiest times I've ever seen him was one Halloween. We were at this party. He was wearing a mask, so he could do anything he wanted. He was going wild. He came up to me and said, 'Jana, I'm having the greatest time. Nobody knows who I am.' "


It's like he has never been alone since moving to Denver, one man who could make a city feel so good, and so bad by just running around on a football field every Sunday.

And now there is talk he might be playing his last game.

"I'm sure the outcome of the game will have some impact on my decision, but I don't know what that impact will be," said Elway, careful not to offer any hints. "Physically, I have to consider it [retirement]. I asked my second daughter [Jordan Marie], 'What do you think?' She said, 'Well, it's your decision if you win, but if you lose, then you're going back.' "


Jana Elway is a second-grade teacher in San Jose now, blond like her brother, but a foot shorter, married and the mother of two, and as proud as any sister can be of her twin.

"I find it weird people know who he is. It just blows me away when we go out in public and he causes such a ruffle among people.

"I was at his house and he has this big-screen TV and his kids were eating breakfast and one of his commercials came on and it's just his face on this big-screen TV, and not one person looked up from their cereal. They just kept eating, because it's just John, and Dad to the kids."

Although Elway is one of the most well-known athletes in the country, most people don't know that he's a twin. However, those who do make it impossible for Jana to hide her age, "It's always John Elway, the 37-year-old quarterback. . . . I don't have a chance."


In 1983, in this very stadium where Super Bowl XXXII will be played, John Elway lined up behind guard Tom Glassic, placing his hand between Glassic's legs and demanding the ball.

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