I was a cub sports reporter for the Cal State Northridge student newspaper when Jack Elway was football coach.
I got a laugh out of Elway's laconic speech patterns, tinged with a Texas-smoked drawl even though he was a native of Washington state. Elway addressed everyone as "pardner." We dubbed him Country Jack.
The student newspaper, Elway told me early in our relationship, always comes first.
"My office door is always open," he said.
It was. To everyone. So I showed up a lot.
The guy was good copy. He liked my diligence and, in what might be a first in coach-reporter relations, made me this offer: "Pardner, you've heard me talk so many times, you already know what I'm going to say. If you can't track me down, just make up what you need. I'm sure it'll be fine."
After the season, I swung by his office and found him scribbling on a stack of school stationery. He was writing letters to the parents of his players, thanking them for their efforts.
I was knocked out. He wrote one to my mom. She put it in a scrapbook with my baby pictures and high school diploma.
Country Jack invited me to his Chatsworth home for dinner with his family later that school year. His wife, Jan, quoted from recruiting letters sent to their son John, then a senior at Granada Hills High.
"We don't sleep with teddy bears," a female from Missouri wrote. "We only sleep with Missouri Tigers."
That got a big hoot from John's younger twin sisters. A teen-aged John Elway passed me the peas.
"He's made me everything I am as a quarterback," John said of his father.
John and Jack were always close, more so than probably anyone outside the family appreciates. It would be hard for any casting director to assemble a tighter, more All-American family, even though Jack never found much time for yardwork--his garage was stocked with unused tools.
"I never learned how to operate a shovel," Jack said. "Or exercise."
I crossed paths with him at Seattle Seahawks' games in 1998 and '99, a time when he served as the Denver Broncos' director of pro scouting.
He was still approachable, still called people pardner. It was consistent with the "Team Scheme" philosophy Elway introduced at Northridge in 1976.
"'Emphasize the positive," he explained. "Achieve goals and make sure everyone involved enjoy themselves."
Mission accomplished, pardner.
Terry Wood is a former Valley-area sportswriter now working as a correspondent for the Seattle Times.