Elway `graduating' with honors

After 16 years, Broncos QB retires with no regrets: `I couldn't do it anymore'

May 03, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

There was no clock that could make John Elway wilt except the final one, the one that said his 16-year NFL career was over.

Then the king of comebacks cried.

"I don't look at it as a retirement," Elway said yesterday in the formal acknowledgment that he is finished as quarterback of the Denver Broncos. "I look at it as a graduation. You graduate from high school and you graduate from college. I'm graduating from pro football."

The mere thought caused Elway, 38, to break down in front of family, friends, teammates and reporters during a ceremony carried live by ESPN. The quarterback who carved a reputation for steely nerves and iron will was betrayed in the end by his emotions.

It was a rocky day all around for the Broncos. Despite repeated attempts at humor, the voices of both team owner Pat Bowlen and coach Mike Shanahan cracked during their remembrances.

"John, when I look back on your career, I look at it more off the field than what you did on it," Bowlen said. "And what you did on it was unbelievable. Today, I'm here to thank you for what you did for this organization off the field."

Thanks to Elway's part in back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, the Broncos are getting a new stadium to replace Mile High Stadium.

Shanahan, meanwhile, extolled Elway's competitive nature and his commitment to winning.

"You talk about his 47 comebacks," Shanahan said. "But the thing that was so impressive to me was his concentration level and poise and thriving on pressure. He knew he was so prepared, so physically in shape, that if you put him in that situation, he would win.

"That's why I believe he's the best quarterback ever to play the game."

Although Elway's decision to retire became public a week ago, he put off official announcement out of respect for victims and their relatives in the Columbine High School shooting. He wore a silver-and-blue ribbon -- Columbine colors -- on his suit jacket lapel.

With his turn on the podium, Elway thanked his wife, Janet, his parents, Bowlen, Shanahan and other members of the Broncos organization. He even thanked Edgar Kaiser, the former Broncos owner who made the 1983 trade that brought Elway to Denver.

The decision to quit, Elway said, came down to health and family considerations.

"Physically -- and this is really hard to admit -- I couldn't do it anymore," he said. "You never want to stop competing. [But] I just can't compete at the level I want to compete at. That's the bottom line.

"The second thing, it came down to family. They've been great for 16 years. Family life has been focused around me and football. It's time it focused around them.

"God blessed me with a beautiful family. That's why I'm so thankful. That's why it's so hard to walk away, because I cannot express in words how much everybody's meant to me."

Elway, the father of four children, leaves the playing field on a high note with two straight Super Bowl victories and the MVP trophy in this year's game. Although politics seem an unlikely future, it is possible Elway could wind up in the ABC-TV booth for "Monday Night Football" broadcasts or as a minority owner with the Broncos. Not long ago, he sold ownership in seven automobile dealerships in Denver for more than $82 million.

Life after Elway will be different at least for the Broncos. Elway's heir apparent at quarterback is Bubby Brister, 37 in August. Brister hasn't started more than eight games in a season since 1990. Behind him are second-year man Brian Griese, former San Francisco 49ers reserve Jeff Brohm and veteran Chris Miller, who hasn't played in the league since 1995 after suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

Elway nevertheless was predicting continued success for the Broncos because of Bowlen and Shanahan.

"I thank God I got a chance to play for [Shanahan] before I was done," Elway said. "If I had one wish, I'd keep my kids and wife and be 28 because I think it's just the beginning here.

"The Denver Broncos will be winners a long, long time because of these two guys up here and the types of guys on the team right now."

Pub Date: 5/03/99

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