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KLEE: After good (not great) season, Elway gets serious

By: Paul Klee
April 15, 2013
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photo - This photo provided by the Denver Broncos shows Wes Welker stretching Eric Decker during NFL football offseason training at Denver Broncos Dove Valley facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday,  April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Denver Broncos, Eric Bakke) Photo by HOEP
This photo provided by the Denver Broncos shows Wes Welker stretching Eric Decker during NFL football offseason training at Denver Broncos Dove Valley facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Denver Broncos, Eric Bakke) Photo by HOEP 

ENGLEWOOD — With his Broncos receivers, Peyton Manning's timing is usually exact.

His comedic timing isn't too shabby, either.

Just as the mood got heavy at a news conference Monday, Manning stepped aside from his Broncos analysis and dropped a nugget of movie wisdom:

"As the great Ebby Calvin LaLoosh said in 'Bull Durham': 'I like winning. It's like, uh, you know, better than losing.'"

Never a dull moment with No. 18.

His tendency to lighten the mood is why I noticed a harder tone from Manning on the first day of voluntary team workouts. In the quarterback's first gathering with local media since the Broncos' season ended with a numbing loss to the Ravens, Manning had a business tone.

Hidden in the lengthy question-and-answer session, Manning slid in this key comment:

"I know that John Elway wants to sort of set an attitude and an edge around here. Maybe a little bit of an uncomfortable atmosphere, which I believe in.

"Last year was good, but it wasn’t great.”

As their chief decision-maker, Elway sets the Broncos roster. He’s also setting a different tone.

Denver went 13-3, earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC and lost in the divisional playoffs.

Good, not great.

The greats are not always easy to play with. In practice, Michael Jordan once punched a teammate. In games, Manning chews out his wide receivers if they run the wrong route.

The greats are not always easy to play for. As an executive in the Broncos front office, Elway is using this offseason to drive home a message: Last season was good, not great.

“I don’t think that San Francisco is any happier than we are because they played in the Super Bowl,” Manning said. “Baltimore is really the only team that probably had the most enjoyable offseason. It’s a motivating factor.”

I think this is important to note: Not once during their 11-game winning streak did I sense the 2012 Broncos had grown comfortable with their success.

It was a loose locker room, not a satisfied one.

The Broncos are the only pro franchise among Colorado’s big four that sets a tone of championship-or-bust. By their lofty measuring stick, 2012 was a bust.

Have you gotten over the Baltimore loss?

Manning hasn't, either. It's clear Elway hasn't, either.

That is why Manning said he is comfortable with the notion of an uncomfortable team.

“We have so much work that we have to do,” he said.

I thought Elway’s message was apparent in several decisions this offseason.

Elvis Dumervil last season was good, not great, and was asked to agree to a pay cut. Initially, Dumervil did not agree, and he’s gone to Baltimore.

The Broncos' offense was good, often great, and punchless in the playoffs. The big move in free agency was stealing a dynamic receiver, Wes Welker, from the Patriots.

The Broncos' defense was good, often great, and exposed against the Ravens. Another big move was signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a cornerback, from the Eagles.

“The guy is a special talent,” Champ Bailey said Monday.

Elway has no pull with the weather. Otherwise, he might demand 70 degrees and sunshine for the month of January. Another option is putting a dome on Sports Authority Field.

Kidding about the dome.

Kind of.

We've seen this type of response from Elway before. As the quarterback, Elway suffered an upset loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs. The 1996 season was good, not great, and the Broncos went on a revenge tour and won the next two Super Bowls.

As the executive, Elway is responding to an upset loss in the playoffs.

"I can tell you the older I get, it doesn't get any easier to deal with losses like that," Bailey said.

The 2012 season was a revelation, proof that Manning remains a quarterback powerful enough to lead a team into the NFL elite.

The 2013 season is more of a mission. Elway set the tone, Manning said he will carry it out.

"I like winning," LaLoosh said. "It's like, uh, you know, better than losing."

The Broncos, who aren't joking, were good. Next season they must be great.

Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (paul.klee@gazette.com) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).

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