Klee: Is this Denver's deja vu? Ask John Elway

By: Paul Klee
October 29, 2013 Updated: October 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm
Caption +
Flanked by his teammates, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway hoists the Lombardi Trophy skyward Jan. 27, 1998, during the team's victory celebration on the steps of the City/County Building after winning Super Bowl XXXII. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER - This one's for John, and with John.

In 1997, the season after the Broncos lost a heartbreaker to the Jaguars in the playoffs, the Broncos won their first six games. They lost their seventh.

They won the Super Bowl.

In 2013, the season after the Broncos lost a heartbreaker to the Ravens in the playoffs, the Broncos won their first six games. They lost their seventh.

"I didn't know that. That makes me feel good," John Elway said when I offered a history lesson to the man who wrote most of it. "I guess that's a good thing. If you have to lose one, I guess you want it to be comparable to the '97 season."

Now, if these Broncos can copy everything else about those Broncos, Elway will be one happy Bronco.

I remember the first Super Bowl party on 16th Street Mall, in part, because I got hit in the head with a flare. It burned a hole in my stocking cap.

Elway was 37 when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. Peyton Manning is 37 now.

Then, Elway was the Broncos quarterback making all the right decisions.

Now, he is the Broncos executive watching a quarterback make all the right decisions.

"I talk a little football with Peyton," Elway said. "But he's busy and I'm busy, so I let the coaches coach and I do my job."

At the midpoint of this season, his third as vice president of football operations, Elway sees mostly good in these Broncos.

"I think you look at the weapons Peyton has, the way he's mastered the offense, the feel he has for everybody. It's a lot of fun to watch," Elway said. "Now, we got off to such a fast start. So we set a high bar. The bottom line is we have to keep it in perspective. We have to pay attention to the little details, the small things that really count. Then we have a chance to get back to where we want to get to."

He sees some bad, mainly in Week 6 against Jacksonville and Week 7 at Indianapolis.

"We got a little sloppy. We had too many mistakes. What did we have, 12 penalties (at Indianapolis)? That's just sloppy football," he said.

"You can't beat a good team on the road doing that, even though we still had a chance to (in a 39-33 loss)."

Elway is 53 now and shared a chipper, generous disposition during a conversation at their Dove Valley headquarters. He held a sheet of advanced stats.

Most were good.

He said these Broncos would better protect Manning by improving the running game.

"We put pressure on the offensive line because we haven't run the ball as effectively as we'd like to," he said.

He believes the Broncos' defense, which hasn't been whole due to injuries and a six-game suspension to Von Miller, will be good enough to win a Super Bowl.

"I think if you look at what we did last year and you look at the pieces we added, I think we can get there. Obviously we're not there yet," he said. "It's continuing to get better. I think the exciting thing is there's a lot more upside to the defensive side. We have a lot more upside there with Von back. I think eventually we'll get there."

Elway said Miller, the star linebacker with a terrible memory, is the most talented player he's ever seen - with the Broncos or otherwise.

"I do. I think if you look at sheer talent of what he can do on the football field, I don't know that there's a more talented guy," he said.

The 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl champions are the forever standard for the Broncos.

The 2013 Broncos are built to test that standard. They have 11 games (or 12, if they enter the playoffs as a wild card) to match it.

Elway retired May 2, 1999, three months and two days after the second Super Bowl title. I have often wondered how seriously he considered returning for a third run. Super Bowl coach Mike Shanahan tried to recruit him back, Elway said.

"What Mike could see was we were still having success on the field, so therefore I could still play a little bit. Ultimately, it came down to the physicality of it and whether I could stay healthy. I had missed four games the last year.

"I just really felt it was time to hang 'em up. But yeah, he tried to get me to come back for another year."

Could the Broncos have won three straight Super Bowls if he had returned?

"No one's ever done it. So it would have been very tough," Elway said. "But it was a very capable team. I think it would have made it interesting."

The loss to the Jags bears striking similarities to the loss to the Ravens. Those are 1-2 in dark days around here. Both Broncos teams were No. 1 seeds in the AFC.

"I think that (Jaguars game) was probably the most disappointing loss I'd ever have. I think everybody else on the football team would say the same thing," Elway said. "We learned it can be over in a heartbeat. So I think it enabled us to keep our focus throughout the next year and really the next two years."

Only God, not John, knows if the 2013 season will end the same way as the 1997 season.

At the midway point, they sure look similar.

After the playoff loss to the Jags, the '97 Broncos started the next season 7-1. Their bye was in Week 7.

After the playoff loss to the Ravens, these Broncos have started this season 7-1. Their bye is Sunday, in Week 9.

The '97 Broncos finished 12-4 and in second place in the AFC West (behind the Chiefs, who finished 13-3). These Broncos are in second place in the AFC West (behind the Chiefs).

Given the deja vu, we can only assume, if the Broncos win Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, Elway will raise the Lombardi Trophy and declare:

This one's for Pat (Bowlen).


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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