On Dec. 6, 2010, at 7:45 p.m., John and Paige Elway greeted Pat and Annabel Bowlen at a back table in Elway's namesake restaurant for a dinner that had been arranged a few days before.
Oddly, at that exact time, Josh McDaniels, fired that day from his position as Broncos coach by Bowlen, was leaving Dove Valley.
The casual evening for Bowlen and Elway eventually morphed into a serious business conversation. The team's owner asked the legendary Broncos quarterback if he would be interested in rejoining the franchise that he had been mostly disconnected from for a decade.
I had written a column on Nov. 28 that "the savior of the Broncos in 1983 could be the best man to salvage the franchise ... that has been characterized as the laughingstock of the NFL.''
Sources very close to The Comeback QB said he wanted to come back. Two days before his 50th birthday on June 26 of that year, Elway told me in a lengthy interview at the Cherry Creek steakhouse he desired to "reunite with the Broncos.''
During dinner, Elway said yes to Bowlen, who would soon offer the Hall of Famer two alternatives: He could buy a piece of the ownership, or he could take control of the football responsibilities, but not both. Elway preferred the hands-on job.
Precisely a month after that night, when he and Pat high-fived as they left the table, Elway officially was named executive VP of football operations.
Four months afterward, Elway, who had been a No. 1 overall pick, ruled over his first Broncos draft, and his first selection, the NFL's No. 2 prize, was Von Miller.
The decision was John's best in six drafts - but 27 other Broncos' draft choices have started games.
Ol' No. 7's seventh draft is this month.
Elway actually learned the psychographics and peculiarities of picking personnel 16 years ago this month.
In 2001, Mike Shanahan, Broncos coach and de facto GM, requested that John, who retired in 1999 after winning consecutive Super Bowls, and his father Jack, who retired as Broncos director of pro scouting in 2000, help for two weeks in the predraft planning phase. The younger Elway's goal was to get into football administration or ownership. John had sold his automobile dealerships for $80 million - "my lottery ticket,'' he said to me.
Jack was the Washington State quarterback for one season, but a knee injury prematurely ended his playing career. After earning a master's degree, Elway was an assistant and a head coach in high school, college and the pros from 1953-1992, most prominently at Stanford for five seasons. In 1993 he joined the Broncos' scouting department, where his Stanford-educated son, was quarterback.
During early April 2001, Jack and John ceaselessly studied tapes of college players, and the father taught his son the art of drafting. "He was the best evaluator of young talent. I learned so much from him,'' John once told me. "He'd stop tapes and explain everything about that player. We watched a quarterback from Purdue, and I dismissed him because he was short, and I didn't think he had a great arm.'' But Jack cautioned John to ''to look inside the player's heart'' and consider if he was a winner. Purdue was the Big Ten tri-champion that year, and Drew Brees set conference records in completions, passing yardage and touchdowns.
The Broncos already had another Big Ten quarterback - Brian Griese. The team used the first round's 24th selection for Minnesota cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, who would start only two games in four seasons. Griese, who was chosen in 1998 to become Elway's successor, lasted five oft-injured seasons.
Brees would be the first pick of the second round by the Chargers. After five seasons, he was traded to the Saints. Brees has thrown for 66,111 yards and 465 touchdowns and won a Super Bowl.
He has a big heart.
Jack Elway passed along his evaluating expertise to John Elway.
On April 15, 2001, a week prior to the draft, Jack died sitting on his sofa watching ESPN. This April, the son again dedicates the Denver draft to the dad.