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Woody Paige: John Elway will lead Denver Broncos' comeback once again

November 25, 2017 Updated: November 26, 2017 at 6:45 am
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Broncos legend John Elway looks up at the scoreboard towards the end o the game. The Broncos played the Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium on Sunday, November 17, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Duke of Denver has been relegated to Prince of Wails.

The leader of Colorado's Camelot hasn't endured such extreme duress since he was a quarterback a quarter century ago.

John Elway is being denunciated for the sad, shameful, shocking state of Broncos football. Many in BroncosCountry want the Duke deposed, believing the longtime toast of the town is burnt.

Is Elway fair game for blame?

Undeniably.

Should he be dethroned?

Absolutely not.

Elway has saved this franchise twice - once as a player, then as an executive. He led the Broncos to 47 game-winning drives and finished with more career regular-season victories than any other quarterback who played in the NFL.

In No. 7's 23 years with the organization, the Broncos have reached the Super Bowl seven times. This will be only the fourth losing season in Elway's NFL career.

Yet, people want to dump Elway like a load of coal.

In the past several days he has been characterized as a "coach killer,'' a draft blunderer, the reason the Broncos have "hit rock bottom after the latest loss because he accused the players and coaches of becoming 'a little bit soft.'''

Where would the Broncos have been and be without John Elway? Remember the Broncos in the 1960s and into the 1970s? Remember the McDaniels McMess just eight-nine years ago? Remember that without Elway for 16 seasons, the Broncos would have been living in a world inhabited by Lions, scarecrows and tin men.

"Fire John Elway'' has become a popular refrain.

I've covered Elway longer than anyone else in the Colorado media, going back to a Stanford-Washington game in 1982, throughout his eras as player and exec, and in between when he was a car dealer, restaurant owner, amateur tournament golfer, bon vivant and chief overseer of a championship indoor football league team. We had a lengthy personal conversation just before his 50th birthday - when John expressed a wish to be a Bronco and return them to glory.

I've criticized and praised him for over 35 years. I've never been around a more talented, competitive and confident athlete, a good man with swagger, shrewdness, sharpness and sensibility. But he always has been the real leader of men.

And John, as most of us, has been a flawed man.

Elway is surrounded by "yes'' men who won't disagree with him. He needs a "no'' man and buffer as general manager. And he needs Pat Bowlen.

But he cares more about the Broncos, Denver and Colorado than his detractor trailers.

The night before he officially was announced as executive VP, I bluntly asked Elway:

"What happens if this doesn't work out? What if you aren't successful? Are you concerned about your reputation and fame?''

"Not at all. I'm not afraid of failure. I fear not getting the chance to succeed.''

Elway can handle vilification from the outside. He only worries about the pressure from within his own mind.

In 1990 Elway's Broncos were 5-11. He had 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and was sacked 43 times. He felt the wrath of Broncos fans who wanted him gone. His coach, Dan Reeves, attempted to trade him.

The next season John took the Broncos to a 12-4 record and the AFC Championship in Buffalo. He probably would have gotten to a fourth Super Bowl, but was injured in the game.

In 1994-95 he was 15-15 as a starter, and Broncos loyalists demanded that he retire. Instead, John compiled a 43-9 overall record in his final three years and won two Super Bowls. As an executive he has commanded a franchise that advanced to the playoffs in five consecutive seasons and played in two Super Bowls - winning one.

He has come back over and over before; he'll come back again.

Ye of little faith, John Elway is The Duke.

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