By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com
CANTON, Ohio (Aug. 8, 2004) -- He drew our jeers as the spoiled brat from Stanford who told the NFL where he would play, not the other way around.
He drew our cheers when, after some early struggles, he showed the remarkable talent that the top overall pick of the draft is supposed to show -- and especially an uncanny knack for winning games in the fourth quarter.
He drew our tears after three ugly Super Bowl losses and the very real prospect that he would never know the feeling of winning the big one.
He drew our admiration for having enough perseverance to finally win it all not once, but twice, and then walking away while he was on top.
Now John Elway draws our deep appreciation for sharing, so eloquently and thoroughly, the crowning individual achievement of his football career.
"Always make your family proud."
That was the advice Elway received from his late father and coach, Jack, and shared with a Denver-dominated, record crowd of 21,900 and a national television audience during his acceptance speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Elway did that, but not merely because of those Super Bowl victories … or the fact in 16 seasons he guided the Denver Broncos to more victories than any quarterback in NFL history … or those 47 game-winning or game-saving drives.
He did that by not allowing his enormous fame or fortune to come between him and his four children. His oldest daughter, Jessica, confirmed as much during an inspiring introduction of her father.
"When (her two sisters, Jordan and Juliana, and brother, Jack) look at my dad, we see a different man than everyone else sees," said Jessica, who is father's athletic footsteps at Stanford on a basketball scholarship. "We see (his son's) coach. We see a dad who used to be able to beat -- used to -- his daughter at one-on-one in the driveway. And we see a son who desperately misses his father and (late) sister, never more than today.
"Some of our most vivid memories came from Mile High Stadium, but they didn't have anything to do with football. We spent more time watching my dad on the sideline, waiting for him to waive up at us, than we did watching the game. And sure enough, he always did. Looking back, those are some of my most treasured moments."
Jessica's voice choked with emotion, but she maintained her poise and kept going. Sound familiar?
She negotiated her way through the speech as deftly as her father would negotiate those pressure-packed drives, painting a vivid picture of John Elway, the man and father.
"As proud as we are of my dad, we'd be just as proud if he had not made the Hall of Fame," Jessica said. "I can't tell you how much he has taught us about life. He has taught us to be leaders, to set goals, to dream and to never, ever, ever make excuses. Above all, he has taught us to be tough. No one knows more than his children how tough my dad is, how competitive he is, how badly he wanted to win those Super Bowls."
Jessica, the first daughter to introduce an inductee in Hall history, recalled how she and her siblings were constantly reminded of the physical price their father paid as an NFL player. All they had to do was sit with him at the kitchen table to see the bruises on his arms, the cuts on his fingers and the scrapes on his elbows.
Whenever one of them would ask about one of those wounds, Elway, who underwent a dozen surgeries in his career, would smile and respond, "Oh, it's OK."
She shared one of the day's most humorous anecdotes when she talked about the way the Elway kids answered the question they always hear: "What's the coolest part about having John Elway as a dad?"
"That's easy. We're too young to remember the first three Super Bowls."
"Just because he played quarterback for the Broncos doesn't mean we have to cut him any slack," Jessica said, pointing out that she and her sisters and brothers routinely tease their father about the "goofy haircuts" they saw him wear whenever he shows up on ESPN Classic.
When Elway reached his late 30s, the children would remind him, "Dad you're too old to be calling everyone Dude."
Elway beamed with pride as he listened to his daughter's words. He soaked in the cheers from the thousands of orange-clad fans. He showed tremendous class in acknowledging the presence of former coach Dan Reeves, with whom he clashed over philosophical differences during the 0-3 Super Bowl run. Elway mended his fences with Reeves by inviting him to the ceremony and telling him from the stage, "Dan, I regret we couldn't win the Super Bowl, but went down fighting, that's for darn sure. And I appreciate all the wins we had together. And I want you to know that I fed off of your competitive spirit."
Like his daughter, Elway struggled through get through parts of his speech -- particularly when he talked about his father, who died of a heart attack in 2001, and his twin sister, Jana, who died a year later after a lengthy bout with cancer. He also became emotional in praising his mother, Jan.
But Elway did what he always does -- he persevered, just as he did after becoming the target of so much criticism by forcing the Baltimore Colts to trade him to Denver and just as he did when he lined up behind a left guard as a rookie and he just as he did after those three Super Bowl losses.
He pulled himself together and went the distance.
"You think going 98 yards against the Browns in the fourth quarter was tough?" Elway said. "Try cooking breakfast and dinner every day and raising three kids while your husband is off coaching, try driving your son all over town so he can chase his dreams, and try doing it in your spare time after working 40 hours a week."
Elway remembered that his father taught him less about how to play football than why to play it. Jack Elway taught his son how to compete -- to never give up, to play every down as if it were his last. He taught him to appreciate the game and to respect it. He taught him to enjoy his successes and learn from his failures.
"My dad wasn't just my best friend," Elway said. "He was my hero, my mentor, my inspiration. He was the keeper of my reality checklist, the compass that guided my life and my career.
"And he taught me the number one lesson in my life: Always make your family proud."
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