Hall Recall: John Elway

07/27/2004

By Gil Brandt
NFL.com Senior Analyst
Special to Profootballhof.com


My first meeting with John Elway took place in the fall of 1967. At the time, his father, Jack, was an assistant coach at the University of Montana. I would visit, and Jack would bring John with him to practice. John would throw balls and keep a close eye on his father's practice. You could tell he had his heart set on being a football player, even though he was only 7 years old.

Then I lost track of him until 1976. From then through 1978, his dad was the head coach at Cal-State Northridge. Back then, the Cowboys would go to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for training camp, so the Elway men would come to our practices, watch us scrimmage, then eat with us and watch more practice. When he wasn't watching us practice, John's favorite hobby was collecting autographs of our players. I believe his favorite guy was Roger Staubach, our quarterback. Little did anyone know then just how telling this would become.

In the spring of 1981, in what was John's junior year, I spent three days with him in Lake Geneva, Wisc., where we had our Playboy All-America Weekend. I got to golf with him, Ed Muranski, a mammoth offensive lineman from Michigan, and Ken Judd, the pro at the course we were at. We got to one hole that looked awfully tough -- there was a lot of water to say the least. John asked the pro how he should go about playing the hole, and the pro told him to lay up before the water because it would be extremely tough to hit it over the water. Elway walked up to the tee, focused himself, and crushed that golf ball well over the water. The pro, who had probably played that course every day, couldn't accomplish the same feat and had to lay up before the water.

Notes from an actual scouting report Gil Brandt wrote on Elway for Dallas:
Elway is 6-2¾ and 218 pounds, ideal size for a quarterback. ... We don't have a confirmed time on Elway; would probably run a 4.95 or 5.0 in the 40-yard dash if timed. ... He plays a lot faster than whatever his timed speed is. ... He's pigeon toed with great athletic ability, outstanding body control and great balance. ... He has a sixth sense when being pressured and will pivot mostly to his left to get away from the rusher. He also has no wasted motion when he moves. ... Works hard, leads by example. ... Has outstanding arm strength. Can drop back or throw on the move with accuracy. ... In 1980, as a first-year starter, he passed for 2,889 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions. ... Was a backup to Turk Schonert and played in just 122 plays as a freshman. ... Will take a team to the playoffs with a chance to win a Super Bowl.
John Elway is a champion on and off the field.

Two years later, Elway was selected No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, and of course there's that whole history of Elway not wanting to play in Baltimore and demanding a trade. Well as soon as I heard of this, I entered the Cowboys into the "Elway Sweepstakes." We made an attempt to trade for Elway but lost to the Broncos. I guess I got outrecruited. I was disappointed because I thought so much of him as a player and I felt this would be the person that would guarantee us continual success on the field.

I loved Elway not just for his physical attributes and skills, but because of his Staubach-like work habits. For instance, during training camp Elway would finish practice and get together with Mike Shanahan, who was an assistant coach then, and teammate Gary Kubiak (now the offensive coordinator in Denver) and run from one end zone to the other and walk back, all in a prescribed time. So all or most of Elway's teammates would be in the locker room already, and here was the star quarterback striving to get better. Suffice to say, Elway worked hard.

He also worked hard off the field. Elway owns his own car dealership out in Denver, and there's a lot more to it than just letting his name be used. Elway actually works at the dealership, and did it when he was a player, too. He used to come into the training complex at 7 a.m. with a suit over his shoulder, work out for an hour, then leave to go work at his car dealership. With that kind of dedication, I'd buy a car from him.

I was fortunate enough to be with John on the Saturday afternoon he was voted into the Hall of Fame. We were with Tom Shine from Reebok in the Reebok Hospitality Room at the Super Bowl. We were together for two hours, just talking about his amazing career and how exciting it was for John to go into the Hall. I actually got John to sign a pillow with the letters "HOF" under his name for my young friend Jack Zimmerman. It was probably one of the first autographs Elway signed that had those three little letters underneath his name. Granted, everyone knew he would make the Hall, but for John it seemed like a culmination of everything he's ever done in his football life. It was great to be there with him on that day.

It's just like John to try to be unique. When asked who he wanted to give his induction speech at the Hall, John said "my children." The Hall said only one person could speak, so John's oldest daughter will get the honor.

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