John Elway Q&A: How the Hall of Fame QB lured Peyton Manning to the Broncos

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – John Elway looked relaxed on the eve of his team's training camp. The Hall of Fame quarterback and Denver Broncos executive vice president was dressed in an orange polo, tan dress shorts and loafers, a model of calm at a time when most NFL team executives are sweating the details.

Elway has done plenty in less than two years as the head of football operations with the Broncos. His look belies the fact that he has constantly been on the road. Be it hours after the end of a college bowl game as he waited to get information on a player or at the NFL scouting combine, Elway is ubiquitous in a profession where so many ex-players don't have patience.

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John Elway proved to be a solid recruiter in the Broncos' acquisition of Peyton Manning. (AP)

But there is still a sense of calm, which is on display now. More important, it was on display when Elway helped the Broncos land Peyton Manning this offseason.

Just as he did in so many games as a player, Elway kept his cool in the middle of the high-pressure pursuit that also featured San Francisco, Miami, Kansas City, Tennessee, Seattle, the New York Jets and Washington.

That's all part of the joy for Elway, who is running the Broncos after helping the team win two Super Bowl titles. On Wednesday, Elway sat down with Yahoo! Sports to talk about Manning and the challenges he enjoys running the Broncos:

Jason Cole: Last season, there were some people who said that you didn't want Tim Tebow to succeed because you didn't want someone to eclipse you as a great player in Denver sports lore. Now, you go get Peyton Manning, someone who is certainly on your level. So it seems you're not afraid of that.

John Elway: I don't know how you win at this level without one of those guys. Now, there are exceptions, but that's the general rule and Peyton gives us that opportunity to compete for a world championship. You have to have a guy with that capability.

Cole: But when people were saying that …

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Elway: It's ridiculous. Why would I come back and not want that guy? Why would I not want a great quarterback when I know that's what you need to win a championship? That's why it's ridiculous. But there's so much more out there in terms of social media. So the fans launch into that and all of a sudden it's being picked up and written. It's infuriating, but that's why I really learned to worry about what I can control and not worry about the stuff I can't.

Cole: Early on, you were able to keep your interest in Manning pretty much a secret even when other teams were making no secret about it. Was that important to the plan?

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John Elway shows off his multi-sport skills at a celebrity golf tournament on Sunday. (AP)

Elway: We had talked about it, but you couldn't talk to Peyton until he was let go by Indianapolis. So it was just a matter of knowing that we had an interest and after we knew he had an interest on his side, we were ready to go. … We weren't going to tell anybody there was an interest until we knew there was an interest on his side. There wasn't too much of a reason to get excited until there was an interest on his side.

Cole: Once you knew he was interested, did you guys do a lot of plotting about how you were going to pitch it to him? Or did you play it a little more loosely because, as a former quarterback, you had a pretty good feel for how to talk to him?

Elway: It wasn't an elaborate sit-down that was all organized with a big, huge presentation. It was to get him in here and show him what we were all about, introduce him to the offensive guys and have him look around. Obviously, I've been around him quite a bit, but it was to show him what we have. I just knew that you weren't going to push Peyton into a corner. So the bottom line was to show him the best of what we have, answer any questions he had for us and not put any pressure on him. Give him the space to make a decision and believe that we had a lot to offer here. We didn't hard sell it, we soft sold it because we felt good about where we were.

I just knew that if I was him and I had just gotten released by a team I had played 14 years for, if there was some team that said to me, "You have to come in and do it now," I know I would have walked away. That's why I knew Peyton was going to take his time. He was still dealing with getting released. Even though the rumors were out there for a long time, I still believe he was a little bit shocked that he got released. Even though you hear it, when it's that final, it's still a little bit of a shock and I understood that. So it was going to take him time to get away from that situation, clear his mind and realize what was going on and be able to figure out what he wanted to do.

Again, he was not going to make a quick decision. Even though everybody was saying, "He's going to sign there," or "Miami has a deal with Peyton" or "They're not going to let him get out of the building," I knew that wasn't the case because he was going to have to go through his process. We were going to have to go through our process as well. We were going to have to see him throw eventually. So it was going to take time and it took about 10 or 11 days.

Cole: It seemed like a thousand.

Elway: Yeah, it seemed like a long time for us, too. But that's how it was going to run, so we just had to be patient through the process. We kept in contact with him, but didn't bother him. We answered any questions he had. Once he got through visiting all the teams, we all went down to Duke to see him throw.

Cole: When the Dolphins went through choosing between Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper in 2006, the part they really missed was the complete dedication that Brees had to getting healthy. Do you see that same determination in Manning as Brees had in coming back from a shoulder injury?

Elway: Yeah. The way the tests are coming back and the nerve is coming back, everything is way ahead of where we thought it would be. Peyton is still a young guy at 35, 36 years old. He still has a lot of football in front of him and if you get a guy like that with a chip on his shoulder then I think it makes it even better.

Cole: So he doesn't require a lot of prodding?

Elway: Having been around Peyton for four or five months, he's not one of those guys who loses that chip. You don't have to prod him.

Cole: Along those lines, there haven't been a lot of great players who have gone from the field to working in the front office. Ozzie Newsome is one of the few who had done it successfully. Dan Marino lasted all of about two weeks before he realized the job wasn't for him. This is a large time commitment. Why do it?

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Elway: The football side is the fun part of it for me. That's the side you have to take your time and enjoy it and that's what I love to do. Initially, getting to know everybody, getting to know what everybody does, all the rules, getting to know those types of things – that can get a little bit overwhelming. But a year and a half into it, I feel more comfortable with it.

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John Elway finally tasted victory in Super Bowl XXXII, his fourth of five Super Bowls. (Getty)

When you know how everything works, it's not nearly as intimidating as you think. There's just a lot to get to know. There's a lot to knowing how an organization runs, getting to know how the league office works and who you communicate with at the league office. Those are the hardest things. The football, you know. Evaluating players takes some time, but you learn that, too, and after so many years of watching film, you have a feel for it.

Cole: You also must have a pretty good feel for what kind of player you like. You can probably tell who really loves the game pretty quickly, even if you don't know how the scouting reports work.

Elway: You know the type of guys you played with who were with you week in and week out and gave you a chance to win every week. The consistent players who were talented and also good in the locker room and made that all work together.

Cole: Still, loving it enough to go from playing to being in the front office is rare. Newsome is a Hall of Famer who has done it for a long time and now you're getting started and you seem to be just as passionate about doing this.

Elway: Ozzie has been doing it a long time and you know he has had a tremendous amount of success, not only as a Hall of Famer, but as an executive. So he obviously sets the bar for myself now and I'm sure there will be many to come after me to be involved in a football team.

But the bottom line is having success and winning a championship. That's why I came back to this. The allure of winning a title, that's what it is. It's not just to come back to have a job. It's to be able to put an organization together, a football team together, a coaching staff together, to be competitive. You can never guarantee anything, but you can give yourself an opportunity to win if you get the best people and put them in the best situation. From there, it's out of your hands.

[Broncos camp preview: Which player is on the hot seat?]

Cole: How much did your dad being a coach help you understand the amount of time it takes to manage a team?

Elway: Knowing what he went through as a coach helped me understand the amount of time that went into it. He wasn't home very often. But in the position I'm in, I'm not here as many hours as the coaches are. I wouldn't want to be a coach because I wouldn't want to spend those hours.

Sure, in training camp the hours are long and once you get into the season, it's overseeing what's going on. But most of our work comes January through April with free agency and the NFL draft. You start with analyzing our own team and then go from there. So that's where the personnel department is doing most of its work. During the season, we're working to upgrade the bottom six or seven positions of the team, which is hard to do, and deal with injuries. But I look at it as, if I'm here, I want to be busy doing something. A lot of times people say it takes a long time, but what they could get done in six hours, they get done in 10 hours. I think one of my strengths is when I get into things, I can focus on what I need to get done.

Cole: Still, you could do a lot of things other than grind away running a team. You had a great career. You could go play golf every day if you wanted.

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Elway: Yeah, but that gets old. I did that already. When I retired, I wanted to get away from football and see what else there was. There were some business opportunities and the car business, but I wasn't the day-to-day operator. We started some restaurants and I was involved in those to an extent. But it wasn't something that kept me busy all the time. It provided money, but not necessarily gratification. You want to be involved in something that can provide that and football is what I know best. Putting a team together is gratifying.

Cole: Is it at all close to playing on Sunday?

Elway: Not as a player. This is gratifying, but there's nothing like inside the lines. But knowing that I can help put a team together, help try to give those guys between the lines the best possible chance to win, that is a challenge. I enjoy that. I enjoy going to work, going to the games, being part of the organization. Retirement is nice, but you can only take so much of it. At 38, you retire from playing and then you're in your 40s and then you get into your 50s and you're still a young man.

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