JERSEY CITY, N.J. – John Elway never addressed the Denver Broncos like he did after a preseason loss at Seattle, at least not since he joined their front office.
He'll talk to the players here and there, but that time was different. The Broncos' vice president of football operations was not happy and he wanted to let everyone know about it.
After the Seahawks beat the Broncos 40-10 in Week 2 of the preseason, Elway got up in front of the team the next day, at the start of their meeting before the players and coaches reviewed the film. Quarterback Peyton Manning said this week it was the only time in his two seasons he could remember Elway formally addressing the team at all.
"He was (ticked) off," Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "And rightfully so."
Because Elway doesn't usually talk to the team in an organized fashion, and because of his status as one of the greatest players ever carries respect even among a room full of professionals, when he walked to the front the players said it was absolutely silent.
Elway told them they needed to be tougher. The mistakes were unacceptable. And it wasn't just the players who were getting challenged, it seemed like the coaches were being sent a message too.
"It was a challenge to this football team and this whole organization to get better, and not be sloppy on the football field," linebacker Wesley Woodyard. "He wanted to see who would be leaders on this team."
"If your boss is addressing you, then obviously something is wrong," Phillips said. "We wanted to avoid another one of those."
Denver's expectations were enormous this year. They were the No. 1 seed in last year's AFC playoffs, were upset by Baltimore in their playoff opener, and the team's front office added to the roster with the thought that anything other than an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII would be a disappointment.
So seeing the team fall apart against another Super Bowl favorite, even in the preseason, set Elway off. Elway was known as a tremendous leader as a Broncos quarterback, and that hasn't changed now that he's the head of Denver's front office.
"Especially coming off the Baltimore loss, I didn't care if it was preseason or regular season, you never go someplace and play like we played up in Seattle and really not care about that and say, 'It's OK,' because if you're competitive, and we want to be as good as we want to be, then that attitude does not transcend to any game," Elway said, according to Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com.
The Broncos might have advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII (against Seattle, their preseason nemesis, of all teams) without Elway's speech. They had a powerhouse offense and a defense that has played very well its last four games. All of that might have happened without Elway chewing them out in August. But many players and coach John Fox pointed back to Elway setting the tone after the Seattle game as an important moment in the season.
"I think everybody in the room got that message," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I think it was important."
"I think it shook them up and woke them up," Fox said. "We came back a little grittier and a little more determined."
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