Happy Birthday John: 57 years of Elway and the Broncos

general manager John Elway

On June 28, 1960 in Port Angeles, Wash., future NFL legend John Elway was born. Today we look back at some milestones reached by Elway and the franchise with which his name would become synonymous, the Denver Broncos.

As mentioned before, Elway was born in 1960. Interestingly enough, at that time the Denver Broncos we a just-conceived football team ready to join the AFL for their first-ever season. The starting quarterback for the fledgling franchise was Frank Tripucka, a veteran of the NFL and Canadian Football League. Tripucka led the CFL in yards and completion percentage before joining the Broncos for their inaugural season on a deal that sent five players to Canada in exchange for the quarterback.

In the spring of 1979, Elway graduated from Granada Hills High School in Granada Hills, Calif. The rising star excelled in football and baseball, getting drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 18th round of that year’s MLB Draft. Elway finished his high school football career with 5,711 career passing yards and 49 touchdowns. Despite a knee injury that kept him out for five games his senior year, he was named to the PARADE High School All-American football team alongside Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson.

While Elway was racking up accolades on the high school circuit, the Broncos were led by a quarterback named Craig Morton, a 15-year veteran of the NFL. Morton, with two seasons under his belt in Denver made his name by taking care of the ball with a minuscule 0.031 interception percentage in his first two seasons as the Broncos’ signal caller. The native of Englewood, Colo. had led the team to two consecutive Western Division titles in the AFC and a Super Bowl berth in 1977. The 1979 season saw Denver go 10-6 in the regular season before losing to the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card game.

Four seasons later, in 1982, John Elway was in the midst of his senior season at Stanford University. Stanford had had a rough year, sitting at 5-5 going into their final game of the season. Although Elway led Stanford down the field and kicker Mark Harmon made what seemed to be the game-winning field goal, there were still four seconds left on the clock. The ensuing kickoff turned into what is now just known as The Play. The band was on the field, Cal pulled off the most infamous play in college football history, and Stanford failed to reach a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year with Elway at the helm.

During that same disappointing season, the Denver Broncos were having a rough go of it at the next level. Morton was still the starter for the Broncos, but he wasn’t able to lead the team to anything resembling a strong season. The Broncos went 2-7, missed the playoffs, and earned the rights to select fourth in the 1983 NFL draft. With the No. 4 pick, the Broncos executed one of the most famous draft trades in league history – sending No. 4 pick Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann and a 1984 first-round pick to Baltimore. John Elway officially became a Bronco and started one of the greatest marriages in sports history.

Elway would go on to lead the Broncos for 16 seasons racking up over 51,000 passing yards and 300 touchdowns, being named to nine Pro Bowls, winning two Super Bowls, one Super Bowl MVP, and one NFL MVP award. All of these accolades would lead to both Stanford University and the Denver Broncos to retire Elway’s No. 7 jersey.

After retiring in 1998, Elway had a quiet few years as he crossed into his 40’s, opening car dealerships around the Denver Metro Area and making public appearances across the country.

In 2005, John Elway turned 45 years old. At this point in his life, he had become part of a group that owned the former Arena Football League team, the Colorado Crush. The 2005 season was the best ever for the Crush, as they won the Central Division by going 10-6 in the regular season. The high-powered offense of the Crush made it all the way to ArenaBowl XIX, which was set to be the first ever neutral site championship game for the Arena Football League, held in Las Vegas on June 12. Colorado faced off with the Georgia Force and came away victorious in a 51-48 shootout, winning the franchise’s only championship as an early 45th birthday present for their owner, John Elway.

After the Crush folded out of the Arena Football League in 2008, Elway took a few years off before joining the Denver Broncos once again in 2011, this time as a general manager and executive vice president of football operations. This addition by the Broncos came on the heels of their 50th season (and Elway’s 50th year of life), where the Broncos struggled to a 4-12 record with second year head coach Josh McDaniels and quarterback Kyle Orton.

Elway immediately made a splash in the league as an executive with the signing of Peyton Manning. The future Hall of Fame quarterback made an immediate impact in Denver, leading them to the playoffs in each of his four seasons in Denver and a Super Bowl berth in 2013, but the big breakthrough came in 2015. The Broncos defense – built by Elway after Denver was blown out in Super Bowl XLVIII – dominated all season in 2015, leading them all the way to a victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. In the summer of 2016, Elway was received his third Super Bowl ring, just ahead of his birthday and 11 years to the day after the Colorado Crush ArenaBowl XIX championship.

Today, on John Elway’s 57th birthday, we here at Mile High Sports would like to say happy birthday and congratulations for a spectacular life and football career. Here’s to many more successful years – and hoping it isn’t another 10 or so years until the next championship!

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