John Elway conducted an official survey among football experts
last week. "O.K.," he said, "who wants me to keep playing next
Five hands went up out of five.
"You have to say why," he said.
Jordan Elway, 10, said, "Because you have to keep playing until
you win the Super Bowl."
"But I might have to play until I'm 65," he said.
"That's O.K.," she said.
Then Jessica Elway, 12, said, "Because I don't know what it
would be like if you didn't play."
Janet Elway, 36, said, "Because why would you quit when
everything's going so well?"
John chewed on that a second and then asked, "But wouldn't that
be a great way to go out?"
Juliana Elway, 6, couldn't think of a reason, but Jack Elway, 8,
said, "Well, I'd like you to keep playing, but if you want to
quit, Dad, you can, if you think you're going to get hurt."
Which is the reason John was asking. He knows there are hurts
that can't be fixed in the trainer's room. Last January he and
the rest of the Denver Broncos had a 13-3 record, home field
advantage and a tomato can, the Jacksonville Jaguars, in their
playoff opener. But the tomato ate Denver 30-27, and John came
home that night as dejected as he'd ever been in his life. He
was trying to stiffen his upper lip when his sister Jana called.
The house was quiet as he spoke to her, and for the first time
in front of his children, he wept.
"It was really upsetting to the kids," Janet says. "They weren't
ready for that. It was sad to think we could instill that fear
in them. I think that really bothered John."
Since then John, 37, has considered making this season his last.
It's one thing for him to suffer, he figures, another entirely
to bring it on four kids. But then his right arm almost made the
decision for him. After having his shoulder scoped in the
off-season, he couldn't throw deep. He couldn't throw hard. "I
couldn't get it out of bounds," he says. "My career flashed in
front of me." He always imagined himself retiring on his terms.
Now, suddenly, he was going to be forced out. It scared him.
Then came the Mexican Miracle.
On Aug. 4, in a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins in
Mexico City, Elway ripped his right biceps while throwing a pass
in the first quarter. Team doctors were almost as scared as
Elway. They'd repaired biceps on linemen but never on a lock
Hall of Fame quarterback. It would be like operating on Caruso's
voice box. But the decision was made to hold off on surgery, and
after a week of rest Elway tried throwing again and--voila!--the
ball just screamed out of his hand. To his shock and delight, he
had now grown the Bionic Biceps. He had never thrown better.
"That's been the great thing about this season," says Elway,
whose 87.5 quarterback rating was the third highest of his
15-year career. "It's all been gravy. A complete bonus."
More than that, he realized how much he would miss the game,
which made playing it all the sweeter. He realized what
mattered. "My whole priority in life used to be winning the
Super Bowl," he says. "Now it's not. I've got kids I love. I've
got a beautiful wife. Now I'm just going out to win a football
game. That's it."
It's been the happiest year yet in the Elway home. "There's just
this peace to him now that he didn't have before," Janet says.
"As long as he's got that, I don't see a reason to quit."
What about all the reasons to stay? 1) Unlike Dan Marino, whose
body is crumbling like blue cheese, Elway is still one of the
best-conditioned quarterbacks in the game; 2) if he stays one
more year he will almost certainly become only the second
quarterback to pass for 50,000 yards; 3) this was his finest
season for touchdown passes (27) and touchdown-to-interception
ratio (2.5-1). Seinfeld was slipping a little; this guy is still
the master of his domain. Oh, and 4) Jack started playing midget
football this year. "I may have to play next year," John says.
"Jack wants to go to training camp."
Elway will decide in the off-season, but peace is something he
wants his kids to have now. With a chance for a fourth Super
Bowl horror show, he sat them all down again last week. "Look,"
he told them. "I'm going to play 100 percent. You guys cheer 100
percent, and whatever happens, happens, O.K.?"
See you at camp, Jack.