Elway in line for historic player-executive perfecta

He was the coach’s kid, and there’s no better place to begin. But John Elway was his own man and is still his own man, using talent and lessons acquired if not necessarily taught. It wasn’t that Elway could throw a football so hard — when his receivers occasionally missed one of his passes, they often were left with a bruise, a mark that looked like the seams of the ball, or the “Elway Cross” — it’s that he knew when to throw or when not to throw.

The offspring of those in athletics have an advantage. Not only genetically but also perceptively. They grow up within the game, grasping the nuances. Look at Barry Bonds, who as a toddler was with his father, Bobby, in the Giants clubhouse, listening and watching. Never mind the steroid stuff. Barry understood how and where. He always threw to the right base. He always set up in the perfect position in the outfield.

Elway was a great one as a quarterback — and while we’re at it, as a baseball player — with Stanford and then the Denver Broncos, a Hall of Famer. And now, unlike so many stars who advance to the front office and are inadequate because the skills they exhibited on the field or court or ice are of little value, he’s great as a general manager, or executive vice president, according to his title with the same Broncos.

Should his team win this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, Elway will be the first Super Bowl MVP to double as a Super Bowl-winning executive.

The week kicked off Monday at SAP Center in San Jose with — you’ll pardon the NFL’s overhyped title — “Opening Night,” previously called Media Day. Key players such as Peyton Manning and Von Miller were on stools in little booths. Others wandered about on the floor. Elway, like some imposing Rodin sculpture, sat in the stands above everyone, distant but very near,

“John as an executive is the same he was as a player,” said Gary Kubiak, Elway’s onetime backup and now Elway’s coach with the Broncos. “Extremely competitive. A detailed guy, a very bright guy. I think he wakes up every day trying find a way to make the Denver Bronco organization as good as it can possibly be. I see the same things in him as an executive as I saw as a player. Very supportive. I have great respect him. I know the players respect him. He’s been in every situation you could possibly be in.”

Like losing three Super Bowls. Then winning two Super Bowls. And long before going pro, being on the wrong side of “The Play,” the five-lateral, “band-is-on-the field,” finish when Cal beat Stanford, 25-20. Elway was so outraged by the officiating when it appeared at least one Cal runner was down en route to the touchdown, he wouldn’t talk about it for years. Yes, every situation.

“I’ve seen it from both sides,” Elway said. “I stay true to my gut, to what I learned in locker rooms, what I learned playing the game, what I learned from my dad.”

Jack Elway coached everywhere in the West, starting in Washington, then moving down to southern California where John went to Granada Hills High, then coming up to San Jose State when John was at Stanford then coming up to Stanford. When Jack was fired by the Cardinal, John, in the NFL, wouldn’t have a thing to do with his alma mater. They’ve reconciled. Yes, every situation.

The Broncos hired Jack Elway to assist with decisions for the 2001 player draft. John, retired, joined the discussions. Jack died of a heart attack before the draft, but John remembers what his father had looked for in an NFL player: size, speed, determination. When John Elway took charge of the Broncos, there was no hesitation.

“That month was a great bonding time for me and my dad,” Elway told Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback, “hours and hours of meetings, and a great learning experience for me.

“I remember this lesson from him: Teams are 80 percent players and 20 percent coaches. He taught me how important athleticism was, and how important competitive drive was. In that draft, I’ll never forget — he loved Drew Brees. He had that competitive fire. And now look at him. That really was a great month for me.”

Although he was an offensive player, Elway grasped the long-held concept that defense wins. If the other team can’t score, goes the adage, the worst you’ll ever get is a 0-0 tie. Others scored against Denver, but not much. The Broncos had the league’s No. 1 defense.

“My priority is getting guys with desire and a real heart for football,” said Elway. “Chris Harris Jr., came in here undrafted. (The college free-agent from Kansas was the final signee before training camp in 2011 for Elway, for a $2,000 bonus.) He comes in, and right away he’s first in line in every drill. His character, his football traits, turned out to be so strong.”

Football traits. John Elway has them, along with football smarts. Just check the Broncos’ record.

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