After a successful high school football career, Elway was the most sought after high school player in the country with 60 scholarship offers. His school of choice was Stanford, and though he never led his college team to a bowl game, he completed 774 passes for 9,349 yards and 77 touchdowns in his accomplished college career. As a result, he was entered into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. In the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway was picked first overall by the Baltimore Colts. At that time, the Colts were one of the worst teams in the league, and Elway did not wish to play for them. Elway, who was also an accomplished baseball player, threatened to give up football and play for the New York Yankees if the Colts did not trade him. Elway was eventually traded to the Denver Broncos for offensive lineman Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, and a first-round pick by the Colts in the 1984 draft.
Because Elway was considered one of the most anticipated athletes in NFL history, local Colorado papers began to run a section called “The Elway Watch.” He had a rough start as most NFL newbies do, but ended up leading his team to five Super Bowls. His first three Super Bowls were in the 1986, 1987, and 1989 seasons, but his team suffered losses in all three (39-20 to the ’86 Giants, 42-10 to the ’87 Redskins, and 55-10 to the ’89 49ers – one of the worst losses in Super Bowl history). After these three losses, Elway became known as the quarterback who could not deliver when he reached the big game.
Those losses only fueled Elway’s drive to win. Eight years later, Elway finally led the Broncos to another Super Bowl in the 1998 season. The Broncos faced off against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, and though Elway threw no touchdown passes, the Broncos finally picked up a win, with a final score of 31-24.
In the 1999 season, the Broncos once again made it to the Super Bowl, with more wins in a three-year span than any other team had in NFL history. The Broncos met the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Falcons started out well, scoring a field goal and putting them up 3-0. The response was quick from the Broncos, with Elway setting up a series of completions, allowing fullback Howard Griffith to score a 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Broncos in the lead 7-3. In the second quarter, the Broncos kicked another field goal for another 3 points, while the Falcons missed one, causing the Broncos to take back possession of the ball and score another touchdown. The Falcons’ Tim Dwight’s big return gave the Falcons a short field, and Morten Anderson kicked right before halftime, bringing the score to 17-6, with Denver in the lead.
In the third quarter, both teams failed to score, but both put more points on the scoreboard early in the fourth. Darrien Gordon then intercepted his first of two passes of the game for Denver, and returned the ball to Atlanta’s 24-yard line. A 15-yard completion by Elway gave the Broncos 1st and goal from the 5-yard line. Griffith then made his way to the endzone after two running plays and the Broncos led 24-6.
After Gordon intercepted his second pass of the game, he returned the ball to Atlanta’s 48-yard line. From there, Elway completed a short pass to Terrell Davis who drove the ball 39 yards. Two plays later, Elway made a three-yard touchdown run, bringing the score up to 31-6. This touchdown made Elway the second player in history to score touchdowns in four different Super Bowls. The Falcons’ Dwight returned the kick-off 94 yards to score another touchdown. The Broncos recovered the onside kick and a 25-yard completion by Elway led to another Broncos’ field goal score. With a little over 2 minutes on the clock, the Falcons scored another touchdown, but time was not on the Falcons’ side.
With 37 seconds left on the clock, a victorious Elway made his way to the sidelines and was engulfed by his excited teammates. “That walk I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Elway recounted later, “That’s the kind of walk you dream of as a kid.” The Broncos were Super Bowl champions with a final score of 34-19, making them the seventh team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The last team to accomplish this feat was the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. Elway completed a total of 18 passes for a total of 336 yards and was named the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP, making him the oldest MVP in Super Bowl history.
Rumors abounded as to whether or not Elway would stick around and try and win the Broncos a third straight Super Bowl championship, something no team had ever done. Though the prospect was tempting, Elway decided to go out with a bang and announced his retirement on May 2 of that year.