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Paige: Broncos’ John Elway should be NFL’s executive of the year

John Elway must be voted NFL executive of 2012 — by acclimation.

Yet, astonishingly, two years ago this week, influential voices inside and outside the franchise believed owner Pat Bowlen would be making a monumental mistake to bring back the most heralded player in team history.

They considered it a desperate act of foolishness and failure.

Instead, with Elway as the dynamic executive vice president of football operations (and de facto general manager), the Broncos will win back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time since 1986 and 1987 (and only the second time ever). And they have a chance at a seventh Super Bowl (five with Elway at quarterback).

The Broncos will win their eighth game Sunday, 31-13.

Elway has returned a farcical franchise to the proud place it held from 1977-98.

Before writing a column in late November 2010, demanding that the Broncos create the position exec VP, football operations, and hire the exiled Elway, I asked several influential executives with the Broncos and other NFL teams, and in the Denver sports community, what they thought.

The response was unanimously negative.

“Elway? No way,” a minority owner of a pro sports team told me bluntly.

A man of authority with the Broncos said: “Truthfully, that’s not happening. John has no experience as an NFL executive.”

An NFL official said: “Don’t hitch your wagon to that idea. Dan Marino was named to the same job with the Dolphins in 2004 … and lasted just three weeks.”

Another person with close connections to the Broncos said: “It would be a disaster for Pat. He can’t bring in John after the (Josh) McDaniels mess. John likes to play golf and wants to enjoy retirement. He wouldn’t commit to the job. You don’t even put him in a figurehead (role).”

I wrote the column anyway.Elway had told me in

an interview on his 50th birthday in June 2010 of his desire to return to the NFL with the Broncos — and how he had recently reconnected with the team in an advisory capacity. When I asked McDaniels and Joe Ellis what Elway’s role would be, the coach-dictator said John would attend some practices, and the chief operating officer said the Hall of Fame quarterback would promote the Broncos’ game in London. He was an insignificant marketingtool.


In London, while spending an evening with Elway before the staggering Broncos played the 49ers, I asked him what was wrong with the team.

“You got an hour?” he said seriously.

A day later, the Broncos’ chief videographer surreptitiously taped a segment of the 49ers’

practice, which would hasten the downfall of McDaniels and the disgrace of the Broncos. On Dec. 7, McDaniels was fired, and Bowlen and Elway met for dinner at Elway’s in Cherry Creek. They celebrated with champagne. Elway’s takeover officially was announced Jan. 5, 2011.The Broncos won a playoff game last season. This year they could officially clinch a playoff berth the first Sunday in December.

The league’s offensive and defensive players of the year could be Peyton Manning and Von Miller, and Elway primarily was responsible for bringing both to Denver.

This is amazing: During Elway’s regime, 35 of the Broncos’ 53 active players have been added, and 13 now are starters. All three quarterbacks are new this year. Four tight ends, two wide receivers, four offensive linemen and three running backs have come in 2011-12, along with five defensive linemen, five linebackers and seven defensive backs, the returner and the long snapper.

Elway hired coach John Fox, and Jack Del Rio has become defensive coordinator. Elway elevated Matt Russell to director of player personnel and hired Keith Kidd as director of pro personnel and Mike Sullivan as salary-cap specialist and director of football administration.

Bowlen hired Elway. It wasn’t a catastrophe; it was a godsend.

Sporting News announces the annual executive of the year award, given since 1955, after the Super Bowl. Elway would become the first man selected as the league’s MVP and the NFL’s top executive.

Elway would join an impressive list, including George Halas, Al Davis, George Young (four times), Art, Dan and Art Rooney II, and Eddie LeBaron, the only other former quarterback to be chosen.

As a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, I formally presented in 2004 the nomination for the Broncos’ all-time greatest player. I stood and gave the shortest speech in the group’s 41 years of meetings.

I state the same three words to Sporting News electors as they are polled for the exec of the year:

Gentlemen, John Elway.

The response should be unanimously positive.

Woody Paige: 303-954-1095, or

Read more:Paige: Broncos’ John Elway should be NFL’s executive of the year – The Denver Post
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