SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- This almost isn't fair. Nobody deserves an eternal life of greatness regarding all things he touches in sports, but here is John Elway, so charmed that his Denver Broncos are practicing for Super Bowl 50 up the road at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Guess where Elway starred in college? Uh huh.
"I'll tell you what -- the throwback was that I actually had my first wedding anniversary reception where we're staying this time, too, over there at the Santa Clara Marriott," Elway said. "And actually, we had a draft party over there [when the Broncos made the legendary Stanford quarterback the NFL's No. 1 overall pick in 1983], too. We rented a suite over there and watched the draft with a bunch of Stanford guys."
This is the same Elway who played his first football game ever in the sixth grade, and he scored six touchdowns … by halftime.
If you keep connecting the dots along these lines, the Carolina Panthers don't have a chance Sunday against Elway and his Broncos in Levi's Stadium, but the Panthers are the clear favorites in Las Vegas. I go with the oddsmakers. It's just that Elway continues to add to his biography that is mom, apple pie and a 55-year-old icon whose toothy smile is as famous as how he once destroyed opponents in the NFL with his power right arm.
Elway is now with the Broncos every day as their general manager and executive vice president of football operations. He dissects practices so intently with his highly observant blue eyes that he gives everybody in his world the impression that he invented football, perfected it or both. Which leads to the question: When Broncos players see Elway, do they genuflect?
Do they even speak?
"Are you talking about on a personal level?" said Broncos tight end Owen Daniels, responding with wide eyes to my question. "It's like, 'Hey. What's up, dude? How's your day going?' Stuff like that when you see him, but I'm not in his office having conversations. When he's at practices, he's not out there making suggestions to us. He might be doing it behind closed doors, but I think a great quality about him is that he kind of just stands back and observes things."
Whatever works. Elway's approach has produced splendid results for the Broncos since he took over their front office after they finished 4-12 in 2010. That implosion caused owner Pat Bowlen to blow up the place, and he reached outside of the box for Elway, the standout player for 16 years in Denver before he left the game to make millions by operating successful car dealerships around Colorado. He also spent five years running the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League. Still, Elway? Taking over a storied NFL franchise that hadn't had a winning season in the previous five years?
Yep, that Elway and his Broncos have captured the AFC West five times during his reign as an executive, and their 63-26 record during that stretch is second only to the New England Patriots. They're also in their second Super Bowl in three years.
The 33-year-old Daniels, as a two-time Pro Bowl player in his 10th NFL season, spoke for his Broncos teammates: "I watched [Elway] as a fan growing up, so I can look at him in that legendary status. I watched him play in all of those Super Bowls. It was kind of the same way I looked at [Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning] before I started to work with those guys on a professional basis.
"[Elway] is all business. He obviously has a great feel for everything, because he's always out there watching us. It's great to have a guy that likes to be out there, and that you know is looking at the right things when it comes to players and to personnel."
Rick Dennison agreed with Daniels, which is huge. Dennison is the Broncos' offensive coordinator, and he has watched Elway up close and personal longer than just about anybody in the organization. He joined the team as a linebacker in 1982, the year before Elway left Stanford for the Rocky Mountains. Then he played with Elway through 1990.
In 1995, Dennison began his long stretch as a Broncos assistant coach, and except for four years with the Houston Texans and one with the Baltimore Ravens, he has been with the Broncos ever since.
That's long enough to see that Elway was destined to become something like the Broncos' grand pooh-bah.
"Early on, you could tell that he had the potential to be great at anything that he wanted to do," Dennison said. "He's a great competitor. He works hard. And, shoot, when you play him in a pickup basketball game, he's trying to win it. So whatever he set his mind to -- whatever that would be -- you just knew he was going to be highly successful."
Elway credited his late father, Jack Elway, for his drive. The elder Elway was an old-school college football coach who moved the family courtesy of his various jobs from the state of Washington to Montana to Southern California and finally to Northern California, where Jack Elway became an accomplished head coach at San Jose State and later Stanford.
Through it all, the younger Elway watched and learned.
"I think it's about working hard," Elway said. "It's about spending the quality time to get the job done. That's what [my father] always worked on. He was always a great worker and a hard worker, and I think that's kind of what he instilled in me. That and understanding what the team is about and putting the team first when I was young watching him coach."
About that young Elway: Since his numbers as a high school quarterback in Southern California were so outrageous, I won't even mention them. The same goes for his time at Stanford, where he obliterated virtually every record involving passing and total offense, not only for the university, but for what was then the Pac-10. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He's also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When he retired from the Broncos after the 1998 season, he was the winningest quarterback in NFL history. He also orchestrated The Drive, and he took his team to six AFC Championship Games, five Super Bowls and consecutive world championships to close out his playing career.
Now comes this season, with Manning at 39 trying to do what Elway did at 38, which is grab a second Super Bowl ring.
"I had some conversations with John when I first signed here [before the 2012 season] about playing quarterback at the age of 35-plus," Manning said. "I haven't had those type of conversations with him recently about that."
Elway's presence says it all.