Sunday Football Notes

Broncos’ John Elway still driven by competition

John Elway is running the Broncos as the executive vice president of football operations.
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
John Elway is running the Broncos as the executive vice president of football operations.

John Elway should be living the good life right now.

A Hall of Fame quarterback with two Super Bowl rings, Elway should be playing golf in Arizona four days a week, managing his two steakhouses and five auto dealerships, and dabbling in real estate.

None of that fulfills his competitive jones, though. He stopped playing after the 1998 season, lived the retired life for awhile, and finally had enough. Now he’s running the Broncos as the executive vice president of football operations, helping woo free agents, manage the salary cap, and pick the players who helped Denver reach the Super Bowl.


“I’m not surprised, because I know how he loves to compete,” former Broncos running back Terrell Davis said last week. “He did it the right way — he didn’t immediately go into the front office. When he got back, I think what helped him was he was pretty good at evaluating talent, being a quarterback you sort of are a talent evaluator, knowing what players’ strengths and weaknesses are, and he’s taken that into the front office.”

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Many superstar players think they want to get into football operations after their careers end, but don’t realize the time and energy commitment. Former quarterback Dan Marino joined the Dolphins as a top football executive in 2004, for example, and lasted three weeks on the job.

Which makes the dedication shown by Elway and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end with the Browns, all the more impressive. Newsome’s Ravens won last year’s Super Bowl, and now Elway’s Broncos can do the same.

“Typically, they come in and they’re out of their element,” former Ravens coach Brian Billick said of players-turned-executives. “But John came in, surrounded himself with good people, set a structure for himself, got a good coach [John Fox], and created that relationship.

“You have to respect Ozzie Newsome, he’s one of the best, and John Elway has proven that he can do it as well. If you want to put the work in and commit to the profession, there’s no reason you can’t be successful.”


Elway, 53, has people underneath him to do the dirty work when it comes to scouting and contract negotiations, but he’s hardly an empty figurehead. For instance, last week he was at the Senior Bowl scouting draft prospects.

“Oh, his presence is definitely felt,” quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp said. “For a lot of players, that building is kind of a sanctuary — the distractions of the outside world are gone, and I think the same is true for John. He loves being a part of a team, he loves giving input and managing a team. That’s his way to compete at his age.”

Elway was one of the big reasons why Peyton Manning felt comfortable signing with the Broncos last year, he speaks with draft prospects at the combines, and he addresses the team when necessary, such as before Super Bowl week or after a 40-10 preseason spanking by the Seahawks back in August.

“John pretty much laid it on us. He was not happy with that game,” Manning said. “It was a butt-kicking, whether it was preseason or regular season. He was just sharing his thoughts that that won’t be accepted under his reign as leader of this organization.”

Elway slowly worked his way into the management role as co-owner of the Colorado Crush, of the now-defunct Arena Football League, before signing on with the Broncos in the 2011 offseason. He said winning a Super Bowl as an executive “would be just as important” as winning two as a player.


“Obviously, playing is a lot more physical and much tougher that way, but I think that in my position now it’s kind of trying to stay two steps ahead and make decisions on what we have to do in the future,” he said. “The common denominator is competitiveness and wanting to win. I think as a player I was very competitive and I’m the same way as an executive.”

Except he has far less control over what happens on the field, which isn’t easy to take.

“I’m getting better with letting the control go and knowing that there’s nothing I can do. It was tough early,” he said. “The San Diego [playoff] game, for me, was a crucial game for us, so I was more nervous for that game than I had been since I took the job just because of the impact that I knew it would have on us as an organization. I look at more the impact of each game, and that determines how nervous I get.”

Newsome, who played from 1978-90 and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1999, said his playing experience helps him deal with players and gives him credibility as a talent evaluator, as long as he’s also willing to put in the work.

“I think the biggest thing is when you’re dealing with the players you have to be truthful with them,” he said. “And sometimes you are telling them some things that they don’t want to hear. A lot of what I do is that I had to evaluate how to pretend I wanted to block Lawrence Taylor or some of those other guys. As a player, you are evaluating talent while you are playing.”

Former Cowboys personnel maven Gil Brandt, who worked alongside Tom Landry for three decades, remembers unsuccessfully trying to convince Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson to become coaches and executives after their playing careers.

“I think players think management come in the morning, answer the telephone, and go on home. I don’t think they understand the depth of how you have to know the rules, the salary cap, the whole thing,” Brandt said. “They look at us and say, ‘Boy, those guys got a great job,’ and they don’t have any idea of how much work goes into it. So it takes a special person.”


Quarterbacks again dominate discussion

A few leftover tidbits from Super Bowl week:

 Johnny Manziel should thank his lucky stars every day for Russell Wilson.

That Wilson, who stands 5 feet 11 inches, could immediately star in the NFL and lead his team to the Super Bowl offers proof that short quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL. Wilson isn’t exactly a pioneer — Doug Flutie and Drew Brees have proven his point, as well — but Wilson’s instant success should help someone like Manziel, considered short by NFL standards at 6-1.

The most impressive stat by Wilson this year was that he only had six passes batted down at the line of scrimmage — the same number as Peyton Manning, who stands 6-5.

“For the other guys and all the guys who have played before him who didn’t quite get the chance for that same kind of stigma, he has opened up the door,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Johnny is an incredible athlete that might not have been considered as highly before Russell had all this success. It’s kind of silly that it had to happen this way, because the right thing is to get the best players out there to play and whatever the results show, that basis is the basis for your opinions of guys. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, but I’m really grateful that we’ve figured that out with Russell.”

 Speaking of Wilson, you’ll notice that his haircut is a bit, um, old school — a “Michael Jackson/Bruno Mars S-curl,” as he described it, straight out of the “Soul Glo” commercial from the movie “Coming to America.”

But there’s actually a very special meaning behind the hairdo. It’s a tribute to his father, a former Dartmouth football player, who died in 2010 of complications from diabetes.

“When I was in 11th grade, we won the state championship. I had my hair grown out. I didn’t cut my hair the whole year for that season, and my dad didn’t either,” Wilson explained. “So it kind of inspired me for this year.”

 Manning can become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with two franchises, but just making it with two is rare.

Can you name the other two who have? Manning, an NFL history buff, can.

“Do you want me to help you with the answer?” he said to a reporter. “[Kurt] Warner and Craig Morton were the two. Craig Morton did it with Denver and Dallas. That, to me, is a special accomplishment in itself. To try to get comfortable with the new culture you are playing in and surroundings, just to get comfortable, is hard enough. To actually turn it into some production and help your team get back to this game, it’s hard to do.”


Langsdorf was giant help when needed

The Giants named former Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf quarterbacks coach this past week, in part replacing retired offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who also worked with the quarterbacks.

You won’t hear any bitterness from Gilbride over the choice of Langsdorf, as the two have a unique connection. Gilbride’s sister, Laurie Cavanaugh, received a kidney transplant from Langsdorf in 2007 to help treat her autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. Laurie is married to Oregon State offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

“When you work as closely as a coaching staff does, you develop some really deep and solid friendships,” Mike Cavanaugh told the Oregonian in 2008. “I guess you could say this is the ultimate in friendship.”

Wise choice by the Ravens

The Ravens hit a home run in their offensive coordinator search by hiring Gary Kubiak, the former nine-year quarterback with Denver and eight-year head coach with Houston. Kubiak was also an offensive coordinator with the Broncos for 11 years, and his units have finished in the top 10 in yards and points in 12 of his 19 seasons running an offense.

“I called Gary and we had a long conversation. We found that we agreed on many of the fundamentals needed to make an offense great, and he agreed to fly to Baltimore as soon as he could,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week. “Ozzie [Newsome] called Rick Smith [the general manager] of the Texans to get a little more of a feel about where Gary was at right now. Oz called me back and said Rick was very strong on Gary — very positive.”

But it will be interesting to see if Kubiak adjusts his offense for the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens have been a power rushing team, but Kubiak runs a zone-blocking scheme and likes to run a lot of bootlegs and rollouts with quarterbacks such as Jake Plummer and Matt Schaub. Flacco isn’t known for his mobility, but is probably a better athlete than given credit for.

Thursday night coming into focus

The NFL already has made Sunday and Monday marquee nights for football, and hopes to do the same with Thursday. The 13-game package on the NFL Network was a bit of a dud this season, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Friday that the league is close to selling a slate of six or eight games to one of its network partners, but with a caveat — the league still wants to simulcast the games on NFL Network.

“It’s probably the last major package we are offering for quite some time,” Kraft said. “The kind of support we’ve gotten is amazing, and we really want to highlight Thursday night more. I hope in the next few weeks we can get this thing finalized and start doing it this upcoming season.”

Incognito/Martin report coming soon

Special investigator Ted Wells is expected to release his report on the Dolphins’ situation with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin shortly after the Super Bowl, potentially this week. Considering the retention of coach Joe Philbin, it likely won’t be too damning against Philbin or the organization, although offensive line coach Jim Turner may be in trouble, based on the Dolphins’ hiring of an assistant offensive line coach last week.

Given the text messages released by Incognito’s camp to CBS4 in Miami last week, it looks pretty clear that Martin and Incognito are friends, and Martin’s camp simply tried to scapegoat Incognito as the reason Martin left the team so Martin could continue to collect his salary (the Dolphins were going to put Martin on the non-football illness list, which allows them to withhold checks).

In early November, Incognito texted Martin a picture of an article from titled, “Sources: NFLPA Eyes Martin Case.” Incognito responded with, “What’s up with this?”

Martin replied, “I got nothing to do with it, man. I haven’t said anything to anyone.”

The Dolphins will move on from both players, and it’s doubtful another NFL team will want to sign Martin.

The media also played a shameful role in this ordeal. Early reports in November were woefully incomplete as reporters ran with information leaked by Martin’s camp without trying to get the full story. And Tony Dungy went way too soft on Martin in last week’s NBC interview, failing to question Martin’s motives.

But the one good result of this, hopefully, will be a stronger code of conduct and atmosphere of respect in NFL locker rooms, and putting to end some of the hazing rites that are common during training camp.

Playing a different role

Lions running back Joique Bell is known for his footwork — he rushed for 650 yards and eight touchdowns this season — but he took it to a new level last week.

Bell was in New York, but not just for the Super Bowl. He also made his Broadway debut as a bit actor in “Rock of Ages,” playing a bartender in the musical comedy.

“I grew up always hearing about Broadway plays, but I had never been a part of it,” Bell said afterward. “I really enjoyed it. It’s kind of like Sundays. You got a big crowd out there, and there’s no time to be nervous.”

He spent eight minutes on stage, and his only line came when he was offstage and the narrator threw a Playbill at him.

“Ow! My big toe!” Bell said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“I was going to say, ‘Ow, my knee!’ ” Bell said. “But I didn’t want to jinx myself.”

Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.