ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway is jealous of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Sure, Elway has done OK for himself. He has won two Super Bowls, created a small business empire in the Rocky Mountain states, and is the chief football executive of the 6-1 Broncos, the NFL’s best team.
But Elway never had a true rival the way Manning does with Brady. Elway never had to face the same nemesis year after year, with a spot in the Super Bowl almost always at stake.
“[Jim] Kelly was in the East, [Dan] Marino, [Ken] O’Brien was in the East, so I never really had a rival in the West,” Elway said Wednesday in the lobby of the Broncos’ practice facility, under the Super Bowl banners he won for the organization two decades ago.
“This is a tremendous rivalry. You’re talking about two of the greatest quarterbacks who have ever played the game. For them to have played each other 16 times now, it’s great for football and it’s great for the fans.”
Elway, the Broncos’ football boss since 2011, has a unique perspective. As a fellow superstar quarterback, he understands the preparation that is going into Sunday’s game and the pressure of having to outduel another star.
In a 10-minute interview with the Globe, Elway discussed the rivalry, Manning’s remarkable career renaissance, and of course, Brady’s golf game.
Do you see Peyton turn it up a notch when Tom Brady is this week’s opponent?
“Yeah, I do. Even though Peyton’s got it pretty much cranked all the time anyway, obviously there’s the rivalry and the competitiveness that they both have. They see each other on each side of the field, there’s going to be a little more meaning to it, because it’s going to be made a bigger deal, and rightfully so. You’re talking about the two greatest quarterbacks that have played the game.’’
You guys tired of traveling out to New England for these games? It’s three in a row now.
“Seems like our second home, you know? It’s funny, we go out there every year. Fortunately we had them last year in the AFC Championship game out here, but somehow the schedule’s worked out to where we’ve been out there every year.
“I always take pride in the fact that I never lost to the Patriots. That’s my mind-set when we go up there. They’re great at home, and we have to play that much better to be able to get a win up there.”
Three years ago, the Colts cut Peyton Manning, and there was a serious question whether Manning could ever play again because of his neck injury. Now he’s putting up numbers on par or better than four of his five MVP years, except for 2004.
“When we went through the process, no one really knew what was going on with his neck when he was going through it. Until finally he was a free agent, and we were able to sit there and talk to him about it, talk to his doctors about what’s really going on with his neck. And so our doctors felt great about the fact that we knew he would come back, it was just a matter when, and how long it would take.
“It has not surprised me with what he’s doing, just because No. 1, his mind-set, and No. 2, they gave him a chance to come back and he’s made the best of it.
“As I always say, you like to get Hall of Famers with chips on their shoulders, and he was one of those. Any time you’re Peyton Manning and you have the career you’ve had in Indianapolis and you’re released, it will sting.
“So that’s what we’ve got — we’ve got that Hall of Famer with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s taken it from there.”
Even Peyton would admit his arm strength isn’t what it used to be. He’s also averaging 8.5 yards per attempt, tops in the NFL and second-best of his career. Is arm strength overrated?
“The key thing with him is his anticipation and what he does at the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. I think that [offensive coordinator] Adam Gase has done a tremendous job — he’s great support for Peyton, gets Peyton in the right spots and allows Peyton to be able to go out there and figure out what he wants to do. It’s been a great partnership between those two and the whole offensive staff, but really between Adam and Peyton.”
Seems like the perfect synergy between the players and coach.
“So far, yeah. Everyone’s working well together, and everyone’s kind of used to each other. Emmanuel [Sanders] is kind of the new guy in the group, but he’s worked his tail off this offseason to get up to speed, and obviously his numbers speak of what he’s done.”
I’m sure you’ve been in a room with Tom Brady a million times, but do you have a relationship with him?
“I’ve played golf with Tom, and I like what Tom’s about. I like his mentality. And getting to know him and playing golf, I have respect for who he is as a player but also as a man, and what he’s about, how he handles himself.
“There’s a guy that made the best of being a sixth-round draft pick to prove everybody wrong, and has continued to be the glue in that offense and the glue in that team.
“He’s a tough guy. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, it doesn’t matter anything. You’re going to get the best out of Tom Brady every week, and you better be ready for him.”
Where have you played golf?
“Played with him last summer in Couer D’Alene [Idaho], in July I think. I’m a member at a club up there. I met him way back in Hawaii — we were playing golf, he was behind us, and we pulled him up and he played with us.”
What’s he like on the course?
“He’s a competitor. He’s a good golfer, so he’s fun to play with. He’s played the game before, he understands the game, plus he’s long.”
What’s his forte?