Perhaps John Elway was born too late.
In the 1977 season, the year of the Denver Broncos first Super Bowl apearence, "The Orange Crush" was in full force, five Bronco players made the Pro Bowl. They were:
RILB Randy Gradishar
ROLB Tom Jackson
RDE Lyle Alzado (FEAR THE RIGHT SIDE!)
SS Bill Thompson
LCB Lois Wright
Buy the time the Colts had traded Elway to the Denver Broncos six years later, (on May 2, 1983) three of those Pro Bowlers were still there. (Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Louis Wright) The 1983 draft was an interesting one. Lets take a look at that one and a couple others and you'll understand the point of this post.
Here was the 83 draft:
1 Chris Hinton OG (went to the Colts in the trade for John)
2 Mark Cooper OT (played for us 5 years before heading to Tampa Bay and is still my favorite blogger at denverbroncos.com.)
3 Clint Sampson WR (left football after 4 years having never started a game)
5 George Harris LB (didn't make the cut)
5 Bruce Baldwin DB (didn't make the cut)
6 Victor Heflin DB (didn't make the cut)
7 Myron Dupree DB (never played a down in the leauge, but got paid for a year. No stats!)
(Today, the rest of these would all be UDFA's)
8 Gary Kubiak QB (Was Johns' back up his whole playing career, and is now a HC)
9 Brian Hawkins DB (didn't make the cut)
10 Walt Bowyer DE (never started but recorded 6.5 sacks and an INT in 4 years and retired)
11 Don Bailey C (didn't make the cut)
12 Karl Mecklenburg LB YES!
Finally we get another keeper! 12 years with this team, and once a Bronco he stayed a Bronco! Karl had his best sack year (13 sacks) his third year with us, (85') and ended with 79 for his career. And you might have guessed it. He and his family are still living in Littleton, Colorado.
You remember his nick names? The Snow Goose and The Albino Rhino. The man was a beast, but let me get to the point. When you look at the first 7 picks of this draft, (forget about the trade for a minute, because Chris Hinton lasted just 7 years with the Colts) you have to be thinking that the UDFA's saved an otherwise disastrous draft!
John was there, he knows, and he remembers.
Our first round pick in 1984 (Freddie Gilbert) didn't make the team, but then neither did the first player taken in the second! Who picked those guys? A DE Andre Townsend, our second pick in the second did. We had 14 picks in twelve rounds that year, and fortunately DB Tony Lilly, the second pick in the third round also made the grade.
The next five picks (4, 6, 7, 8 & 8th rounds) made it. DB Randy Robbins, LB Aaron Smith and TE Clarence Kay (primarily a blocker), OG Winfred Hood, DT Scott Garnett, and the 11th pick RB Gene Lang rounded out the keepers that year. 8 out of 14 ain't so bad right? We lost one the next year and another the following year, but even then, six out of 14 is almost a 50/50 deal.
Randy Robbins (8 seasons) only started two games. Andre Townsend (7 seasons) & Clarence Kay (9 seasons) started in Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXII. Lilly (4 years) started at safety for the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, and RB Gene Lang (4 seasons) played a back up role.
During the next three years, (32 picks) John saw the draft bring him help on the offensive side with the additions of "The Three Amigos". Wide receivers Vance Johnson, Mark Jakson and Ricky Nattiel were added in back to back years, and were a great trio. He also got a speedy back named Steve Sewell in 85', but none of it was quite good enough. Something was still missing.
Was it that the HC was way to conservative? John remembers. He remembers starting three Super Bowls in four years and losing the last two by a combined score of 97 - 20.
"Where is that 'Orange Crush Defense' gone to," I can hear him say. What he actually said was that he played lousy in the big games when it counted the most, but it is obvious that the defense needed help.
Things went down hill from here. The next 4 drafts (88 - 91) only netted us 3 players of any notability. FS Steve Atwater, (with us from 89 - 98) made the Pro-Bowl for 8 of his ten years with the Broncos and began to right the ship on defense for our team.
Then TE Shannon Sharp arrived and spent 12 of his 14 seasons with the Broncos. It didn't take long for him to become Johns favorite red zone target, and many say that Sharp was the "pioneer" who changed the TE role forever. The HOF seemed to think so, and Shannon became our latest inductee.
Since RILB Mike Croel (4 years) is the last of the three in a 4 year span one has to wonder what is wrong with the FO in Denver, but there's more. The next three drafts (92 - 94) brought us more of the same futility. Remember 1992?
QB Tommy Maddox (2 years) was the #1 pick and we know how that went. DT/DE Shane Dronett lasted 4 years before bouncing around and landing in Atlanta for 6 more, WR Cedric Tillman sarted 7 games in three years with us and had a 4 year career, and so the 92 draft was a bust.
Then we drafted 3 more WR's in 1993 that amounted to nothing. DE/DT Dan Williams and DB Rondell Jones lasted 4 years before shipping out. The only player of note ended up being the Kicker Jason Elam, and what a kicker he was.
1994 gave us LB Keith Burns (11 of 13 years as a back up in Den) & MLB Allen Aldridge (4 years) started 45 games before leaving for Detroit. I would have to say that C Tom Nalen single-handed-lay saved the 94 draft for Denver if it wasn't for the no name UDFA WR Rod Smith.
Nalen, was picked #218 in the 7th round, and his career lasted 14 years, all with Denver. By the time the 97' & 98' SB wins arrived, Tom was the anchor of the O-Line, and Rod Smith was already proving his worth, including an 80 yard TD catch from John in the 1998 SB win.
By 1995 Pat Bowlen knew he'd had enough of Wade Philips, and Mike Shanahan took over the HC spot, as well as every other "spot" of power that counted. The 1995 & 96 drafts gave us 19 picks (5 extras) to play with.
Finally John gets the missing peice to his offense when Mike picked RB Terrell Davis (1995) with his second pick in the 6th round. WHAT!? With two 6th round picks he waits on TD until the second one? He picked G Fritz Fequiere before TD and the guy didn't even make the cut! TE Byron Chamberlain stayed with us in a back up roll for 6 years, but TD was the only selection to amount to much in Denver from that draft. With 12 picks in the 96 draft we had better hit it big, right?
Shanny addressed the defensive needs in his first two picks, taking LB John Mobley in the 1st round. Mobley played all 8 of his career years with us, and was an all-pro selection in 97'. 2nd rnd pick DB Tory James (96,98 & 99) defected to Jokeland four years later so he didn't deserve to get a SB ring.
The 3rd pick, RB Detron Smith played a back up roll for 6 years in Denver, and deserved his rings. DB Darrius Johnson played a back up roll for 4 years before getting cut. No other players taken were of any note whatsoever! A LB and a RB out of 12 picks!
John saw it all, he know's, and he remembers.
Not only did John see what NOT to do in the draft, but he also saw what true talent looks like, what Pro's act like, and what a winning team feels like. He knows how the locker room feels when things are going good, and he knows how leaders lead when things turn bad and disappointment weighs heavily upon the room. He knows winners and losers because he has been in both places.
But he also knows talent! He's been surrounded by it his entire life. When he looks at wide receivers he see's Rod Smith - 11,389 yards. Did Rod run great routes? What about a TE like Shannon Sharpe? Is it fair to say that RB Terrell Davis is a good talent for John to refer to in that category.
"Ya," you may say, "but what does he know about linemen?"
All John has to do is look at his O-Line of 1997. OT Gary Zimmerman, OG Mark Schlereth, C Tom Nalen, OG Dan Neil & OT Tony Jones. (it was Jones' first year with the group & he started all 16 games) John knows what a group needs, in order to be great together. He slapped Tom Nalens' ass more times than any other man on the planet!
The truth is that if John wasn't on the field playing with his guys, he was watching the defense do their thing. John has been a student of defenses all his life. He had to study them to beat them. He has seen and played against some amazing talent in his time. Do you think that he doesn't remember what Steve Atwater ment to the team?
To summarize, lets look at a list of players John worked, traveled, sweat, laughed with and got to know so well that he knew their strengths and weaknesses. These are players we have watched and grown to love over the years. Most were also players with outstanding talent and work ethics, or played with the Broncos for 5 or more years. This, for the most part, includes only the starters, and it is not an exhaustive list. (fortunately for you all)
From the time that Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Bronco franchise, the draft has been controlled by the teams Head Coach, until last year!
Finally, he realized that we needed a man in the front office that was willing to manage vs. control everything. A man that had the best interests of the franchise he loved at heart. A man who wouldn't even want to work anywhere else in the league. A man who didn't view his position as a job that would transition to another NFL team at some point. A man who was first and always a Denver Bronco!
I'm not concerned about John Elway succeeding in his attempt to put our team on top, because I know that he is directing the talented minds of the staff members and expecting them to contribute in every way that they should. This group, from top to bottom, is finally able to work together in the only way that truly counts, the way in which each individuals' talents are maximized.
Nothing will be wasted. All of the efforts by every member will hold the proper value. Yes! Someone has to be "Top Dog" and have final say on issues where there isn't a consensus on a particular decision, but I am not concerned about John's ability to do that. He listens! That, has been missing at the top for a long time.