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For All Of You Cutler Critics - A Trip Back In Time

Saw this over at Broncos Freak and liked it so much that I had to bring it on over here.  The article truly speaks for itself, and it gives a view of the past as well as a possible glimpse into our future.....Keep Hope Alive, Broncos Country!!!

A 'true test' for Elway

By Michael Knisley
The Sporting News
September 10, 1984

DENVER -- For this man, the Denver Broncos gave up Chris Hinton, Mark Herrmann and a No. 1 draft choice?

For a man with a 47.5 completion percentage? For a man with twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdown passes (7)? For a man who was the lowest-rated quarterback in the American Football Conference?

For John Elway?

Where is the return on that investment?

It was called the Trade of the Century in May of 1983, when the Broncos obtained Elway from the Colts for Hinton, Herrmann and a first-round pick in the '84 draft. Bob Irsay's pockets got picked, they said. The Broncos got Elway for far less than what other teams had offered the Colts before the '83 draft.

It still may be the Trade of the Century, but the emphasis may switch to the Colts. Hinton was an All-Pro guard in his rookie season in Baltimore. Elway was an all-low quarterback.

"I really don't think it can get any worse than it was last year," Elway said as Denver's 1984 training camp opened.

It began in Minnesota in the last exhibition game of '83, his first as the Broncos' starting quarterback. Elway was sacked five times and was 100 percent ineffective. Denver lost, 34-3.

It ended in Seattle in the AFC wild-card playoff game, Elway standing on the sideline in favor of Steve DeBerg. The long day's journey into night closed with Elway silently leaving town just after Christmas, accompanied by none of the hubbub and clatter that marked his arrival.

In between, there was a trifling of promising moments -- a three-touchdown fourth quarter against Baltimore and a 284-yard day against Cleveland.

That was it, however. There was nothing else.

"I felt like we were both young and had to grow up," said Dan Reeves, Elway's 40-year-old head coach. "Certainly, it was a new situation for me. One thing I got better at as the year went on was that I'd wanted him to succeed so badly. It was almost like your own son, wanting him to do well so badly.

"It didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but there were a lot of positive things that came from it. There's a tendency, if you haven't ever experienced defeat, to forget it can happen. It happened to me in 1982. I'd never been associated with a losing team, and then we went 2-7. It makes you stop and say 'Wait a minute.' John went through that last year, and now it's behind him."

Elway's problems in 1983 -- DeBerg's presence, communication difficulties with Reeves, a baffling offensive system, prodigious pressure to succeed from the media and instant fame around town -- indeed may be behind him. The Broncos and nature seem to have tackled those difficulties one by one during the course of the offseason.

DeBerg is gone, traded to Tampa Bay. There is no competition now at quarterback.

Reeves and Elway have patched together their relationship. No more sideline shouting matches, they both promise.

One season later, Reeves' "backward" numbers (right-side plays are called with odd numbers and left-side plays are called with even numbers) appear to be comprehensible.

And, surprisingly, the pressure on the kid quarterback seems to have lifted. There was no legion of reporters in camp to chronicle every breath he took. The Elway Watch is over.

"It's like night and day," Elway said on the eve of the Broncos first exhibition game, a 16-13 loss to Washington. "I know what I'm getting into now. I feel a lot more comfortable in the position. This whole year so far has been getting back to normal, and that's really a relief.

"I didn't do well last year. But, then, I can look at myself and say, 'Well, I'm not a bad player because of that.' It's just that I had no idea. I was out there, and I was totally confused. I didn't feel comfortable at all out there. I'm not disappointed, but I'm not happy with it, either. I look at the way I played against Cleveland and Baltimore, and I know it's down there somewhere."

Reeves tinkered with his offense in camp. Expect to see Elway throwing more rollout and sprintout passes this season, plays that seem better suited to his talent than straight drop-back tosses.

It isn't a pure run-and-shoot offense, but it looks a little like it. Reeves hired University of Florida run-and-shoot guru Mike Shanahan in the offseason to coach his quarterbacks and wide receivers and then let him fiddle with the playbook.

Line coach Alex Gibbs came in, too, from the University of Georgia, with another new wrinkle that should help: a blocking scheme that will allow Elway's protection pocket to float.

"I think it'll be great," Elway said. "Being able to move the pocket around definitely will help the offensive line. If the defense doesn't know where the quarterback is going, it's got to help. And it's almost easier for me to sprint out than it is to sit up in the pocket. I like the sprintout game, the movement. It's a do-or-die situation. I like that."

Reeves may have erred last season when he handed Elway the starting job over DeBerg. But win or lose, Elway learned more by playing than he would have by watching, according to Reeves, and that experience is expected to pay dividends in 1984.

His early tests this season have been inconclusive. In just a little more than two quarters of action against the Redskins, he threw two interceptions and completed only 11 of 27 passes for 130 yards. There were no touchdowns and, in fact, the Broncos didn't score with Elway in the game. Reserve Gary Kubiak guided Denver to its 13 points.

A week earlier, in a controlled scrimmage against Houston, Elway completed four of eight passes for 41 yards.

Neither outing was a miscarriage of football, but neither game was a Hall of Fame performance, either.

If Elway learned anything last season, he learned he isn't perfect. He learned how to struggle-with his game and with his name. The game is becoming easier for him. The name isn't.

"I'm a celebrity," said. "I'm a celebrity because I was a first-round draft pick and I was drafted by Baltimore and traded to Denver. But I'm not a celebrity in the way I'd like to be a celebrity. The only reason I'm a celebrity is because I'm a quarterback and I was the first pick in the NFL draft. It's not because I've proven anything to anybody. I didn't prove anything last year. That's where it's hard for me. If a kid comes up to me and asks me for an autograph, I want to feel good about writing my name down on that piece of paper. I don't want to give an autograph on the basis of what I'm supposed to be able to do in the future. Once I have a good year and feel good about it, I won't feel as bad about the rest of it."

Elway didn't say things like that last year, but there may be plenty about this season that isn't anything like 1983.

He isn't single any longer, for instance. On March 3, he married Janet Buchan, and he has since settled into a home in Denver. That -- permanent local residence -- was one of Reeves' wishes, and it means the head coach and quarterback were able to work more closely during the offseason.

Reeves was optimistic about Elway at this time a year ago, and his optimism wasn't founded.

But he's sounding the same tune this season.

"He really understands the offense a lot better," Reeves said. "He's still got a long way to go. There's no way you can do it all by the second year. It takes a lot of time. But there's no comparison now to where he was last year, even to where he was at the end of last year. He has much more knowledge now of what we're trying to do.

"In these early (exhibition) games, I want him to play and play well. I think he needs to build confidence that he's making some progress. It's important that he continue to improve each week. But like any quarterback or any player, you're going to have certain games where your performance isn't what you'd like it to be. That's the true test of a player -- coming back from those kinds of games."

Or coming back from those kinds of seasons. That's the true test for Elway.