While all of us in Broncos Country were drunk with ecstasy on Feb. 7 following the Broncos’ victorious escapade through a tumultuous 2015 season, the one man who had worked the hardest and had taken the most risk to make the confetti celebration happen in his team’s honor, was the one man the least able to enjoy the moment.
Of course John Elway did revel in his success that night.
Of course he celebrated with the players and superstars who followed through with the plans for domination.
Of course he took time to be elated over the victory with his longtime friend, former teammate and forever confidant Gary Kubiak.
But as any good GM would be doing, Elway was simultaneously planning for the rough road ahead as fans already whispered of back-to-back championships.
Albert Breer wrote earlier this week that "the challenge of winning another Super Bowl began as soon as John Elway lifted the Lombardi Trophy."
And when you dance through a bullet-point version of the Broncos’ offseason, the team’s 5-2 record right now should be viewed as nothing short of remarkable.
The Broncos’ Hall-of-Fame QB rode off into the sunset while the heir-apparent saddled up a get-away horse after highway robbery. It was the best scenario for all parties, but it’s not every Super Bowl champion that can go into training camp without a decided option for the most important position on the team and still have a winning record halfway through the season (just ask the 1999 Broncos team).
Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan chose money over quest, and suddenly Denver’s dominating D was dented (though certainly not decimated).
And then Aqib Talib found himself in bad company in Dallas once again, and the Broncos’ second half of the best cornerback duo in the league lost time on the practice field as he recovered from a gunshot wound to his leg.
In spite of such drama, Elway’s steady hand stayed on the compass, and the Broncos steered through free agency, the draft and contract negotiations with long-term deals for three major contributors to the championship team – Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders and Brandon Marshall – plus a promising quarterback of the future in Paxton Lynch.
"It’s easy to take the easy way out. The easy way would’ve been to give in to everything coming off a Super Bowl. And you can make it easy. We could’ve done all that," Elway told Breer. "But to remain good, and remain disciplined, you have to sometimes do the hard thing. It’s more difficult to do it that way, but in the long run, it’s the right way. That’s where my focus was."
A big part of doing things the right way is the close relationship but professional respect Elway and Kubiak have of each other. Elway told Breer he purposely tries not to get too close to the athletes because it could cloud his business judgment and also encroach on "Kubiak’s team."
"I don’t want the emotional side to fog my decisions. I have to make the best decision for the organization," Elway told Breer. "But I don’t try to get too close. It’s Gary’s football team. I don’t wanna get in his way either. The bottom line, he’s the go-to guy for those guys, and I support Gary on that."
At the same time, Elway’s involvement with the team at a certain level is also what allows him to get things done even when it looks dire from the outside looking in.
Elway was never concerned the Von Miller contract would happen. The speculation, rumors and back-and-forth in the media could have hindered that contract at any other franchise. But to Miller’s credit for calling Elway directly, and the GM’s credit for listening, the deal got done to everyone’s liking.
"I knew Von. And I knew soon as I got a chance to sit down with Von, everything was gonna be fine," Elway said. "There were other circumstances that made that bigger than it should’ve been. Eventually, I knew it’d be done. It was a matter of when."
Elway and Kubiak handled the Talib drama with the same professional respect.
"The key was we know Aqib, and we know what he’s about and we know what he’s like in this building, how he plays and what he is. And he came in here and he told us the truth," Elway said. "Obviously we don’t have to agree sometimes with where he is, he’s a grown man. Our concern was the fact that he was OK, and we expressed concern that hopefully in the future, he can stay out of those situations."
The entire MMQB story is worth reading again and again to remind us that this team – while struggling through some growing pains with a young offense – has the NFL’s best GM and best head coach working side-by-side.
It’s possibly the team’s greatest "1-2 punch" - and there are a lot to choose from.
"To this day, we’ve never had a cross word with each other," Elway told Breer about his relationship with the man he gives high praise to for coming to Dove Valley amidst all the expectations and actually bringing home the Lombardi. "That has gone so far under the radar, it’s unbelievable."
It’s just slightly more unbelievable than the fact that the Broncos are 5-2 in a season that would be easy to justify a Super Bowl hangover.
But dynasties don’t get drunk on their own success. They merely toast to the opportunity to do it again.