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Remembering the rookie season of Broncos' legendary QB - and current GM - John Elway

John Elway's birthday was Sunday - and though we don't really need an excuse - it's a good reason to celebrate one of the greatest Broncos of all time.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

As many of you know, BroncoMike passed away this past weekend, making it a sad day for Broncos Country and a depressing reality for all of us at MHR.

But I had to smile when I realized Sunday was John Elway's birthday. As a diehard fan of the team, BroncoMike most definitely appreciated what Elway meant to the Broncos - and to Denver in general - when No. 7 played here.

But BroncoMike was one of the few Broncos fans I've encountered who didn't have a borderline obsession with Elway - as former Broncos quarterback or our GM.

Having been born during Elway's second season with the team, BroncoMike probably couldn't fully appreciate how miraculous Elway's later years as a quarterback really were - even though he no doubt appreciated the continued success Elway brought the team throughout the 90s. But while Mike certainly believed Elway was a great quarterback, he has not been shy about criticizing Elway as a GM.

It's not popular to criticize the heroes, but we all know BroncoMike didn't say or do things because they were popular. He said or did them because it was what he believed were true.

So I could just imagine how BroncoMike's Twitter timeline would have lit up with debate yesterday on Elway's 55th birthday. Hopefully you can enjoy these photos via @BroncosHistory for both their nostalgic glamour and with a bit of a chuckle at how BroncoMike might have trolled Tim Lynch just to start a friendly debate.

I know I did.

Former Elway teammate and a member of the heralded Orange Crush defense, Tom Jackson, remembered going out to watch Elway throw during minicamp his rookie season.

"I know somewhere in that conversation was, 'We're going to the Super Bowl. We're going to multiple Super Bowls,'" as told by Jackson in Brian Howell's book, 100 Things Broncos Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. "The kid could throw like nobody's business."

Elway's career is the stuff of football legend, but his rookie year was somewhat unremarkable, save for the hint of things to come.

It's easy to talk about The Drive I and II, The Helicopter, the five Super Bowls, the two Lombardis. But in a rookie class of great quarterbacks, Elway took a beating along the way to a great career.

The Broncos went 9-7 in a year of growing pains for Elway, but his Dec. 11 game against Baltimore boasted the young QB's first of many fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.

In his storied career, Elway would come to lead 35 comebacks and 46 game-winning drives.

The nine-time Pro-Bowler and first ballot Hall-of-Famer finished his rookie year with 1,663 passing yards, seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 10 games. He started the season as a rookie before being benched mid-October, but following an injury to veteran Steve DeBerg, Elway was once again starting quarterback. His QB rating that season was just north of 54 percent.

But hitting his stride in season two, Elway led the Broncos to a 13-3 record, atop the AFC West, and established himself as a definite NFL MVP-to-come.

Horse Tracks

Mike "Bronco Mike" Gomez: In Memoriam
In case you missed it Sunday, here is our tribute to Bronco Mike, as well as information about donating for his funeral service. We also included some of our favorite posts of Mike's through the years. If you have a favorite post of Mike's that we didn't grab, let us know in the comments, and we'll get it in there.

Tribute: Football Is More Than A Game - Denver - Scout
With the tragic news that a Broncos friend and colleague passed away yesterday, MHH Analyst Erick Trickel talks about the softer side of football.

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Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys renew contract talks -
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Aaron Rodgers shows us how he's spending summer -
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Eli Manning's agent: QBs always get their deal done -
Eli Manning is entering the final year of the seven-year extension. A new deal doesn't appear imminent, but there doesn't appear to be any concerns out of the Meadowlands.

Seahawks' Michael Bennett: I don't mind staying home -
Michael Bennett told a Honolulu station that he may be open to missing the start of training camp if he doesn't get a raise. Will the Seahawks pay up for their 2014 sack leader?