John Elway is overrated

By
Updated: March 18, 2013

The fact that Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway went out on top has greatly enhanced his reputation.

Media darling

Few NFL players are surrounded by such a cloud of myth as Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. Over the course of his career, he went to five Super Bowls, winning two of them, and was awarded the Associated Press MVP award once. Even so, his reputation rests far more on his supposed penchant for leading come-from-behind victories than his actual statistical performance on the field.

Elway was never the linchpin of the Broncos’ offense that Joe Montana was in San Francisco or Dan Marino was in Miami. The Broncos a defensive-minded team with a run-first offense that only gradually opened up as their young quarterback developed. At no point did they live and die by the arm of Elway.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana had a much better 1987 campaign statistically than John Elway did, but it was Elway who won MVP honors.

The year Elway won the MVP was the strike-shortened campaign of 1987. When he finally made it onto the field, however, he drew everyone’s attention.  He had a big, downfield arm and impressive mobility.  Despite playing in just 12 games, he scrambled for 304 yards and four scores to compeiment his 3,198 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air.

But was that really an MVP-caliber performance? That same year, Montana and the 49ers went 12-1 as he lit up the league for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns. Not reluctant to take the ball himself when necessary, Montana also accumulated 141 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Montana had a 66.8% completion rate vastly outstripped Elway’s (54.6%), while his 102.1 passer rating was 18.7 points and 10 quarterbacks ahead of Elway’s.

For some puzzling reason, though, the media was suddenly infatuated with Elway’s dual-threat playing style.  Throughout the 1970s, Roger Staubach, also the league’s top passer, was just as talented as Elway, if not more so, when it came to running the ball, but he never won an MVP. Later, in 1990 Randall Cunningham had a brilliant year as a passer and broke records with his legs (racking up 942 yards and five touchdowns rushing), and he didn’t win MVP either. So why did the voters deem Elway’s 1987 campaign as more worthy of honor than Montana’s otherworldly passing production?

Super Bowl slip-ups

Elway frequently performed well in the playoffs — right up until he faced off against the NFC opponent in the Super Bowl. Then he promptly fell flat on his face. Why?  Because the NFC of that era was far better than the AFC, rattling off 13 consecutive Super Bowl victories between 1985 and 1997 and winning each game by an average differential of 20.0 points.  To put that into perspective, the past 10 Super Bowls have been split 6-4 between the AFC and NFC, with the victors winning by an average of only 6.3 points.

The Broncos of the late ’80s were the best team in the AFC, but that didn’t matter in the Super Bowl. Elway was beaten worse than most AFC quarterbacks, falling 39-20, 42-10, and 55-10 or an average loss differential of 25.3 points.

In January 2013, CBS Sports named John Elway the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time.

That’s why Denver’s eventual victory over the Green Bay Packers was so monumental.  Much like the New York Jets’ Super Bowl win in 1969, the puny AFC competitor had defeated the much stronger NFC opponent in a spectacular upset. Green Bay was the defending champion, led by a quarterback in Brett Favre who had just been named league MVP for the third consecutive season.

Even in this game, though, the old story repeated itself: After having performed admirably throughout the playoffs, Elway disappeared in the Super Bowl, completing just 12 of 22 pass attempts for a meager 123 yards, one touchdown run, and one interception. To be fair, the Packers defense was every bit as good as Denver’s that year, but that certainly didn’t stop Davis from shredding them for 157 yards and three touchdowns to earn game MVP honors.

The following season, the Broncos proved that their previous year’s success had not merely been an aberration, handily defeating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19. Elway performed quite respectably, completing 18 of 29 pass attempts for 336 yards, one passing touchdown, one interception, and one rushing touchdown as he was named the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP.

He had plenty of help, though. As usual, league MVP Davis ran all over the opposition. The defense relentlessly suffocated the Atlanta offense. But it was Darrien Gordon, a fairly unheralded cornerback, who was arguably the game’s true MVP. Gordon picked the right day to give the performance of his career, stopped two Atlanta drives dead in their tracks by returning a pair of interceptions for 58 and 50 yards to give Elway great starting field position.

The career of running back Terrell Davis was so short that his contributions to the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl victories is frequently overlooked.

The career of running back Terrell Davis was so short that his contributions to the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victories is frequently overlooked.

The once weak and fragile AFC had finally emerged as the league’s dominant conference.

Then as now, it was easy to become engrossed in the emotional excitement of it all.  The media and fans ate it up, portraying John Elway as some sort of war hero who had at long last vanquished the NFC scourge before leaving the battlefield once and for all.  For the sake of a better storyline, they gave all the glory to the veteran quarterback — despite the fact that it was Denver’s stout defense and devastating ground threat, spearheaded by Davis, that really made teams fear the Broncos.

Epilogue

Sadly, the career of Terrell Davis came to an untimely end right around the time John Elway rode off triumphantly into the sunset, as injuries sidelined him for the next three years.

With a vicious sort of irony, Elway’s legacy benefited greatly from Davis’s misfortune. The season following Elway’s retirement, the Broncos fell to a 6-10 record, which only made Elway’s last few years all the more memorable. The fact that Davis’s incredible productivity was condensed into a short three-year span means that his name is regularly forgotten in discussions of great players, inflating Elway’s reputation still further.

Yes, Elway was a good quarterback whose sustained period production rivaled that of Brett Favre and Dan Marino. But he never stood out as a top quarterback at any point in his long career.  He continues to receive too much praise for cumulative statistics that are more the result of longevity than dominance in any given season.  Even his role in the thrilling back-to-back championships that punctuated his career has been greatly exaggerated.

Whatever else he may have been, John Elway is not and never was an all-time great.

About the author

547 comments
Bro Montana
Bro Montana

Hello. Is there anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me...

niemerg1
niemerg1

 Come on now, I hear you're feeling down...

Bro Montana
Bro Montana

Blegh. I'm doing research but can't find anything helpful.

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha...

*gasps for breath*

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha


: Bruce Arians: have "very capable" starter in Drew Stanton

robertj72
robertj72

As crazy as this may sound...I think Arians will be an excellent coach in the NFL. Maybe he is saying this about Stanton because that is what he is stuck with, but I think Pittsburgh is very sad they let him go (and missed the playoff after a long run) and I think Indy is wondering if they lost the true leader (but how do you fire a recent cancer victim). AZ was brilliant in hiring this guy and I will be rooting for him. I love an underdog! There is nothing about Arains career to hate or not be impressed by!

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

I can see it now.  Stanton leads Cardinals to division title over Seahawks and 49ers

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

I would be tempted to find a junker, remove the license plates, and piledrive this asshole into a wall

Buhlitz
Buhlitz

 Lol he's a Wings fan as well, you can see on the right side of his truck

tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

 

Wow...

Yankees, Heat, Lakers...

...and is that a Bulls logo on the side of the truck?

Joedirte
Joedirte

  He is just a NBA fan since no NBA fan keeps a team and they cheer a player

tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

 Plenty of NBA fans keep a team.

...and that guy is no NBA fan.  He is the definition of a bandwagon jumper.

I would not be surprised to learn that there is either a Spurs or Celtics logo on the other side of the truck.

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

players already talking about pushing for fully guaranteed contracts in next CBA.  That would be ugly

tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

 They'll never get fully guaranteed contracts.  The owners will never go for it.

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  yeah.  and owners can sit this out much more than the players

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Yea baseball has the strongest union but it will take a holdout to get it done and all existing contracts will be grandfathered in

tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

 That one will be tougher to remove.  The players have had guaranteed contracts for a while now.

I'm sure the owners don't want them, but it's a tougher battle in baseball.

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

   I agree.  Owners and GMs need to protect themselves from their own stupidity.

Joedirte
Joedirte

   Wont happen and Baseball one day will not be guaranteed either

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Can we please get a video

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  Ask and ye shall receive:

Joedirte
Joedirte

   Yea even with full contact it would hurt but it would be like getting hit with a boxing glove and he could skate that off

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  yeah, mostly just punches the facemask.  the guy laughs it off

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Not as bad of shot as it could have been considering its a grazing shot with gloves

Joedirte
Joedirte

  This is just.......Special

Joedirte
Joedirte

How the heck did the Falcons get a lower comp pick than the 49ers we lost  Lofton and they didn't really lose any big name free agents

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

Looks like the NFL replacement refs worked the game tonight.

Joedirte
Joedirte

  You know how I wrote that article and I said that its not crazy to say that other refs are bought off by organized crime these are some good cases to make that point

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  technically the call on the Bulls was correct (offensive goaltending).  The issue is that they didn't call it initially, and you have to call it initially to review it (which they did before changing the ruling). 

An identical play happened less than a minute earlier with Denver, and they didn't review it.

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Well that goes to consistency to which referees in all the major sports need improvement on

Joedirte
Joedirte

Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to the Titans....probably scooped but that would explain releasing Hassleback

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

 and Hasselbeck signed with Indy.  

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Wow I'm surprised no one tried to go to the Cardinals since they have an opening....McNabb might still have a chance

Joedirte
Joedirte

   Some times you get guys like a Ryan Leaf or Todd Marionvich that get to the league and just think they have already made it and don't put in the effort to get to the next level

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  wow, you'd think someone who sucks so badly would be busting their ass to keep their job

Joedirte
Joedirte

   I really think the Jags are looking hard at him with all the reports that Gabbert has become "Blame" Gabbert. And the coaching staff feels hes uncoachable

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  I think Philly SHOULD take him, since they were stupid and hired Chip Kelly.

Joedirte
Joedirte

  Still guys like Garrard, Hassleback and Fitzpatrick are all better than they currently have now......I think with Geno Smith looking so good at his pro day I might have him going there if the Jaguars or Eagles don't take him....stay tuned

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

  I know.  Both Fitzpatrick and Hasselbeck are better than what Zona has.  I'm guessing Arizona wasn't interested because they're planning on drafting a guy.

jwoude23 Bear Down
jwoude23 Bear Down moderator

fine coming in 3... 2... 1...

Noah is very emotional about calls. "Some f****** bull****". And then he left the locker room.

Joedirte
Joedirte

  That's me when I get on here?

Joedirte
Joedirte

The NBA is worse  than the WWE in terms of its crappy officiating.

Joedirte
Joedirte

The Falcons get 4 compensatory picks a 4th round and three 7th rounders

robertj72
robertj72 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I don't have any great reason to dislike any of the Heat, yet something deep inside me would have no greater thrill in the NBA Playoffs than to see them lose and not repeat!

EvilDonkey
EvilDonkey moderator

 I just wanna watch the world burn.