In The Box, Elway Knows What He Doesn’t
We all know about The Drive. That legendary AFC Championship Game in the late eighties at the dawg pound over in Cleveland. Elway tosses a gritty 78 yards, wheeling for 20 more in 5 minutes. The Broncos go 98 yards downfield to tie the game with just 37 seconds left. They won in overtime between the posts. You couldn’t be more clutch if you tried.
Yeah John Elway lost a few Super Bowls early, but eventually he made it back and won two times late in his career to exit a hero.
And after over 10 years out of the NFL, he returned to his old stomping grounds and was crowned the Bronco’s Executive VP of Football Operations in 2011. Basically, he had last word over any roster decisions, later taking on full GM duties, too. This seems to be a going his way as well; the Bronco’s are headed to their second Super Bowl in just 3 seasons, with a defense that almost killed Tom Brady.
It makes you wonder what magic Elway possesses that lead him to the Hall of Fame between the hashes and also built him into such a glaringly successful front office top dog in this short a time.
Consider this: Elway beat out eleven other teams to snatch up Peyton Manning, a white horse in all his glory. A star who had some rough experience under the knife. It was a dramatic risk-reward signing. Bringing Manning to Denver was a genius move, as it gave Elway great leverage within free agency. Free agents see a team led by two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, dedicated fans perched up at Mile High, and an organization with rings on its mind. Not rings in the future, but rings now.
Elway’s approach is born from humility, a rare trait in a legendary athlete.
He even openly admitted to not having experience for other roles, such as head coach or general manager, when talking with Denver. This is a man that knows what he is good at and understands that accepting you don’t know everything doesn’t hurt you, but helps you.
He knew he could make the most impact in a specific role. He wasn’t going to try to run the whole show. He was aware.
To ensure success, you need to trust those around you. You need to delegate. Elway the player was a leader who understood this. Tom Brady is the same. Brady trusts every single person in the organization to do their job, therefore he can concentrate on what he does best. Applying this as a management style works well: you can’t do it all yourself, but you can enable others who can. This is what makes Elway so successful in his role now.
Think of the many athletes who try to do everything themselves. They want to be in total control, they can carry a selfishness about them. It’s not an uncommon attitude to find and it’s almost impossible to run a front office with. Look at Jerry Jones in Dallas. Completely unable to realize he doesn’t know everything, in turn, impossible to trust others who know better than him. He can’t get out of his own way.
Bringing Elway to Denver in the first place was it’s own high risk-reward move for owner Pat Bowlen. Having such an iconic figure, whom nobody would want to see fail at the helm. It should have been taken time to balance and get right, but it didn’t.
The jury is still out though. On the edge of their second Super Bowl in a few years, it’s not clear if the outcome will turn out to be a positive one. Denver’s defense was able to steamroll the Pat’s offensive line, but the Panthers are different. When a team has a QB the size of a linebacker and just hung 49 on a second seed, things change.
It’s incredibly interesting to note that if Carolina wins, Elway’s front office start will eerily resemble his on field one: two big Super Bowl loses. Time will tell how the Elway story plays out, but if it’s anything like his playing career, than the best is yet to come.
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