The golden right arm reached forward to brush back the hair. It almost created a glare.
The Stanford University senior quarterback said, "If I ordered a pizza and said 'This is for John Elway,' the person taking the order would say, 'Is that Elray or Elwood?' Some people have problems with the name."
Life can be burdensome in so many ways. Even when you are John Elway, age 22, height 6 feet 4, weight 202, future unlimited.
He is the record-breaking quarterback of the Pacific-10 Conference. In six games this season, Elway has thrown for 1,951 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been intercepted eight times.
His career statistics: 68 touchdown passes and 8,058 yards, and he still has a half-season left. If he continues his current pace, by season's end he will own NCAA career records in these categories: most passes attempted, most passes completed, lowest interception rate (minimum 600 attempts) and total passing yards, the latter mark held by former Brigham Young quarterback Jim McMahon (9,536).
Elway's marks have made nearly all of Jim Plunkett's school and conference records fall.
It should also be noted that the logo of the New York Yankees is dutifully stamped on Elway's watch. That is because the Yankees made Elway their first pick in the second round of the 1981 June draft, then paid this versatile athlete $140,000 for six weeks work last summer at Oneonta, N.Y., in the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League. (NCAA rules permit an athlete to play professionally in one sport without losing amateur status in another sport.)
Elway responded with a .318 average and a right arm in right field that was far better than average. With California cool, Elway says he knows that owner George Steinbrenner wants that Yankee insignia stamped on his contract, too.
His teammates insist Elway stays low key. They make sure of it. "Success could never go to John's head," says defensive back Kevin Baird. "We keep him down to earth."
"We call him 'George's Boy,' " says flanker Mike Tolliver, "because of all the money he made."
"We call him 'Dr. Crunch,' " says fullback Rob Moore, "because he never tackles anybody in practice."
"We call him Robert Redford," says nose guard Terry Jackson. "I think you know why."
Now, America pins another name on Elway.
"Winning the Heisman Trophy is so much of a dream," Elway says. "So much has to go right. You look at the guys who have won it--it's the ultimate award. So much belongs with it. You win it and the lights go on. It would be awesome."
Of course, after he graduates with a degree in economics in June, Elway will have to decide between the National Football League and the New York Yankees. Not a bad choice.
Many NFL front-office people say Elway will be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Naturally, Steinbrenner counters that Elway would fit in with pin-stripe perfection, once saying he envisioned a Yankee Stadium outfield of Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and John Elway.
From 3,000 miles east of this campus that rests peacefully about 20 miles south of Fisherman's Wharf, Bill Bergesch, Yankees' vice president of baseball operations, now says, "George wants John Elway very much. We will be prepared to be in the running when the proper time comes."
Elway says, "The decision seems so far off. It will be tough. Right now, I try to put it out of my mind. There are so many things I don't know about now. It seems strange to think that this will be the last year I will play both sports."
Part of his story is painted by statistics: in his sophomore year, his first year as a starter, Elway completed 248 of 379 (65 percent) of his passes for 2,889 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The team finished 6-5 that year. In this same year, Elway finished Oregon State with six touchdown passes in one game, and in another game threw three touchdowns passes in a 31-14 upset over Oklahoma in the rain at Norman. It ended the Sooners' 20-game Owen Field winning streak. "Maybe my best game," Elway said.
As a junior in 1981, the team slipped to 4-7. Elway slipped only slightly. But remember, he lived on the mountaintop as a sophomore. In 1981, he threw for 2,674 yards and 20 touchdowns and was intercepted 13 times.
Yet statistics paint only the part for historians. Voices and visions paint the part for contemporaries.
Stanford Coach Paul Wiggin was an all-pro defensive end with the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1960s. He chased enough quarterbacks to know about them. Nowadays, he speaks in reverence of Fran Tarkenton's scrambling, Terry Bradshaw's strong arm and Norm Van Brocklin's mind.
He says, "Each of those quarterbacks had an element of greatness. John has all of these elements. He has a magic arm, total command and is analytical to the point of human psychology."
Elway's arm is atomic. When he is occupied with the running backs during practice, Stanford receivers use a mechanical arm for catching drills. "That's the only thing we have that can compare with John's arm," said Tolliver, the flanker.
As a freshman, Elway threw a pass in practice that shattered the pinky of since-graduated receiver Don Lonsinger.
"And it was wobbly, too," says Elway.
"Donnie's finger has never been the same," says Tolliver, adding, "I've gotten sting marks and welts from catching John's passes. Now I wear tape on my arm as a cushion."
Elway is a scrambler. Says Jackson, who is from De Matha High School in Hyattsville, Md., said, "You see him scrambling and breaking all those tackles and you say, 'How did he get out of that one?' Then he does it again and you say, 'How did he get out of that one?' "
Then there is Elway's confidence. "Bullet-biting tough," says Wiggin.
"Inner heart," Bergesch calls it.
"You can see it on the field that John just can't wait to get to the line of scrimmage," says Tolliver. "The huddle is like a little gathering before we have fun."
It was in the final 1:38 of the nationally televised 23-20 victory at Ohio State on Sept. 25 that Elway's cool came forth. Directing a no-huddle offense, he led Stanford 80 yards and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Emile Harry for the game-winner with 34 seconds left.
Elway threw for 407 yards in the game and says of the last drive, "There was an unspoken confidence in the huddle."
Tolliver says, "The confidence in the huddle comes from looking at John. He is an unbelievable competitor."
"I don't like to lose," Elway says. "The fun I get out of competing is winning. I think I got that from my dad, from watching the teams he has coached over the years."
Jack Elway has been in football for 30 years. Now he is the coach at nearby San Jose State, the team that defeated Stanford, 35-31, a month ago.
"John has always had an unquenchable desire to win," says the father/coach. "I never sat him down and lectured him on the importance of winning. It was just his way. There was a competitive atmosphere around the house. John even competed with his sisters for grades."
In his senior year at Granada Hills (Calif.) High School in 1979, John Elway threw 19 touchdown passes in five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He batted .491 and was 4-2 with a 1.03 earned run average as an outfielder/pitcher on the city championship baseball team.
The knee injury cost him a second straight Los Angeles-area all-city first-team selection in football. He was player of the year in baseball. Los Angeles lore placed him on the all-intergalactic team.
"I always told John to have fun," Jack Elway says, "and to play like hell."
And the son listened.
Bergesch visited the Elway house before the San Jose State game. "Just to keep in touch," he says.
Bergesch thinks Elway could be in Yankee Stadium in two years. The first he would spend in the minors. "John is just a big, strong, powerfully built individual. He can hit, hit with power, throw and run," he says.
Bergesch compares Elway's situation to that of Detroit Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson, a former football star at Michigan State. He talks of baseball's advantages over football: career longevity, average salary, pension plan.
Then the man who reports to Steinbrenner says, "I cringe every time I see John get sacked."
The image is all-America boy. He drives a new Datsun 280ZX, a gift he gave to himself after signing the Yankees' summer contract. He talks of going to business school while playing in the pros.
He has dated Janet Buchan, a former Stanford swimmer, for two years now. "And he gets embarrassed when other girls make a big deal over him," says Wiggin.
Elway's teammates recognize one fact: "We know we have to win games," says Baird, "for John to win the Heisman."
The team record is 3-3. The victories over Ohio State, Purdue (35-14) and Oregon State (45-5) have been equalized by the losses to San Jose State, Arizona State (21-17) and USC (41-21).
Elway says he looks at the Sunday sports page to see the statistics of Pitt's Dan Marino and Georgia's Herschel Walker. "There are not too many Dan Marino fans here," says Baird. "He says cocky things John would never say."
Once, Jack Elway demanded his son change from running back to quarterback. That was in fifth grade. "Even then, I knew John could be as good as anyone could be," says Jack Elway.
Nowadays, Wiggin recommends few changes. "When you have a goose that lays golden eggs," says Wiggin, "you don't mess with the goose."
Bergesch says the money the Yankees will offer Elway will be "head-turning."
Tolliver speaks the Stanford consensus when he says, "To me, the vibes are that John would rather play football. That's where his greater potential is. But John is shrewd. He won't say now."
John Elway just smiles these days. Smiles and throws touchdown passes. Again taking forward that golden arm to sweep back that hair and again creating a glare, Elway says, "I never thought I'd be as good as I've been." CAPTION: Picture 1, It's clear sailing after graduation for John Elway, who is erasing Jim Plunkett's name from school and conference record books. AP; Pictures 2 and 3, When John Elway sets up, NCAA records can fall. Elway was paid $140,000 by the Yankees for six weeks work last summer in Class A baseball. UPI