Elway Says He Still Favors Retirement
By Mark Maske
MIAMI, Feb. 1 Denver Broncos quarterback and Super Bowl most valuable player John Elway said today that he still is leaning toward retiring. But Elway acknowledged that his brilliant play in Sunday's 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons could help lure him back to lead the Broncos in their pursuit of football's first Super Bowl three-peat.
Elway said he wanted to take a little while to savor the victory, which made the Broncos the sixth NFL franchise to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Elway and the Broncos will have little time to rest, however. Their thoughts already have turned to next January's Super Bowl in Atlanta. Coach Mike Shanahan talked to his players about it Sunday after the game, telling them that the pursuit begins now. The first order of business will be to find out whether Elway, who turns 39 in June, will be at the helm for what would be his 17th NFL season. Or will he join basketball great Michael Jordan and bow out gracefully while at the top of his sport?
"It would be great to come back and three-peat," Elway said this morning. "But it also would be nice to walk away playing at the level I play now. I don't want to walk away too late. But I also know if I can play like I played [Sunday] night, I can play a little longer. Those are the things I have to weigh."
Elway gave no timetable for making his decision, but he and Shanahan said it probably would have to come by April at the latest. That would give Elway time to prepare physically for next season, and it would give the Broncos the option of drafting a quarterback if Elway retires.
"I don't know what John's going to do," Shanahan said. "As I said before the game, my gut feeling is that John will retire. If he does retire, what a way to go out. I hope he decides to give it one more shot. ... He told me before the year started he'd give me three more years. I don't know if it's true or not."
Everyone, it seems, is trying to find an incentive for Elway to keep playing. As Commissioner Paul Tagliabue today presented Elway with a car for being Super Bowl MVP, he said Elway's goal could be to return next January to attempt to become the first player ever to be the Super Bowl MVP in two different centuries.
Elway talked today like someone who once had his mind made up, but doesn't any more. Part of it, he conceded, is the way he played Sunday. Elway turned over the Denver offense to running back Terrell Davis a few seasons ago, and many NFL people seemed convinced that he no longer could be the central figure in winning a key game. But that's precisely what he did when the Falcons defense concentrated on stopping Davis. Davis rushed for 102 yards, but Elway made the big plays, completing 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards. He threw for one touchdown, an 80-yard strike to wide receiver Rod Smith in the second quarter, and ran for another.
"In his younger days, he'd have been able to backpedal in there, and he barely got in there," Shanahan said of Elway's three-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw. "No offense, John."
The two-week break after the AFC championship game helped, and Elway said he felt loose in Florida's warm weather. He had more spring in his step and more velocity on his throws Sunday than at any other time in recent memory.
He'll play in Sunday's Pro Bowl mostly, he said, because his kids wanted a trip to Hawaii. Then, he said, he'll talk to his wife, his children and his father about retirement. Elway said he wanted to retire after defeating the Green Bay Packers in last year's Super Bowl, but was out-voted by his wife and kids.
"I said all year and I said [Sunday] night, there's a 90 percent chance I'll quit," Elway said today. "But I don't want to close the door. It's a nine-month job. People think you just go out and play on Sundays, but that's not the case."
The Broncos won all five regular season games in which backup Bubby Brister handled most of the quarterback duties (four starts and one relief appearance) while Elway was sidelined with injuries. With the sport's most dominant player in Davis, a superb offensive line, a reliable group of receivers and a defense that played better as the games got bigger, the Broncos would be a championship contender next season even without Elway.
Shanahan and Elway were congratulated on the field Sunday by Falcons Coach Dan Reeves, who had reopened the trio's years-old feud during the Super Bowl buildup. It was a bitterly disappointing defeat for Reeves, who lost three Super Bowls with Elway as the Broncos' coach and once fired Shanahan as an assistant.
Things started to go wrong for the Falcons soon after they arrived in Miami. Wide receiver Terance Mathis complained about Reeves's decision to allow the team's Pro Bowl players and 10-year veterans to exit the airplane first. Safety Eugene Robinson was arrested Saturday night on a charge of soliciting sex from a prostitute and, in the game, was beaten by Smith for the long touchdown. Quarterback Chris Chandler threw interceptions on three straight second-half possessions as the Broncos stretched their 17-6 halftime lead to 31-6 early in the fourth quarter.
"We were prepared," Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "We went out there and fought hard. The Denver Broncos were just a better football team."
And Elway was the primary beneficiary of all the Falcons did wrong.
"Last year was a great win, but it was just getting the big gorilla off our backs," he said. "This year we came in as the favorites and to play like that, I really savor that. At 38 years old and in the twilight of my career, I really just focus on the nows and don't worry about the tomorrows."
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