Friday, January 30, 2004

QB Elway poised for Hall of Fame

First vote only vote he'll likely need

The Associated Press

DENVER - John Elway always had good timing.

In his final game on Jan. 31, 1999, Elway led the Denver Broncos to their second straight Super Bowl championship with a 34-19 win over Atlanta. He passed for 336 yards and a touchdown, and was named the game's MVP.

On Saturday - five years later to the day - Elway is expected to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Not that he wants to talk about it. Not yet. He's too superstitious.

"I've never liked talking about something before it happens," Elway said.

Elway dazzled fans and confounded defenses for 16 years, missing only 15 starts because of illness or injury.

When he retired in 1999, he was No. 1 in NFL history in fourth-quarter, game-winning or game-saving drives (47) and the winningest quarterback in league history with 148 victories.

"He was a great athlete, and his arm strength was second to none," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Elway, a nine-time Pro Bowler, is still the only player in NFL history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 200 yards each season for seven straight years (1985-91).

He trails only Dan Marino in career passing yards (51,475), attempts (7,250), completions (4,123) and total offense (54,882). He also leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing attempts (774).

Elway wept when he quit at age 38, blaming the wear and tear of the NFL for taking him away from the game he loved. Over 256 games, he was sacked 559 times - more than any other quarterback ever.

He is easily the most popular sports figure in Denver, where he put his Stanford economics degree to use in running a chain of car dealerships.

Not bad for a guy who went 1-for-8 for 14 yards and an interception in his first pro game against Pittsburgh in 1983. Elway still remembers Jack Lambert snarling at him with no teeth.

Others remember his Super Bowl run when he sacrificed his body on a scramble, spinning through the air for a key first down. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen called Elway's determination to win unprecedented.

"That's why he was the comeback king and won so many games in the fourth quarter," Bowlen said. "For 16 years, John Elway was the Denver Broncos."

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