Throwback Thursday: John Elway

Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless We Had An Idea For A Really Silly Instagram Pun And Needed An Article To Justify It” This week’s Throwback Thursday is pick authored one of the greatest playoff comebacks—and one of the greatest careers—ever: John Elway.

John Elway’s resume pretty much speaks for itself: top seven in basically every major passing category, MVP, 5 Super Bowls (including 2 wins and an MVP), 9x Pro Bowler, member of the All-1990s First Team. But of course there was always more to Elway than his resume.

John Elway always used to remind me of Daffy Duck. Daffy—for you kids in the audience—was Looney Tunes’ second biggest star, and he could outwit, outjoke, and outperform every other character but one: Bugs Bunny. See, the thing about Bugs was that he always wins; that meant Daffy couldn’t, so long as Bugs was around. Don’t get me wrong, Daffy won plenty—he just never won “the big one.”

Part of that was that Daffy had weaknesses Bugs didn’t—Daffy was prideful, greedy, and neurotic, among other faults—he wasn’t necessarily designed to win, he was designed to make it hard for somebody else to win. Bugs, meanwhile, had all of Daffy’s skills—wit, ingenuity, nigh-instantaneous cross-dressing—but none of his weaknesses.

But Daffy had something going for him: drive. Daffy wanted to win more than Bugs ever could… because Bugs didn’t know what it was like to lose. Daffy wanted to win more than anybody, and every single time he faced off against Bugs, he’d come so close… but it was never enough.

For the first fourteen years of John Elway’s career, that was his story too. Elway was easily one of the most talented players in the league—his version of Bugs varied, but Montana, Favre, and Aikman all played the part at some point—and he could be counted on to beat anybody but the very very best. But just like Daffy, Elway had weaknesses, too.

Like Daffy, Elway was prideful, to the point that refusing to play for a team he felt wronged him (Baltimore) almost ended his career before it began. He could sometimes present as arrogant, and as close as he came (and he came really, really close, with three Super Bowl losses and another half a dozen playoff heartbreaks)… he couldn’t quite get it done.

But just like Daffy, Elway had something special. Just like Daffy, Elway had drive (and The Drive, while we’re at it, but that’s beside the point). Nobody wanted it more. Just look at the way Elway would put his body on the line in the playoffs, taking the sort of hits even Marshawn Lynch is smart enough to avoid in hopes of just a few more yards.

For Elway, though, there was a happy ending. He finally took down Bugs (Favre, in this case) on the biggest possible stage, winning his first Super Bowl in the fifteenth year of his career. The next year, he came back, and he did it again. Then he retired.

He’d waited so long to get to the top, and he made absolutely sure nobody could knock him back down, winning the Super Bowl MVP in his very last game.  Obviously he still had some gas left in his tank, and a lot of people don’t get why somebody fresh off two Super Bowls with all the talent in the world would call it quits. Some fans even go so far as to say it was a dumb thing to do.

Me? I don’t think it was stupid, or crazy.

I do think it was pretty Daffy, though.

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