E-Mail by Blake Pirtle Bio/Address
Welcome to the new Sports Column. When
asked by my dear friend, Julie Zimmerman, if I would be interested in doing a sports
column for the Cell Door, I was totally excited, for during my 8 years on Washington
State's Death Row, sports has been the one passion I've been able to hold onto. The I
thought what the heck am I thinking?! I know nothing about writing a sports column! But
I've decided to give it a shot and let the readers decide if my work is worth reading.
What I hope to bring you is a wide amateur view of all type of sports. I do believe that I
have enough ideas to keep my sports page interesting to all reader, but will always be
open to any comments, view, ideas and suggestions from the reader. So don't be afraid to
write me at the address at the end of my column. Please speak your mind!! As editor I will
reserve the right to publish your ideas, thoughts and suggestions on my sports page. So
please be very clear if you wish to not have your material published, for I will
respectfully humor your requests!
For my first column, I have chosen something that is very easy for me to write -- the very best quarterback that ever played in the NFL.
Last year I saw an ESPN
magazine with John Elway on the cover titled "THE MASTER." This really made me
smile, for I myself have been calling him Master Elway for well over a decade now. I think
he is that good, believe me I can make people sick with my talk of john Elway and the
Denver Broncos. The people around me truly start to despise John Elway and the Denver
Broncos during football season. I can still remember as a teenager growing up in Spokane,
Washington. How, whenever Denver played Seattle, my father used to make me watch the game
from the front porch through the living room window because I wouldn't cheer for the
Seahawks. He believed that since we lived in Washington State we had to cheer for the
Seahawks. Well, I just couldn't do it!!! I am happy to say, though that after we moved to
Montana, I successfully converted my father into not only becoming a Denver Bronco fan,
but also a true John Elway fan. I am just sad that he did not live long enough to see John
lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl Championship.
I do believe that the title of master really fits John Elway perfectly thought, for he truly was and is a master at the game of football. In my view the best quarterback ever to play the game.
Elway was highly praised as a college quarterback. His arm strength is unmatched to this day. He had not only speed, but also a scrambling ability never seen before in a college quarterback. Plus he was big - well over 6 foot tall and weighed over 200 pounds. A little ways into his professional career he became the model for all highly sought after quarterbacks in the NFL. John went to Stanford University and was the Baltimore Colts' first pick in the 1983. But before they drafted Elway, he had made it clear to them that he would not play football in Baltimore. If they insisted on drafting him, he would play baseball instead.
Elway's decision on this was not about money, or greed, or even the fact that the Colts were not that great of a team. He simply did not want to play in Baltimore. He wanted to stay as close to the west coast as he could. So not to lose out on their #2 draft pick Baltimore instantly traded Elway to Denver and that is where he started and ended his career -- something you don't see in pro sports anymore.
In his first seven years, John led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances... three losses. Some would say that the three losses were extremely embarrassing! Elway never had a complete team around him, He either had a great offense and no defense. Or an acceptable offense, great passing game but no running game. Or an acceptable running game and mediocre passing game. He never had the complete team around him. So a lot or almost all of the pressure to win these Super Bowls fell on his shoulders. Needless to say these were three of the worst games of his career. And it was said that he didn't have what it took to win a Super Bowl. It would not be until 1997 that Elway made another appearance in a Super Bowl. Eight to nine very, very long years.
In 1995 Mike Shanahan was hired as head coach. He not only had been Elway's quarterback coach in the past but, I believe, he also had been at one time the Broncos' offensive coordinator. So they were very familiar with each other's talents and strategies. All of us who were Elway and Bronco fans at that time knew that this was going to be the marriage made in heaven.
Also in 1995 the Broncos drafted in the 6th round a little know running back name Terrel Davis out of Georgia. Two hundred players had already been picked before the Broncos chose Davis.
Terrel Davis should have a column set aside for himself, but I will give you a little snapshot of him today. I myself doubt that the Broncos actually expected to get anything out of their choice of Terrel. But during the pre-season games Davis won the job of starting running back. He rushed for over a 1000 yards in 95, over 1300 yards in '96, over 1700 in '97 and over 2000 yards in 1998. He was the AFC leading rusher in the '95, '96 and '97 and the NFL leading rusher in 1998. He took home the most valuable player in 1998! These are incredible accomplishments. The Broncos had found a diamond in the coal mine.
So now Mike Shanahan not only had Elway to build around but also the best running game ever -- something the Broncos never had before.
As in a game of war, Mike used his draft choices and the free agent market place to put together a formidable array of foot soldiers to surround his two generals. He wanted to build a team that not only could play in the Super Bowl, but also win it too!
In 1995 the Broncos and Elway went 8 & 8 -- a 500 season that did not get them to the playoffs. But it was a start. In 1996 Elway led his team to a 13 and 3 season. They made the playoff and even won home-field-advantage. The media had them as the favorite to go the Super Bowl and win it. But they lost the first playoff game in Denver to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was Elway's 14th year in the pros and Davis' 2nd and they were out of the running.
In 1997 Elway being on of the most unselfish players you will ever see play the game, restructured his contract, took a huge pay cut. His salary went from 5 million to a little over $200,000 a year. The reason? So, Shanahan and the Broncos could pick up the last few soldiers they need to become a powerhouse. Although they finished the regular season with a 12 and 4 record they did not win the AFC Championship. They entered the playoffs as a Wild Card team and no home field advantage.
The Broncos' first game was against their former nemesis, the Jaguars in Denver once again. But this time they won easily and enjoyed a little revenge for 1996. The second game was in Kansas City -- a very tough place to win on the road. But Elway's Broncos won a very close game against the chiefs. Now they had one more game they had to win to reach the Super Bowl. Only one other team in the history of the NFL had made it to the Super Bowl as a Wild Card. Once again on the road in Pittsburgh and once again the Broncos won a very close game. So in his 15th year, Elway was going back to the Super Bowl for the 4th time!!
Elway and the Broncos were facing the Greenbay Packers, the defending Super Bowl Champions. No one thought that Elway had much of a chance. Up to game day the Broncos were 13 point underdogs!! Only Elway, the Broncos, and their fans believed the could win.
Master Elway performed as he had in other Super Bowls -- not so good. But then he didn't have to do all that well because he had Terrel Davis. Terrel had a great game. He rushed for 150 yards and score three touchdowns -- a Super Bowl record. The soldiers on the defensive line punished the Packer line all day long. Sure, Greenbay caught the ball, but once they did they sure did feel it. The Broncos won the championship and Terrel Davis got the MVP. John Elway finally had his Super Bowl Victory and I can truly say that it was one of the most supreme moments in my life to see Master Elway hold that trophy in the air... tears falling from his eyes. It only took him 15 years to do it. No one could ever say again that "he didn't have what it takes to win the big one!"
Two plays from that game have stuck in my mind. On third down and long Master Elway's protection broke down. He took off on his 36 year old legs with 3 Packers bearing down on him. Elway looked to the sideline and the first down marker. He sees where it is and he drives on in. In mid-air he gets mashed by two defensive Packers, spins out of their grasp and slams to the ground. When he hops up to his feet, he sees the official signal "1st down." Protecting his body didn't matter to him, only the 1st down.
In the second to the last play of the game, Greenbay had the ball. They were down by 7 points and time was running out, but they are on a strong march down the field. They went for a push over the middle and Steve Atwater of the Broncos defense came flying in with such a violent head but that not only did he knock himself dizzy, but also a Greenbay receiver and one of his own defensive players. The commitment to win of the soldiers on the line and the generals running the show were enough to bring tears to my eyes.
In 1998 Elway's team the team to beat. Defending Super Bowl Champions, they went 13- 0 before they lost a game. They finished season 14 and 2, buzzed through the playoff and easily beat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Master Elway in one of the best games of his career, passed for 300 yards, passed for one touchdown and rushed for another. So in his 16th year in the NFL at the age of 38 Master Elway not only won back to back Super Bowls, but also took home the MVP for his outstanding game performance. He is the oldest person to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl.
On his road to 5 Super Bowl starts, a record for a quarterback, John Elway put together one of best careers a professional quarterback could hope to have. Here are some of his statistics:
Most games won as quarterback
Most game winning 4th quarter drives
Most game winning final 2 minute drives
Most (5) Super Bowl starts for a quarterback
Most sacked quarterback
One of 2 quarterback to pass for more than 50,000 yards
One of 3 quarterback to pass for over 300 touchdowns
Oldest player to score a Super Bowl touchdown
I will always say that he
was and is the best to ever play the game because of these statistics and his pure love
and commitment to the game he loves.
Not only is John Elway an excellent football player, but he is also a loving father and husband and a very successful businessman. When people like me visit Denver, Colorado, it's not on account of the Rockies or the beauty of the state, it's all about John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
When John Elway decided to go out when he was on top of his game, I supported him 100% Whether he retired to go play a lot of golf or to spend a lot more time with his family, I say, "Do what your heart tells you to do John -- that's all any of your fans want for you. You have given us all a life time of memories and hope!!"
My next column will tackle the new baseball season which should be in full swing by the time our next issue comes out.