28 March 2012: Elway demonstrates that leadership is about making the tough call

Elway demonstrates that leadership is about making the tough call

From the time he arrived in Denver, I was a John Elway fan. He fit the bill: He was the Bronco’s quarterback. What can I say? I bleed orange.

Elway, though, possessed more than other quarterbacks of his era, including Dan Marino and, as far as I’m concerned, Joe Montana. It went to the intangibles.

“The Drive,” the 1987 comeback against the Cleveland Browns, has become football lore. It would take him 10 more years to bring a Super Bowl to Denver, but bring not just one, but two, he did.

It was not only his ability to pull games out of the hat, the old Mile High Magic; Elway also impressed because what he achieved he had accomplished the old-fashioned way: through hard work.

From the time he was a lad, his father Jack worked with him on the fundamentals of not only throwing the ball, but also the smarts of playing the game.

In the end though, it wasn’t just smarts or skill; it was sheer energy, instinct and the rare ability to go to another level, where, if it weren’t merely a game, it would be the stuff myths are made.

The Legend of Elway dominated Colorado to the point that his name was pushed by Republicans for governor. When his name would come up in that context, I would tell friends that while I have the deepest respect for him, I could not imagine supporting him for public office.

A week ago that changed. Elway made arguably the toughest call in Colorado politics today, a tougher call than current Gov. Congeniality has made: He drafted Peyton Manning and traded Tim Tebow.

Tebowmania, Colorado style, is dead. Long live the Duke.

The deals are more than about football. The Cult of Tebow reached heavenly heights, which tells us much about us. Like politics becoming religion, so have sports.

At the high point of the craze, I wrote about how religion has become suffused in our athletic competitions, in the pagan tradition that can be traced to the ancient Greek Olympics and Pythian Games, held in honor of Apollo.

While countless other fans and players before him brought their religious rituals into the arena and onto the secular playing field, including the ubiquitous John 3:17 signs in the stands and players pointing to heaven after a homerun but never after a strikeout, Tebow took it to another level, and in so doing removed it from the ground where it belongs.

Elway recognized the problem: The Broncos are not about a cult of personality happy to make a lucrative profit on sales of #15 football jerseys and giving witness to Tebow’s Lord and Savior; their mission is to win Super Bowls, a task for which Tebow is not up to.

At his retirement after the 1999 Super Bowl, Elway walked on the Platte River. Today, to a large contingent of his erstwhile and dubious Bronco fans, he might as well go drown himself in it.

For the reason they damn him however, I salute him because it’s about leadership, making the tough call as it is often tritely phrased.

With two strokes of his light saber—his pen—Elway not only decapitated Tebowmania, he drove a stake through its heart: Manning to Denver and Tebow to New York, the town that never sleeps, where circuses abound and live perhaps the world’s most unforgivable fans, willing to give the Bronx Cheer to anyone, save the Virgin Mary, who doesn’t deliver.

Good luck with that one, Tim.

But that’s New York’s and Tebow’s problem.

The drama probably seems frivolous to non-football fans, but it’s telling and important. Tebowmania gripped the Colorado sports universe, which reflects the larger culture and society much like the network programs Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.

Sports and religion should not intermix, but religious zealots force that blend, causing discomfort among those, both of faith and of not, who simply want to enjoy a game and cheer for their team without having had to be born again. Thus, because of those who insist on dragging their mythologies onto the secular fields of play, John Elway has now become a polarized figure, both vilified and applauded.

At the beginning of The Drive on the Browns’ five-yard line, Bronco center Billy Bryan told the Bronco huddle, “We got ‘em where we want ‘em.”

The rest is history and now of legend.

Rock on! Elway for governor!

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