Regular guy John Elway returns to a regular life

A FOOTBALL LEGEND RETIRES

Janet Elway was sitting in the family room of her home here not long ago, working on a chapter she was writing for a book on the Denver Broncos. She visits easily about her life and how it is being married to John, who for 16 years has been an employee of the Broncos.

She pauses, lost in thought, then says softly: "We are normal people living an abnormal life. That sums us up."

It does. John wanders in, exchanges greetings, then meanders off to look at mail. The same scene is repeated a few million times every day in a few million households around the world. She - like a few million other women around the world - is thinking of dinner. Maybe she'll have John "barbecue marinated steaks. He's also getting good at ribs. He has had problems with chicken, but he's getting better."

So what? Everybody has trouble barbecuing chicken. It's a normal problem for normal people.

There is, almost incomprehensibly, a lot of normalcy around the Elway home. Kids in and out. Phone ringing. Television going. Repair people showing up. Plans are being made. Time for a lesson for one of the three kids. Quick, everybody into the van. It's all screamingly normal.

The abnormal part, of course, is that Elway is in the process of announcing his retirement from pro football. The official announcement is scheduled for Sunday. He may be the greatest quarterback ever. In the last two seasons, he lead Denver to two straight Super Bowl championships. He's the NFL's all-time winningest QB.

In the recent run of cataclysmic retirements in sport - Michael Jordan in basketball and Wayne Gretzky in hockey - the focus properly has been on the numbers. Depending on how you spin the numbers, a case can be made that the Dolphins' Dan Marino is the best-ever quarterback, or maybe John Unitas of the old Baltimore Colts, Joe Montana of the 49ers, or Joe Namath of the Jets.

Elway didn't swagger, but he oozed confidence when he'd trot onto the field with the Broncos trailing in the fourth quarter. No problem. Here comes The Duke, as in John Wayne II. Presto, 40 times he lead Denver on game-winning fourth-quarter drives.

He competes like no other.

His joy lights up the field.

John Elway has made millions of dollars playing football, millions more in the car business. Yet Elway never has been defined by his money. Far more than any other football player, he is so much more than a football player and his records. He is judged by who he is and evaluated by the palpable quality therein.

His anchor in the early going was his dad, Jack, a longtime football coach. And later on, after meeting Janet, a world-class swimmer, at Stanford, her role became central. Listen to her:

"I am very, very comfortable in a supportive role. I was telling John this last night. I feel that is my job, to be there to love and support him and the kids. I don't feel any need to go off and be somebody. I am comfortable in the '50s mentality, mom at home and dad off at work. I believe totally in him and who he is, not only as a football player but as a person with a great mind. I only want to be there to complement and help things to go.

"Look, with all the money John has made, we have wonderful things. We have this gorgeous home, a home in Palm Desert [Calif.], a cabin in the mountains, just wonderful stuff. But we learned a long time ago that if you don't have the love we have, and the faith and trust we have in each other, that stuff can be really hollow.

"If you believe you deserve any of this, you are only fooling yourself. For whatever reason, God has given me John and given John this great talent. But he didn't just wave a wand. John has worked very, very hard.

"What we both like the best is just to sit right here and talk to each other, about us, about the wonderful and exciting things in life."

While the talk will rage about whether Elway is the best quarterback in history and whether he should have played one more year in an attempt to win an unprecedented third-straight Super Bowl, the far bigger point is obvious: Things are normal and fixing to be even more normal around the Elway homestead.

* Send comments to looneyd@csps.com

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