Now that the gold confetti has been swept away from Super Bowl 50 and Colorado has hosted the biggest party the NFL has ever witnessed, it seems fair and timely to ask a serious question about the quarterback.
Not that one. Should he stay or go, Peyton Manning left a historical mark on the Broncos and will return, either way, as a celebrated member of the Ring of Fame.
The other one. The one whose throwback jersey is as much a part of Colorado's wardrobe as a trusty fleece. The one most responsible for a gaudy run of 63 wins in five seasons, three No. 1 seeds in four and a Super Bowl parade for the ages.
Is John Elway a better general manager than quarterback?
The evidence, along with his legend, is growing. How he built a world championship team is triply impressive when you consider Elway molded a winner in three dramatically unique ways: With Peyton Manning's Star Wars offense, the Orange Rush defense and whatever it was that delivered Tebow Time to a playoff victory.
Elway flipped the roster once. Then he flipped it again. His first season as GM was highlighted by the Tebow-to-Thomas miracle in a playoff win against the Steelers. Of Denver's 22 starters against Pittsburgh in that game, only two were starters in Super Bowl 50 -- Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas.
It seems everything Elway touches turns to gold. That includes the golden Super Bowl won by the Broncos at Levi's Stadium, a blitzkrieg of the Panthers that sent 1 million people into the streets of downtown Denver a couple days later.
His first draft pick was just named Super Bowl MVP.
His marquee free agent signing later won his fifth NFL MVP.
He's the only GM over the past five years to acquire future Pro Bowlers through the draft (Von Miller, Julius Thomas), street free agency (Peyton Manning, Willis McGahee, DeMarcus Ware), unrestricted free agency (Louis Vasquez, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward) and college free agency (Chris Harris Jr., C.J. Anderson). This one was for Pat, no doubt about it, and it was written by John.
His rosters have been strong enough to win with a quarterback who was out of the league one year later, a quarterback who deserves a separate wing in the Hall of Fame and a quarterback he drafted. They Tebow'ed, called in the Sheriff and Brocked On. Even the quarterback Elway sought to lure to Denver turned out to be a keeper; Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, whom Elway made a push for, ranked as the top breakout performer in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Then Elway designed a defense so powerful the quarterback plays second fiddle.
"Sunday's performance was historic," team president Joe Ellis said of Denver's demolition of the Panthers. "John brought those players in."
"There wasn't a whole lot more we could do offensively," Elway said of the transition from the NFL's greatest passing offense to its greatest pass rush. "If we could hopefully get better on the defensive side, that would help us out that much more."
There was no hopefully about it. Of all the sound bytes that set the stage before, during and after Super Bowl 50, a comment from Gary Kubiak struck a chord. Kubiak said everything Elway had promised during the coaching search came true.
"In our minds, in this building, he's the coach of the year," Elway said of Kubiak.
It was Elway, of course, who identified Kubiak as the final piece to the championship equation.
And the Broncos are being undervalued yet again. Denver has the seventh-best odds to win Super Bowl LI. Seventh! And they just finished beating four of the six teams with better odds.
It says here the Broncos will be better in 2016 than in 2015. The most valuable attribute of the defense was its pride. Pride dies hard. The offense should be improved, in part because it can't be worse than it was at times in 2015.
Mostly the Broncos won't slip because of the man running the show. As the quarterback, Elway ensured Denver would always be in the playoff conversation. As the GM, Elway has made certain it is always in the Super Bowl conversation.
As the quarterback, Elway averaged a Super Bowl appearance roughly every three seasons. As the GM he's led the Broncos to two Super Bowls in five seasons. As the quarterback he averaged 10.6 wins per season; as the GM, 11.6. With Elway as the quarterback his teams won seven division titles in 16 seasons; as the GM, five in five.
Combine his 21 years with the Broncos and Elway's resume gets really goofy: 15 playoff berths, 12 division titles and three Lombardi trophies. The Broncos with Elway have advanced to seven Super Bowls, or once every three seasons.
Imagine for a second if Elway had never manipulated a trade from the Baltimore Colts to the Broncos on draft day in 1983. Nothing against Mark Hermann, Chris Hinton or Ron Solt. But here's a hunch the three players the Colts ultimately received in exchange for Elway wouldn't have been at Denver's Civic Center with 1 million people chanting their name. Funny how history works.
Football history's incendiary debate is identifying the greatest quarterback of all time. Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Peyton Manning would be fine choices among the quarterbacks I've seen. I always take Elway, in part because he won big no matter the system, coaching staff or personnel around him.
Elway's first Super Bowl title as a quarterback came in his 15th season. His first as a GM came in his fifth. The next one is coming soon, and it will support a wild idea: John Elway is even better as a general manager than as a quarterback.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.