‘Inside the mind of John Elway’ Analysis

Here’s the thing about John Elway: you already know everything there is to say about him as the superstar quarterback. The well went dry on anecdotes and tidbits from his playing days a long time ago, because of his stature.

Everyone knows about his story as that guy who couldn’t win a Super Bowl for so long before finally getting his fairytale moment with back-to-back titles to end his career. Who doesn’t? Even people like me who weren’t old enough to actually remember those last two Super Bowl runs could give you the summary of his playing career. (The fact that I had a 1998 Super Bowl XXXII pennant hanging on my bedroom wall growing up for some reason probably helped, even though I was never a Denver Broncos fan.)

And while “Inside the mind of John Elway” by S.L. Price mentions as much about Elway as the seemingly unwritten rule when writing about him goes, it is by no means the framework of the story. I, as the reader, certainly don’t care about a rehash of his career. Not when it’s a guy like Elway, whose career arc isn’t going to die from anyone’s memories anytime soon. I don’t think Price cared much about that, either, though he does scratch the surface about it.

No, Price is after something new: John Elway, the Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations. Sure, inevitably if you’re talking about a guy in football, you’re going to mention that he was a player himself if he was one. (In Elway’s case, of course, he was a damn good one.) But to do that, Price wanted to go deeper than just Elway’s quarterback reputation, hence the headline of the story. Price wants to find about the person, and he does a remarkably good job of that.

Now, I haven’t read everything ever written about Elway, mind you, and, again, I’m not old enough to actually remember Elway playing. But from what I’ve seen or could tell, Elway seemed kind of reserved about personal matters, which is fine if that was, in fact, the case. Regardless, though, I was impressed with how much Elway seemed to open up about things that you could understand he might not want to discuss with anyone.

Before he won his pair of Super Bowl titles, Elway’s Super Bowl experiences were bad. Really bad. Losing by 19, 32, 45 as a player and then 35 as a team executive in the big game isn’t fun, so talking about it probably isn’t going to be much better. Combine all that with the fact that, for a decade, it seemed like he would never get back to the Super Bowl, in general. It was a particularly tough pill for him to swallow then, which is made evident with this particular heart-wrenching scene:

Afterward Elway went home, and when his twin sister, Jana, called, her voice did something to him. He’d never cried in front of his four children. But he did then. “It was tragic,” Elway says. “I knew I was running out of time.”

And though he eventually did win, that can’t make up for losing your dad, twin sister and seeing your marriage fall apart all in a relative short period of time, which is what happened to Elway in 2001-02.

Again, another emotion-tugging anecdote:

Jana could barely breathe, even with her oxygen mask on. John sat with her, leaned over the bed. They had just turned 42. She whispered into her twin’s ear, “I just want to live.”

In the big picture, Price doesn’t reveal many earth-shattering notes about Elway, if any. Again, the Super Bowl losses are well-documented, and the story of his dad, Jack, as a pretty prominent football coach is well known among most football circles. But those anecdotes and details, along with Jana serving as his conscience and the effects of her mostly sudden death, were all necessary to piece together because it all helped explain the shaping of John Elway as this ultra-competitive guy who is driven to succeed, whether it’s on the field or in the front office.

Still, Price left at least one question unanswered: How did he manage to get all of this information out of Elway, considering the nature of the topics? That’s what left me curious.

Apparently, Price said, all you need to do is be direct. If you do that, whether you genuinely do or not, you should give off an aura of interest, and people will speak freely to you as a result because most people like to talk about themselves at least a little bit. You shouldn’t be forceful about it, but you can still pull it off by just being conversational. A lot of the time, he said, these will turn out to be the best interviews because of the good it might be doing for the interview subject’s psyche, for instance.

I appreciated this brutally honest advice from him. He didn’t sugarcoat it at all as some might do. I also found it resourceful that he said it’s good to be “insecure” when writing, meaning you should double and triple check your work, because that’s something I believe I do.

It was also interesting to me that he believes the kicker of a story is more important than the lede. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know, but it’s some food for thought, for sure.


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