Elway: A Relentless Life

The first time I heard the name “John Elway” was in January of 1979.

Rod Dowhower had just taken over as head football coach at Stanford, replacing Bill Walsh, who’d gone to the 49ers, and I was transitioning from sports information director to a new job as associate athletic director.

I was walking past the stairway leading from the first floor in the Athletic Department, where the ticket office, administration, and Olympic sports were located, to the second floor, where the football staff was housed, when Dowhower came down the stairs with a big smile on his face and called me over.

“Gary, we’re signing the best high school player in the country,” he said. “But he’s much more than that…he’s going to be the best quarterback of all time.”

I stood there with my mouth open. He nodded his head at me and repeated the line, “best of all time. His name is John Elway.”

Dowhower was not a man given to hyperbole, so I figured this Elway kid must be pretty good.

And he was. Not just at Stanford, where he enjoyed a brilliant career and set a bunch of records, yet failed to play in a bowl game, but also as an NFL legend—No. 1 pick in the pro draft, NFL MVP in 1987, nine-time Pro Bowler, five-time Super Bowl starter, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Not quite the best of all time, but certainly in the top 10. In terms of talent, competitiveness, and success, there are very few who can measure up to John Elway.


And now, a new biography of Elway has just been released, “Elway: A Relentless Life.” And it’s terrific.

The book was written by veteran sportswriter and author Jason Cole, who was a student at Stanford during the Elway years, and later wrote for the Peninsula Times-Tribune, Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports, the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Jason’s a good guy and a good writer, but he’s outdone himself here with a book filled with rich detail, background and context.

The book includes behind-the-scenes stories never before heard or revealed that cover all the major aspects of Elway’s life: his family, the Stanford years, the father-son Stanford vs. San Jose State games, his flirtation with the New York Yankees after being drafted by George Steinbrenner, the NFL Draft and John’s refusal to sign with the Baltimore Colts, how his subsequent trade to Denver came about, clashes with head coach Dan Reeves and the beginning of the quarterback era in pro football, the rocky path to a Super Bowl trophy, John’s unease in retirement, his rebirth as a football executive in the Arena League, return to Denver as GM, pursuit of Peyton Manning, and, finally, his success in building the 2016 Broncos’ Super Bowl championship team.

I’ve known John on a casual basis for 40 years, although I rarely see him, and during his Stanford years persuaded him to play a couple of games for my softball team in the Palo Alto Rec League. One of the balls he hit over the fence across from Stanford Shopping Center is still in orbit somewhere.

I also knew his dad and best friend, Jack Elway, and shared some adult beverages with him on several occasions.

But I didn’t know many of the fascinating tales and family dynamics Cole uncovered.

All the famous moments in Elway’s career—the fourth-quarter comebacks, “the Play,” “The Drive”, “The Helicopter” and the back-to-back Super Bowl titles—are all beautifully chronicled here, along with the lowlights, challenges and stumbles.

Rarely will you read such a thorough, well-written, and uncompromising biography of a football legend.

Bottom line: this book is a must for any serious fan of the game.

Costello, Chapter 2: Last week former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello was the talk of college football after passing for an SEC record 623 yards to lead Mississippi State to an upset win over defending national champion LSU.

Costello returned to earth on Saturday. With a thud.

He threw three interceptions, including a pick-six just three minutes into the game, as the Bulldogs were upset 21-14 by lowly Arkansas, a team that had lost 20 straight SEC games.

It’s a crazy game.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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