By: WoodyPaige/Denver Post
“I wish it hadn’t come to this,” the Broncos’ No. 1 fan . . . or, at least, No. 7, said Thursday evening.
“This” is the trade of Jay Cutler, and that’s that.
John Elway’s first reaction in his first interview after the deal was done: “I’m disappointed. . . . It’s a sad day for one of the elite franchises in football and all the Broncos fans, and I’m sad.”
Mr. Bronco, the greatest player in the history of Colorado professional sports, genuinely was conflicted when he heard the large, but expected, news.
“Too bad they couldn’t find a way to fix it. I had been hoping they could put it back together.”
But the relationship between the Broncos and Cutler was as irreparably damaged as Humpty Dumpty, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. . . .
For 10 years, since Elway retired after consecutive Super Bowl victories, the Broncos have been searching . . . craving . . . praying for a worthy successor to The Duke of Denver, but it was not Brian Griese or Jake Plummer, and Cutler now is not to be.
“Jay’s a great talent. I think he can really play the game and has a chance to be a great quarterback in his career,” Elway said. “But they went so far down the road, and I guess there was no turning back.”
Twice Elway had his own NFL dilemma, once not dissimilar to Cutler’s.
When he was drafted No. 1 overall in 1983 by the then-Baltimore Colts, Elway declared he would sit out or play baseball rather than sign with the franchise (because he and his father, coach Jack Elway, despised Baltimore’s Frank Kush). Ultimately, the Colts gave in and sent Elway to the Broncos.
In the offseason of 1991, Broncos coach Dan Reeves discussed a possible Elway trade with Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said later: “There was no way we were going to do the deal. Forget it. It never got past the talking-on-the-telephone stage.”
Elway said Thursday that after he learned of the talks back then, “I was very hurt, so I can understand what Jay was feeling. It’s a trust issue. After some time, I had to get over it and move on. Although you don’t forget, you realize this is a business.
“Jay couldn’t get past it.”
And the same owner of the team didn’t say this time: “There’s no way we’re going to do the deal.” Instead, Bowlen said: “We’re going to do a deal.”
Elway became a Hall of Fame quarterback. Who knows about Cutler?
“Chicago will have to develop an offense around Jay. I know that a quarterback can’t get it done alone,” Elway said.
After Bowlen’s firing of Mike Shanahan, there was speculation that Elway might become an executive with the Broncos. Didn’t happen. And it was suggested after McJaygate broke out that Elway could be a mediator. Didn’t happen. But Ol’ No. 7, who spent Thursday night at the restaurant in Cherry Creek that bears his name, said he “preferred to stay out of the way, not get in the middle of it, and I wasn’t asked.”
Maybe, though, John could have saved the Broncos one more time, had he been asked.
“I don’t know Jay personally, and there’s not much I could have said to him, honestly. I respect Pat (Bowlen), who I think is the best owner in the NFL, and he and Jay should have talked it out. From what I know, the Broncos never really got into actual trade talks (with Tampa Bay that would have brought Matt Cassel from New England to Denver), but Jay received different information. There were a lot of egos involved, and all of a sudden, nobody could solve it.”
At the end, Elway wasn’t surprised that Cutler was sent away, but he was startled by the Bears’ offer. “I thought the Broncos might get a couple of draft choices, but I didn’t think two No. 1s, a third-round pick and a quarterback. If you have to give up Cutler, they did get a lot.”
It may not be the Deal of the Century but it is one of the most explosive.
To obtain Elway in the best Deal of All Time For the Broncos and Denver, the team gave up the player it drafted No. 1 in 1983 (tackle Chris Hinton), a No. 1 in 1985 (an obscure player) and reserve quarterback Mark Herrmann.
“We won’t really know about this trade until we find out what kind of players the draft picks are. If those guys are all-pros, it’s a hell of a trade. If they’re not, and Cutler goes on to win a Super Bowl, well . . .” said Elway, who didn’t finish the sentence.
Elway called Kyle Orton, who was acquired from the Bears by the Broncos, “a decent quarterback,” not exactly a ringing endorsement. “The Broncos now need a quarterback to step up and help get this team back to elite status in the NFL. They’ve got to replace what Jay gave to the team.”
Cutler irritated many Broncos supporters last year when he claimed he had a stronger arm than Elway’s, but John was never bothered by the comparison. “He’s very gifted,” Elway said.
From a distance, and quietly, Elway followed the entire ugly McJaygate episode and was affected “because I’m a fan like everyone else in Denver. I want the Broncos to be one of the best teams in the league and win the Super Bowl again. I hope that this works out for everybody.”
But, said No. 1 in your heart and No. 7 in your program, “There’s only one way to describe it. Sad.”