Michael MacCambridge's 2004 America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation:
Though the Broncos would lose to the Giants, 39-20, in the Super Bowl, Elway's exploits would go down as the benchmark in a new chapter of the mystique of the quarterback. The change had begin in the '70s, largely in the escapability and leadership of Roger Staubach, whose persona exuded none of the battle-of-the-wits aura of a Unitas or Namath. Most prized was the sense of leading a team, not with cleverness so much as with poise and will, out of a series of crises and into the promised land. It was personified by Staubach's scrambling, and the on-the-move improvisational skills of Joe Montana. And though others would lead nearly as many comebacks, it was Elway who elevated this daredevilry to a kind of exalted art form.
It was not as though wits weren't required in the new setup. Defenses were more complex than ever, and the chore of reading those defenses and divining those disguises still fell on the quarterback's shoulders. But when the actual act of calling the plays reverted to coaches and coordinators, then the quality most prized in quarterbacks went from craftiness (like Unitas's innate, confounding ability to call a play that was different from what the defense thought he would call) to composure (like Elway's joking with teammates prior to The Drive, or Joe Montana, absurdly cool under pressure, looking at the clock with 2:00 left in Super Bowl XXIII and asking his huddled offensive teammates, during a TV timeout, "Isn't that John Candy in the stands?").
What Schottenheimer would see, across fields from Elway for more than a decade, was this unteachable, unlearnable skill on Elway's part, the ability to keep his head when all about him were losing theirs. Teams would flush Elway from the pocket, force him toward the sideline, converge toward him, and then, in an instant, watch him stop running, set his right foot, plant his left, and peg an absurdly arcing long pass across his body and across the field to a wide-open receiver streaking open 40, 50, even 60 yards down the field on the opposite sideline. It was more acrobatic, if perhaps less intellectual than the play calling of Unitas and Namath, but the shot to the heart was just as lethal.
Tags: America's Game, Michael MacCambridge