DENVER — John Elway the executive is about to find out if he’s as good at bouncing back as John Elway the quarterback was.
Elway compares the heartbreak of Denver’s loss to Baltimore in the playoffs last January to Jacksonville’s upset of the well-rested Broncos 17 years earlier when they also were 13-3 and the AFC’s prohibitive Super Bowl favorite.
The Broncos bounced back to win the next two Super Bowls.
“And believe me, that’s what I’m praying that we’re going to do these next two, three, four years is to use last year and be able to get over the hump and get to the Super Bowl and be able to win it,” said Elway, now the Broncos executive vice president.
As a player, Elway trudged through the tunnel at Mile High in deafening silence after a stunning 30-27 home loss to the Jaguars.
He made the same lonely walk in a suit and tie eight months ago following Denver’s 38-35 loss to the Ravens at Sports Authority Field.
The Broncos kick off the new season against the Super Bowl champion Ravens on Thursday night at Sports Authority Field, site of Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown toss to Jacoby Jones over Rahim Moore that tied the game at 35 with a-half minute left in regulation.
As a player, Elway used the heartbreak off the loss to the Jaguars to stoke his internal fire as he guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl win over Green Bay a year later.
“It was a great incentive for us to come back and have an even better year the following year,” Elway said.
This time, he’s using the gut-wrenching early exit from the playoffs to make sure there’s no complacency at Dove Valley again. He added Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Louis Vasquez as the crown jewels of a $125 million offseason spending spree.
Peyton Manning said Elway created an “uncomfortable atmosphere” at team headquarters to keep everyone motivated this offseason.
“We still kind of have a scar from losing that playoff game and I think players need to kind of be reminded of that daily,” Manning said when the Broncos gathered for training camp.
“You’d better have a drive,” Manning said. “You’d better have a goal for every season and when you have a hunger, whatever you want to call it, a thirst, a little fire in your belly. So, I think certainly our team’s had that and it’s about trying to go a little further, trying to finish.”
Former Broncos such as Alfred Williams, who was a defensive end in Denver in the late 1990s and now is a radio personality in the Mile High City, said the only way to turn the pain of a playoff failure into something good is to “keep it on the dashboard, not in the rearview.”
It’s something you want to get over, but never forget, he said.
“They had about four to five minutes of bad football toward the end of that game that cost them. A lot,” former Broncos great Terrell Davis said of Denver’s latest playoff heartbreak. “It was like one decision after another after another. And so now you have to say, ‘Listen, if we ever get back into that situation, we’re going to do something different.’
“And that’s what we did. We knew we were the better team — we weren’t that day against Jacksonville — but we just tell ourselves that nobody could stop us if we don’t stop ourselves. And that’s the way we would play.”
Hall of Fame tackle Gary Zimmerman put off retirement for a year so he could make amends in 1997 after the loss to the Jaguars, keeping the defeat fresh in his mind as motivation.
“That was embarrassing. It was, you could use every adjective. It devastated me because I thought (a win) was going to happen. I had gone my whole career, had never been there, I thought this was it, I could retire, be happy. And then it didn’t happen. We came back the following year, we went through so many obstacles, went in as a wild card, nobody gave us a chance, we fight our way to the Super Bowl,” Zimmerman said.
“So, I think they’ll be really poised for some adversity this year. If some adversity hits them, it won’t be anything compared to what hit them last year. I think this will be a positive for them in the long run for them, as it was for us.”
Ravens-Broncos, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Sports Authority Field, Denver
TV/CREW: NBC, Ch. 8 (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya)
ABOUT THE RAVENS: No Super Bowl champion has repeated since the 2004 Patriots. And Baltimore has suffered some key veteran departures, including WR Anquan Boldin, S Ed Reed and LBs Ray Lewis and Paul Kruger. Joe Flacco, who threw 11 TD passes without an interception in the postseason, was rewarded with a huge contract extension and new edge rusher Elvis Dumervil should bolster the pass rush.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS: Peyton Manning, making his 16th opening weekend start, can’t wait to work with prolific slot receiver Wes Welker. Putting pressure on Flacco is a challenge because Dumervil is now on the opposing sideline and All-Pro LB Von Miller is suspended six weeks. CB Champ Bailey is nursing an injured foot.
KEY STAT: Manning is 7-2 versus Baltimore with 18 TD passes.
IRA KAUFMAN’S CALL: Ravens, 24-20