Elway is leading another Denver comeback

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 7:32 p.m.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At 52, the man who engineered The Drive and so many other great comebacks during a Hall of Fame career in Denver is producing yet another one: He is resurrecting Pat Bowlen's franchise, turning it from an out-of-touch, losing laughingstock back into a fan-friendly Super Bowl contender.

After he rode off into the sunset following a second Super Bowl win, things weren't quite the same for the team or the player.

He bought car dealerships, got into the restaurant business. He enjoyed success with both but had trouble staying away from his first love.

He bought a stake in Denver's Arena League team, which gave him some much-needed practice in how to be involved in football without being on the field.

“That was really hard for me the first two or three years, not being able to get my hands on the ball,” he said.

But there was no more helpless feeling than being a Broncos alumnus with no way to help. From afar, Elway watched as his old team went on a slow, steady decline.

In stepped Elway, who quickly established a direct line with fans through the team website and a Twitter account.

Shortly after his hiring, on Jan. 5, 2011, a series of dominoes started falling. Elway hired coach John Fox, who already had shown his penchant for turnarounds in Carolina.

After a 1-4 start in 2011, Fox put Tim Tebow in the lineup and, with a mix of guts, comebacks and luck, Tebow guided the Broncos to the playoffs, albeit with an 8-8 record.

A surgically repaired Peyton Manning became available, and Elway put the Broncos in the mix to sign him. Then he moved Denver to the front by finding an instant connection with the veteran quarterback.

After signing Manning, Elway made the corresponding decision to part with Tebow — a tough decision, but medicine Tebow fans could swallow more easily knowing who it was coming from.

This season, Elway signed veterans Keith Brooking, Dan Koppen, Trindon Holliday, Brandon Stokley, Jim Leonhard — all important cogs in a 13-3 team.

“He'd been a part of a lot of championship teams, a lot of Super Bowl teams and winners, so he understands what a football player looks like,” Fox said.

Elway also understands what a city looks like when it loves its football team — and what it looks like when it doesn't.

“The goal here, with Pat Bowlen, has always been that he wants a Super Bowl champion,” Elway said. “What everyone needed to remember is that that's still the goal.”

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