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After a 1-4 start in 2011, Fox put 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.

Elway acknowledged how remarkable Tebow’s performances were, but steadfastly refused to anoint him as the quarterback of the future.

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.

“The revisionist history is that, `Oh, anybody could’ve done that,’” Clough said. “I don’t agree that anybody could’ve done that. I think only he could’ve pulled that off the way he did it. He’s the only guy who could’ve withstood the kind of criticism and wrath … for deigning to be at all critical of Tebow.”

Elway’s deft handling of the Manning-Tebow maneuver has, all by itself, made him a top candidate for executive of the year in the NFL. It has also overshadowed other moves that have played big parts in Denver’s quick return to competitiveness. His first move was keeping veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, then a free agent. He also drafted Von Miller, who has 29 1/2 sacks over his first two years.

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.

These days, the love is back, courtesy of No. 7, of course.

“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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