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.
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.
“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.