Freemasons have always strived to push the boundaries of human achievement. In the world of athletics, particularly in the 20th century, our brethren are well known for their tremendous accomplishments. After 16 superb seasons leading the offense for the Denver Broncos, Brother John Elway earned the reputation as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.
Elway is now the President of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL). But in his day on the field, he threw for over 50,000 yards, was a prolific rusher, and a tremendous leader, guiding the Broncos to two super bowl victories as a player. Throughout his life off the field, Elway has long displayed the genuine heart and charitable spirit of a Freemason through his philanthropic efforts.
Childhood and High School Career
John Elway and his twin sister Jana were born in Port Angeles, Washington, on June 28, 1960. They joined the family of Janet and Jack Elway and their sister Lee Ann, who was one year older. The year after the twins were born, the family of five moved so Jack could pursue a job coaching football at Grays Harbor Community College in Aberdeen. During John’s childhood, the family split their time between Missoula, Montana, and Pullman, Washington, while Jack acted as an assistant coach at Montana and Washington State.
In 1976, Jack landed a job as the head coach at Cal State-Northridge, a Division II program in Southern California. The family moved to the San Fernando Valley, where John played football at Granada Hills High School. During the three years he played there, he displayed a talent for passing and running the ball.
John amassed 5,711 passing yards and 49 passing touchdowns, receiving numerous scholarships, including one from his father, who became the head coach at San Jose State after the 1978 season. Elway was also a skilled baseball player and was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 18th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball draft.
The Stanford Cardinal
For college, John attended Stanford University and played both football and baseball. He was a backup to future NFL quarterback Turk Schonert as a freshman, and became the starter as a sophomore after Schonert graduated. As a college player, Elway racked up impressive stats, completing 774 passes for 9,349 yards, 77 touchdowns, and 39 interceptions. He won the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1980 and 1982 and years later, in 2000, was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. ESPN ranked him in 2007 as a Top 25 Player on the College Football History list.
Elway also had an excellent baseball career while at Stanford. He impressed the New York Yankees in particular, and the club selected him in the second round of the 1981 Major League Baseball draft as the 52nd overall pick. He played for the Yankees’ short-season affiliate Oneonta Yankees in the New York–Penn League in 1982, but he was destined for stardom on the football field, not the baseball diamond.
In 1983, Elway knew the Baltimore Colts would select him as the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Unfortunately, the Colts were among the worst teams in the league, and Elway wasn’t eager to spend his career languishing in last place. To make things even less appealing, John’s father had little praise for Colt’s head coach Frank Kush, known around the league as a harsh disciplinarian.
The Yankees were eager to sign him to a major league contract, so John, recognizing his leverage, threatened to play baseball professionally if the Colts didn’t agree to trade him. He provided the Colts with several trade targets: a West Coast team, the Dallas Cowboys, or the Miami Dolphins.
His refusal to play for the Colts earned him scorn from some players in the league. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw notably commented that, “you should play baseball … he’s not the kind of guy you win championships with (American Football Database).” Despite some disagreeing with Elway’s trade requests, plenty of teams came calling, including the San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, the New England Patriots, and the Los Angeles Raiders. Ultimately, the Colts dealt Elway to the Broncos, where he would spend all 16 seasons of his illustrious career.
Although his drafting experience may not have been the smoothest, Elway quickly endeared himself to football fans – particularly in Colorado – for his accurate passing, steady leadership, and ability to rush the ball. Forcing the trade proved fruitful, and in John’s rookie year, he and the Broncos achieved a playoff berth for just the fourth time in its 24-year history.
John Elway earned a reputation for his clutch and resilient play throughout his career. He was known for his ability to turn around games at critical moments, including a notable comeback during the 1986 American Football Conference (AFC) championship game against the Cleveland Browns. In that famous game, as the clock wound down, Elway led the Broncos on a 98-yard drive to tie the game in its final seconds, only for the Broncos to win in overtime and advance to the Super Bowl.
Already in his first Super Bowl, forcing his way off the Colts proved the right move. While the Broncos didn’t win in their first three Super Bowl appearances (1986, 1987, and 1989), Elway kept the team competitive while putting up Hall of Fame numbers. Finally, John and his team went the distance in 1998. Thanks to one of his patented late-game drives during Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers for the championship. Unsurprisingly, now that Elway had led the Broncos over the hump, the franchise repeated the following year, earning a second Super Bowl victory. It was a fitting final season in John Elway’s’ miraculous career.
By the time John Elway ended his career in 1999, he had amassed what was then a record 148 wins (the mark has been surpassed in the decades since by Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady). Today, he is fourth in career rushing attempts (774) and seventh in rush yards (3,407).
Among his many career accomplishments, Elway was known for his ability to deliver in the biggest moments. He threw 1,128 yards across five Super Bowls, good for fourth most today behind Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Joe Montana. He also ranks fifth in Super Bowl pass completions and is the only quarterback ever to score a rushing touchdown in four Super Bowls.
Here is a list of career accolades and notable accomplishments that is hardly complete:
- Elway was the NFL Most Valuable Player and the AFC Offensive MVP in 1987.
- He remains the only player to throw more than 3,000 yards and rush for over 200 yards in seven consecutive seasons.
- He earned the AFC Offensive MVP in 1993 after amassing for 4,030 passing yards and 25 touchdowns
- During the Super Bowl XXXIII victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Elway passed for 336 yards and was named the Super Bowl MVP.
- 9X Pro Bowl selections which is a Denver Broncos franchise record.
- 35 comeback wins in the 4th quarter & overtime.
- Elway passed for at least 3,000 yards in 12 seasons; only Favre, Marino, Brees, Brady, and Manning have done the same.
- Elway became a Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2004 in his first year of eligibility. He was presented by his eldest daughter Jessica.
- The Stanford Cardinals retired Elway’s No. 7 in 2013.
- Elway was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Immediately after his retirement, the Denver Broncos retired Elway’s number 7 jersey and inducted him into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
- Sports Illustrated named Elway as the greatest athlete to wear the #7.
Philanthropy, Masonry, and Life Off the Field
Years before he joined the fraternity, John revealed the depth of his character when in 1987, he established The Elway Foundation in Colorado. Over 25 years later, The Elway Foundation still raises funds for charitable organizations based in Colorado and nationally that are focused on treating and preventing child abuse.
John Elway began his time as a Freemason on February 22 and 23, 2002, when he was part of a Grand Lodge of Colorado, two-day class. He passed his proficiency on June 28, 2002, and is currently described as a “perpetual member” or “life member” of South Denver – Lodge No. 93.
After more than a decade after he retired, Elway returned to the Denver Broncos, ready to make them contenders once again. In 2011, the franchise named him Executive Vice-President of Football Operations. He notably oversaw the 2012 acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning. Two years later, the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl for the first time since Elway was on the field. The team has put up promising efforts over the years but has yet to return to its former glory.
Today, Elway still works for the organization as the head of football operations, diligently working to bring a championship back to the city of Denver.
Want to learn about other famous Freemasons? Read our bios on Cy Young and Arnold Palmer!