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John Elway has played Peyton Manning's role

Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations

Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway answers a question during media day for Super Bowl XLVIII in Newark, N.J. (Jan. 28, 2014) Credit: AP

NEWARK - Before he became executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos in 2011, John Elway owned several auto dealerships in Colorado and California. Maybe a little of the car salesman in him came out during the wooing of Peyton Manning after he became a free agent two years ago.

Recalling his sales pitch during Super Bowl XLVIII festivities Tuesday at Prudential Center, Elway said, "I tried to show him what the Denver Broncos were all about. He was still in shock that he got released by Indianapolis, and it was a tough situation there.

"We tried to show him what our staff was about, the ability for us to blend our offense to what he had been doing for his 14-year career, the young guys we have and also what the Rocky Mountain region was all about. I felt really good about our story, and I'm glad he saw it the same way.''

No doubt, the Denver Chamber of Commerce is pleased with that version of events. What Elway was too modest to mention, of course, is that he could offer Manning something no other franchise could -- a Hall of Fame quarterback with five Super Bowl appearances and two rings as his boss.

Elway smiled at that suggestion and admitted, "I think that relationship definitely helped. I would like to have somebody that has been in the position running an organization when I was playing quarterback, too, that had the same mind-set. I've never really talked to him about exactly why he chose Denver, but I have a feeling that was part of the decision-making process.''

No kidding. Now here they are trying to win a Super Bowl together, trying to beat a physical Seahawks defense that has a chance to knock off two all-time great quarterbacks with one blow.

Elway could win a game by gunning a pass 65 yards on a line or by using his legs to escape the rush, even at the end of his career. Now, he can only squirm in his cushioned executive seat.

"I'm getting better with letting the control go, knowing there's nothing I can do,'' Elway said. "It was tough early.''

The toughest moment might have been the divisional playoff loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore last season. The Broncos had the game won until Joe Flacco forced overtime with a pass neither Elway nor Manning could do anything about. So Elway admitted his most anxious moment this season was the divisional playoff win over San Diego.

"I was more nervous for that game than I had been since I took the job just because of the impact I knew it would have on us as an organization if we lost,'' Elway said. "I look at the impact of each game, and that determines how nervous I get.''

Many commentators are calling Sunday's game a virtual referendum on whether Manning is in the discussion as the greatest quarterback to play the game. Elway scoffed at the notion.

"When people say that, they're looking for something,'' Elway said. "He had such a tremendous year, I mean, what else are you going to [say] about Peyton Manning that's negative other than, 'OK, we've got to go to his legacy.'

"I don't think this game one way or the other affects his legacy. He's going to be one of the all-time greats no matter what, and this will definitely help if we win it. But what I learned is that legacies don't get great until you're done. That's when people start talking.''

Imagine how comforting it must feel to Manning to hear that from a boss who has been there and done that.

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