In the Huddle with... John Elway


By Matt Christopher

Illustrated by The #1 Sports Writer for Kids

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ebook (Digital original)


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Examines the personal life and football career of the quarterback for the Denver Broncos.



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-09524-2

Chapter One:

Birth of a Quarterback

John Elway was born to play quarterback.

His grandfather, Henry Elway played quarterback for the University of Pennsylvania in 1908. In those days, players wore little padding and were rarely replaced during a game. You had to be tough to play, and Henry Elway was tough.

John's father, Jack Elway, also played football. He was a star in high school, and as a freshman quarterback at the University of Washington, he seemed to be on his way to a stellar collegiate career before a leg injury forced him to the sidelines.

But despite those bloodlines, John Elway, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Denver Broncos and one of the greatest quarterbacks in professional football history, didn't have it easy. He worked long and hard to fulfill his unlimited potential, overcoming a series of setbacks to turn a career that was once marked by disappointment and frustration into one that has earned him the nickname the Comeback Kid. Because as anyone who follows football knows, John Elway is at his best precisely at the time when everything looks the worst. Just ask the Green Bay Packers about Super Bowl XXXII.

Many of the characteristics that have made John Elway one of the greatest players in football came from his father. After Jack Elway was forced to abandon his playing career, it would have been easy for him to become bitter and forget about the game altogether. But he didn't. When he learned that his playing career was over, he didn't give up on a life in football. He decided to become a coach and put the energy he once put into playing football into learning as much about the game as he could.

After graduating from college, Jack began pursuing his dream. He was named head coach at Port Angeles High School in Washington in 1953.

Soon after that he met a young woman named Janet and in 1957 they married and decided to start a family. Jack looked forward to having another Elway continue the family's football tradition.

First, the young couple had a daughter, Lee-Ann. The Elways were thrilled. Eighteen months later, on June 28, 1960, Janet Elway had twins, a girl and a boy. The Elways named the girl Janna and the boy John.

Although Janet Elway often teased Jack that all he ever thought about was football, she knew that his family was important to him, too. Whenever possible, she and the children attended games and practices, roaming the sidelines and spending time together.

Each fall, Jack put in long hours running practices and studying the game. He didn't want to be a high school coach forever. His goal was to become a head coach at a major college or in the National Football League.

In 1961, Jack got his first collegiate coaching job, at tiny Grays Harbor Community College. The family moved from Port Angeles, Washington, to Aberdeen, Washington, as Jack pursued his career.

That move was the first of many the Elways would eventually make because of football. Young coaches, particularly those as ambitious and committed as Jack Elway, are always looking to move up in the coaching ranks. The Elways became accustomed to moving.

Like most young boys, John Elway looked up to his father. And no matter how busy Jack Elway was, he always tried to find time to spend with his son.

Not surprisingly, much of their time together was spent playing sports. Even before John had started school, he could throw and hit a baseball, dribble a basketball, and throw a football. Jack later told a reporter, "When John was little, he was always intrigued by balls."

In the backyard of the family home, John and his father would pretend to be famous professional athletes. When Jack would throw batting practice to John, he would announce the game like it was on the radio. "Dad was always the pitcher, announcer, and umpire," John says.

John would pretend it was the last game of the World Series and that he was a star like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays trying to hit the game-winning home run. When they played football together, it was the same thing: As Jack chased his son around the yard, John would pretend he was a famous running back.

Although sports were important to Jack Elway, he tried not to push his son into athletics, for he knew that that strategy often backfired. But he need not have worried. John loved playing sports as much as he loved spending time with his father.

After John began attending school, he could hardly wait for the school day to end. Often his father would pick him up and take him to his offices at the gym at Grays Harbor, where John would get to run around and play with some of the players.

After six years at Grays Harbor, Jack Elway accepted a position at the University of Montana. Even though he was just an assistant, the job was a step up for Jack. The school faced much better competition. The family moved from Washington to Missoula, Montana.

When John was in the fourth grade, he began playing competitive football. Jack Elway knew his son was a good athlete, and faster than most boys his age. But he had no idea if John had a future as a football player.

John's team was called the Little Grizzlies. At practice before the season, the team's coach noticed how fast John ran and made him a running back.

When the Little Grizzlies played their first game, Jack Elway had to miss the beginning of the game due to a conflict with his coaching duties at the university. But as soon as he was free, he raced to the field.

He saw the two teams gathered in the end zones, resting. It was halftime.

Jack spotted his friend Jud Heathcote on the sidelines. Heathcote, who later became head basketball coach at Michigan State and coached Magic Johnson, was Montana's basketball coach. His son played for the Little Grizzlies, too.

Jack Elway ran up to Heathcote and breathlessly asked, "What did I miss?"

Heathcote smiled and shook his head, "Well, Jack," he said, "either every kid on that field is the worst player I've ever seen, or your boy is the greatest player I've ever seen." In the first half of his first game, John Elway had scored four touchdowns!

At the time, John's favorite football player was Calvin Hill, the star running back for the Dallas Cowboys. John wore Hills number and even began calling himself Calvin Elway.

Against the other peewee league players, John might as well have been Calvin Hill. No one could catch him. He was the best player in the league.

John and his father soon began taking sports more seriously. In the summer and during school vacations, John started attending sports camps for baseball, football, and basketball. He was good at all the sports. One basketball camp was operated by George Raveling, who late became known as one of the best coaches in collegiate basketball. When John was only twelve, he was such a good basketball player that Raveling tried to persuade Jack Elway to have his son focus only on basketball.

But Jack Elway didn't want to do anything that might dampen his sons enthusiasm toward sports. He knew John enjoyed playing everything and that it was much too early for John to concentrate on a single sport.

By the time John entered junior high school, the family had moved back to Washington, where Jack had accepted an assistant coaching position at Washington State University in Pullman. He was developing a reputation as an excellent coach and recruiter whose particular expertise was the passing game. Jack Elway loved to have strong-armed quarterbacks who could really throw the football.

As John reached adolescence, he experienced a growth spurt. His body began changing from a young boys into a young mans. That is often an awkward time for a young athlete. Many children lose their coordination as they try to keep pace with their rapidly changing bodies.

Since John was playing so many sports, and playing so often, he was able to retain his coordination. But he got taller and heavier. Suddenly, the young boy who called himself Calvin Hill and ran circles around his peers wasn't the fastest boy on the field anymore. Although he still ran well, other boys were faster.

With a nudge from his father, John abandoned his dreams of becoming the next Calvin Hill and adopted a new hero, Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach. On the baseball field, John had the strongest arm around, and John's father thought that quarterback was the only position on the football field that could take full advantage of his son's talent.

John easily handled the adjustment to quarterback. Just by being around his father, he had a grasp of the game that few other junior high players had. That, combined with his strong arm and overall athleticism, made quarterback the perfect position for him to play.

He was an instant star. Few junior high quarterbacks anywhere could throw a football as far or as accurately as John Elway. The only problem was finding someone to catch his passes. John threw so hard that the other boys sometimes had a hard time catching the ball!


On Sale
Dec 19, 2009
Page Count
128 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

Learn more about this author