Elway's other job is captain of industry
Posted: Saturday January 30, 1999 08:05 PM
DENVER (AP) -- The most popular person in Denver is a used car salesman.
Although John Elway's day job is quarterbacking the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, he moonlights in the auto industry, earning a fortune off and on the field.
With his close-cropped blond hair neatly combed, Elway flashes his big-toothed grin and pitches 17 brands of vehicles -- new and used -- in ads for a huge dealership that bears his name.
The NFL's winningest quarterback hasn't said what he'll do when he retires in the city he rules, but his future is certainly bright.
Perhaps he'll pursue another crown as champion of entrepreneurship. Or maybe he'll become a part owner of the Broncos or even a politician.
"Everyone I have spoken with about his business acumen says quite simply he is one of the more knowledgeable, thoughtful strategic businessmen in professional sports today," said Dean Bonham of The Bonham Group, a sports and entertainment marketing consulting firm.
"As an athlete, he was the creme de la creme. As a businessman, I have little doubt he will have the same level of success."
The son of a football coach, Elway made a name for himself at a high school in Granada Hills, Calif., before heading to Stanford, where he earned a degree in economics.
In the NFL, he has racked up records while becoming the city's hero, thrilling fans with heart-pounding, come-from-behind victories since 1983.
He led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory last year and he'll get another shot at a ring on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
As Michael Jordan is to Chicago, Elway is to Denver.
"I don't think there's any question that John's been a tremendous asset to the community of Denver, as a player and off the field as a community leader, not just as a businessman," said David Treadwell, a lawyer and former Broncos kicker.
Friends tell story after story of Elway stopping outside theaters, restaurants and even on freeway off-ramps to meet fans and sign autographs.
"When you're with him ... it's out of sight," said Fred Emich, senior vice president at John Elway AutoNation USA. "It's unbelievable. He's the saint of Denver."
Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe called Elway "Denver's Moses."
"He has led Denver out of obscurity and into the land of milk and money," Sharpe said.
"I don't think there's ever been a guy in the NFL who symbolized his town like John Elway. If you think of Denver, you don't think of skiing. You think of John Elway. It's always been John, and even if he retires, it will still always be John."
In 1991, Elway and partner Rod Buscher bought their first auto dealership. Over time, Elway and a combination of partners, including Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, created a string of six.
Although Elway was mostly a figurehead early on, Emich said, he gradually took a more active role and even starred in advertising, creating fast-moving, campy ads laced with humor. And the "Elway badge" -- a logo on vehicles -- is coveted by fans.
"He created, in a very short period of time, a chain of one of the most successful auto dealerships in the history of this community," Bonham said.
In October 1997, Elway and his partners sold the dealerships to Wayne Huizenga's Republic Industries for $82.5 million, figuring it would be better to join the massive corporation than fight it.
Republic, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has acquired 17 dealerships in Denver, which last month were renamed John Elway AutoNation to capitalize on the quarterback's popularity.
Elway also has made millions on endorsements, pitching everything from telephone service to soup. He rode in a grocery cart for a satellite TV service, wore a milk mustache for the dairy industry and promoted newspapers for the Newspaper Association of America.
He also campaigned for a new stadium, which voters approved in November.
Shortly after last year's Super Bowl, Elway's name cropped up as a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. House, but he quickly squelched the rumors.
Despite that, dealership workers often ask Elway if he plans to run for office. He politely rejects the notion, saying he would not want to endure even more media scrutiny, Emich said.
The 38-year-old Elway and his wife, Janet, who have four children, also give time and money to the community. A foundation they created has raised more than $4 million in the past 10 years to battle child abuse and neglect. Elway also started a scholarship program through his dealerships.
"They realize not all children have it so well and that they could help in this way," said Carrie Nolan, president of Kempe Children's Foundation.
It is Elway's future that drives speculation these days. Many expect the Super Bowl to be his final game, although he has left the door open for a return.
Elway has said he will sit down with his family after the season and make a decision. He and Bowlen have expressed interest in a possible partnership as owners of the Broncos. Emich hopes Elway will take a more active role in the dealerships.
Treadwell speculates that Elway, deep down, wants to be a business magnate, probably as an owner or part-owner of an NFL team.
"It's just a gut feeling. I just think he wants more responsibility than being a head coach," Treadwell said. "I think he'd be very successful. He knows how the organization would run from top to bottom."
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