Teeth: Too big. A remark made famous by the Seattle Seahawks' bad-boy linebacker Brian Bosworth—"Elway looks like Mr. Ed"—has stuck among the Elway-haters in town.
Hair: Too long. Though it's not as long as wide receiver Vance Johnson's, whose ponytail has to be bound up twice and tucked into his helmet.
Tips: Too small. Columnist Teri Thompson of the
Rocky Mountain News
wrote last week that Elway "never tips waitpeople." O.K., one writer remembers Elway having five 99-cent beers and leaving the pennies as the tip. But that was six years ago. A few weeks back in Cleveland, Elway left a $10 bill on a $30 check. Journalism marches on.
Media relations: Not accessible enough. During lunch breaks at practice he sometimes hides in a trainer's room and plays cards. After workouts he'll occasionally walk back to the players' building via the street outside the training complex rather than face the hordes waiting for him on the grounds.
Drinking: Rumors abound in Denver that Elway has a drinking problem, but he has never been arrested for driving under the influence, has never been picked up on any charge by local police, has never worn a Betty Ford Center T-shirt. What fertilizes the rumors are the town's two Bronco-bitten newspapers and four omnivorous sports talk shows on TV. A
Rocky Mountain News
gossip columnist even wrote last week, " John Elway was spotted at Rodney's playing backgammon and drinking Bud Lights." Says Elway, "I think I'm going to sue. Those were Coors Lights."
It stops being funny when ESPN asks you whether you have a drinking problem. That irks him. "There's got to be some background to why you ask a question like that," says Elway. "You should have a reason, not just a rumor. When something like that gets out, people think it's true whether you're innocent or not. I'm trying to be a role model, and I hate to have to sit there and answer questions on tape about whether I have a drinking problem."
Passes: Too few. It's true that Elway's numbers are down, but so are his chances to throw. The Broncos have passed 40 fewer times than at the same point last season, and they're running more. "We played the Indianapolis game [on Oct. 15] in two and a half hours," says Elway. "When was the last time the Denver Broncos played a game in two and a half hours? We must be running more."
All in all, Elway is on a short leash, in and out of uniform. "Yeah," he says, "and it's getting down to the nub."
The Broncos are running more largely because they finally have a first-rate ballcarrier—rookie Bobby Humphrey, who has a chance to win both Rookie of the Year and Haircut of the Year with his four-inch minisculpture of the Louisiana Superdome.
What's more, Denver's defense has been, of all things, superb. So why take risks? A defense that was 27th against the run last year is now, under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, tied for fourth and ranks fourth over-all, as well. Wade's Waiver Wire Wonders feature two Plan-B free agents, one true free agent, a rookie, two 12th-round draft picks and a linebacker who had been cut three times in the past.