Because of the quirks of the NFL schedule, John Elway only faced Dan Marino twice over 16 seasons. On those rare occasions, or anytime the Broncos quarterback was facing a Jim Kelly or Joe Montana, he knew he had to bring his game up a notch.
“I think the main reason to get amped is because of the fact that you know you have to play well because the quarterback on the other side is a real good player,” Elway said Tuesday.
It’s the sort of perspective the ex-quarterback feels free to offer now that he’s part of Denver’s management, not preparing for another big game the way Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are this week.
The two premier quarterbacks of their era will square off for the 14th time Sunday when Denver will travel to New England. Brady leads the series 9-4.
Elway, of course, engineered the deal that put Manning in a Broncos uniform for the 13th installment last year and this year’s rematch. Almost every one of the showdowns has had something significant riding on it; the Patriots have been to five Super Bowls in the Brady era, while Manning went twice in Indianapolis.
Elway only faced Marino twice and lost both times.
Their first meeting came in 1985, when both players were in their third year. The Dolphins won 30-26 in Denver. It figured they’d meet many times again over the years, but in an era when the NFL scheduling formula didn’t guarantee at least one game between every team every three or four years, it didn’t happen again until 1998.
“Amazing how the schedule fell back then,” Elway said.
Elway fared better against Montana. He went 3-3, though the two most memorable meetings both went Montana’s way: San Francisco’s 55-10 Super Bowl drubbing of the Broncos in 1990 and Kansas City’s 31-28 win in a classic Monday nighter in 1994, when Montana rallied the Chiefs to a last-second touchdown.
Much as he may have tried to downplay it back in the day, Elway conceded that anytime he saw Marino or Montana on the schedule, he knew it wasn’t just another game.
“I think that you always want to fare well against your rivals,” Elway said. “But also knowing that when you’re playing ... like, in my case, Marino or Montana, I knew I was going to have to play that well because you’re playing a great quarterback.”