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1980s professional career
Elway stormed into the mile-high air as one of the most highly anticipated athletes in the history of the NFL. The local newspapers ran a section that was called "The Elway Watch".
Elway would debut that season in the Broncos season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium. Elway's first career sack in the NFL came at the hands of linebacker and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Lambert.
Although the Broncos were playoff contenders for Elway's early years, Elway would go through the normal growing pains of a young NFL quarterback.
In the 1986 season, Elway led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI, after defeating the Cleveland Browns on a famous possession at the end of the fourth quarter that became known as "The Drive". (In a span of 5 minutes and 2 seconds, Elway led his team 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. The Broncos went on to win the game in overtime). Elway and the Broncos started out the Super Bowl against the New York Giants very well, building a 10–7 lead and then driving to the Giants 1-yard line in the second quarter. However, the Broncos lost five yards on their next three plays and came up empty after kicker Rich Karlis missed the field goal attempt. From that point on, the rest of the game went downhill for the Broncos. Elway was sacked in the end zone for a safety on the Broncos ensuing possession, cutting their lead to 10–9. Then in the second half, the Giants scored 30 points and ended up winning the game 39–20. Still, Elway had an impressive performance, throwing for 304 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, while also leading Denver in rushing with 27 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
In 1987, Elway was selected to start in the American Football Conference's (AFC) Pro Bowl team and won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. He went on to once again lead the Broncos to a victory over the Browns in the AFC title game, earning their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, this one against the Washington Redskins. The game started out very well for Denver, and they built up a 10–0 lead by the end of the first quarter. At the time, no team had ever overcome a 10–0 deficit in the Super Bowl. But in the second quarter, the Redskins suddenly stormed back with a record 35 points, and ended up winning Super Bowl XXII 42–10. Elway did have a few highlights. His 56-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel after just 1:57 had elapsed in the game set a record for the fastest touchdown in Super Bowl history, at the time. He also became the first quarterback ever to catch a pass in the Super Bowl, recording a 23-yard reception from halfback Steve Sewell on a halfback option play. With a porous defense unable to stop the Redskins offense, Elway was forced to take more risks on the offensive end. As a result, Elway's performance was rather disappointing: just 14 out of 38 completions for 257 yards and one touchdown, with three interceptions.
After recording an 8–8 record in 1988, Elway once again led his team to the Super Bowl after the 1989 season, with yet another win over the Browns in the AFC championship game, going on to face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. However this game ended even worse for the Broncos than their previous Super Bowl losses. San Francisco blew out Denver 55-10, the most lopsided score in Super Bowl history. Although Elway scored the only touchdown for his team on a three-yard run, his performance was exceptionally abysmal: 10 out of 26 completions for 108 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. But he didn't try to hide from the media after the game or downplay his dismal performance. And when he was asked if he wanted to go back to the Super Bowl after three losses, he responded that he wanted to go back every year, even if his team kept losing. Still by this point, many doubted that he would ever win a Super Bowl in his career.
1990s professional career
Ending on top (1997–1999)
It took Elway another eight years, but he eventually led his team back to the Super Bowl in 1997. During the 1997 preseason American Bowl game in Mexico City, Elway ruptured his right (throwing arm) biceps tendon. It was treated non-surgically, and he returned to play 19 days later, going on that season to play in his fourth Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos faced the defending Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers. Despite Elway completing only 11 of 22 passes, throwing no TDs, but one interception, they went on to defeat the Packers 31–24, finally winning a Super Bowl after three failed attempts for Elway (and four for the team). In 1998, the Broncos repeated this feat and Elway was awarded the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII, throwing for 336 yards and one touchdown with one interception, while also scoring a rushing touchdown in Denver's 34–19 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It was his last game, other than the 1998 Pro Bowl.
On May 2, 1999, at the age of 38, Elway announced his retirement from pro football. Elway is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks ever to grace the game. He has one of the best winning percentages in league history (148–82–1), and is tied for second most Pro Bowl selections for a quarterback (nine). He is third to Brett Favre and Dan Marino in career passing attempts, passing yards and completions. His four total rushing touchdowns in his Super Bowl games are the most ever by a quarterback. Elway is the only quarterback to have started in five Super Bowls. He is also the second player ever to score a rushing touchdown in four different Super Bowls (running back Thurman Thomas was the first).
On Monday September 13, 1999, his number 7 jersey was retired by the Denver Broncos during halftime of a game vs the Miami Dolphins; that same night he was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. (Craig Morton, his direct predecessor in Denver, also wore number 7 and is in the Ring of Fame alongside Elway). He was the first Broncos player to have the five-year waiting period waived. Also in 1999 he was inducted in to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
Also in 1999, he was ranked number 16 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the only player to have spent the majority of his career with the Broncos to make the list (Willie Brown, who began his career with the Broncos but spent more of it with the Oakland Raiders, also made the list). In 2005, TSN published another special feature honoring the 50 Greatest Quarterbacks. Elway was ranked third behind Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.
Elway was named the greatest athlete wearing the #7 by Sports Illustrated. Current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who grew up idolizing Elway and Joe Montana, wears number 7 in honor of Elway.
Elway also holds the record for most game-winning or game-tying scoring drives in the fourth quarter, with 47. Elway holds the rather undesirable record for most times being sacked (516) and most career Super Bowl interceptions, with eight picks in the five title games he played. He also ended his career with 148 victories, good for second place behind Brett Favre for most wins by a starting quarterback. He finished his career with 774 rushing attempts, one shy of NFL record-holder Randall Cunningham (775) for rushes by a quarterback. Elway's 3,417 rushing yards ranks sixth all-time among NFL QB's behind Cunningham, Steve Young, Michael Vick, Fran Tarkenton, and Steve McNair.
Elway threw for 1,128 yards in his five Super Bowls, third most behind Kurt Warner and Joe Montana. His 76 Super Bowl pass completions rank fifth, and his 152 attempts were a Super Bowl record before being broken by Tom Brady (156 attempts) 
Elway holds several Broncos franchise records:
* Most Total Offensive Yards: 54,882 yards (51,475 passing, 3,407 rushing)
* Most Total Touchdowns: 334 (300 passing, 33 rushing, 1 receiving)
* Most Total Plays: 8,027
* Winning Percentage: .643 (148–82–1)
* Most Career Passing Yards: 51,475
* Most Career Completions: 4,123
* Most Career Attempts: 7,250
* Most Touchdown Passes: 300
Hall of Fame
On August 8, 2004, Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, by his eldest daughter Jessica. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
* In 1979, Elway was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals to play baseball in MLB. George Brett, the future Hall of Fame third baseman for the Royals, is said to have remarked, "I hope this guy plays football."
* In the 1981 MLB Draft, Elway was selected by the New York Yankees in the second round. The following year, he played outfield in 42 games for the Class A New York - Penn League in Oneonta, New York. He had a .318 batting average, with four home runs and a team-high 25 RBI.
* In the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway was selected as the first overall pick by the Baltimore Colts, and on May 2, was traded to the Denver Broncos.
* On January 11, 1987, Elway executed "The Drive" - a last ditch, five-minute, 15-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the AFC Championship against the Cleveland Browns to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, leading to an overtime win by field goal (by Rich Karlis) for the Broncos. It included six passes made (nine attempted), five rushes and an eight-yard sack. He was named the NFL Most Valuable Player and the AFC Offensive MVP.
* Elway is the only player to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 200 yards in seven straight seasons (1985–1991).
* Elway was named the AFC Offensive MVP in 1993 when he passed for over 4,030 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 92.8.
* In 1997, Elway led the Broncos to their first ever Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XXXII. His three previous attempts in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV were unsuccessful.
* Elway is the oldest player to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl at age 38 in Super Bowl XXXIII.
* Elway is the only player to rush for a touchdown in four Super Bowls (XXI, XXIV, XXXII, XXXIII).
* On January 31, 1999, in Super Bowl XXXIII, Elway passed for 336 yards in a 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He was named the Super Bowl MVP.
* Elway was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times during his 16 seasons with the Broncos, a franchise record.
* Over his professional career, Elway led his teams to a record 47 fourth quarter comebacks.
* Elway's 148 wins place him second (to Brett Favre) for career wins among quarterbacks. He was also sacked 516 times, more than any other quarterback.
* Elway's 300 career touchdown passes places him fifth behind Favre, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton and Peyton Manning.
* Elway is one of only three quarterbacks to pass for at least 3,000 yards in 12 seasons; Favre and Marino are the others.
* On January 31, 2004, Elway was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.