Super Bowl XXXIII may well be the last NFL game of John Elway's illustrious career and his former and current coaches took time Wednesday to pay tribute to one of the all-time great quarterbacks.
Much has been made of the falling out between Elway and Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who coached Elway for the first 10 years of his professional career in Denver. But Reeves had high praise when asked to put Elway's career in historical perspective.
"You got some great players up there, (Joe) Namath and (Roger) Staubach and (Bart) Starr and (Johnny) Unitas, I think John belongs up there with all those guys, Steve Young and (Terry) Bradshaw," Reeves said.
"They're just an elite group and I really think he belonged up there even without winning the Super Bowl," he said of Elway, who finally earned his championship ring last year.
"John is the complete package. He's extremely competitive, which I think is so important in that position. He did everything that you could ask of a quarterback. He was a great leader, a great competitor, scrambler."
While Reeves' recent heart problems could not be traced directly to Elway -- they haven't worked together in six years -- Reeves remembers well the anxious feelings he had on the sidelines as his franchise player scrambled into harm's way time and again to try to make something out of nothing.
"I can't tell you how many times when I was there I would watch him and I'd go: 'No, no, no, yes, yes, yes.' He would just make so many plays just by his natural football instincts."
Current Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who worked closely with Elway as an assistant under Reeves before being reunited with him as a head coach, said he would always think of the future Hall of Famer as "a guy who has played 16 years and always puts the team in front of himself."
Shanahan said he believed the reason the 38-year-old Elway has been ducking the retirement question all week is that "he doesn't want the focus to get away from this game and our football team.
"He's been that way throughout his career."