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John Elway’s greatest attribute is his ability to be undeterred by setbacks

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The NFL is going to look at a lot different for the 2020 season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the way games are played and produced will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Aside from that, we’ll also have to get used to seeing players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Philip Rivers wearing different uniforms. It might take some getting used to.

Another player familiar to Broncos Country that will be in a different uniform is Cam Newton. Newton is now playing for the Patriots. Given his age and past credentials, I don’t think anyone could have imagined that Newton would be gone from Carolina by the time he was 31 years old.

In 2015, Newton and the Panthers were riding high. They had a 17-1 record, Newton was league MVP, head coach Ron Rivera was the NFL’s Coach of the Year and they played in Super Bowl 50. Five years later, Rivera and Newton are both gone.

Given their success together early on, many expected that tandem to be similar to Brady and Belichick. Tied together for years to come. Instead, it was over quickly.

It didn’t end because Newton is a bad quarterback and Rivera is a bad coach. In fact, Rivera is a good coach and Newton is a good quarterback. What happened was that they lost the Super Bowl, and it’s very hard to bounce back from a Super Bowl loss.

Losing a Super Bowl is something certain teams and players never recover from. The Packers and Brett Favre were supposed to be the next great dynasty until the Broncos upset them in Super Bowl XXXII. Favre never returned to the Super Bowl. He had a couple of opportunities in 2007 and 2009, but managed to blow it both times.

The Falcons were famously beating the Patriots 28-3 in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI and managed to blow it. Since then, Atlanta has slowly faded and are no longer in the discussion of elite teams in the NFL.

This is what makes John Elway’s performance as Broncos general manager following the team’s devastating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks all the more impressive.

In the 2013 season, the Broncos were absolutely dominant. The Peyton Manning-led offense set every possible record for an offense to set. Once they reached the Super Bowl, however, the Broncos ran into a buzz saw. The game wasn’t close and the Broncos had their doors blown off 43-8.

Following the Super Bowl loss, Broncos Country was demoralized. How could that team lose?

Instead of dwelling on the loss, Elway remained focused on winning. He knew the window with Manning was closing. He wouldn’t allow the loss to Seattle be a dark cloud over the organization. In the two offseasons following the loss to Seattle, Elway would begin to change the identity of the Broncos.

Elway “parted ways” with head coach John Fox and replaced him with Gary Kubiak. Having an all time great offense didn’t work in 2013, so in 2015 Elway built an all-time great defense. Two seasons after being bullied in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos bullied their way into a victory in Super Bowl 50.

Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have won a Super Bowl after losing a Super Bowl. Bob Griese, Roger Staubach, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Elway. No. 7, however, is the only quarterback in NFL history to lose multiple Super Bowls before winning his first.

As a player, Elway lost Super Bowls to the Giants, Redskins and 49ers by scores of 39-20, 42-10 and 55-10. As everybody knows, he would end his career by winning back-to-back Super Bowls against the Packers and Falcons.

As an executive, he lost the Super Bowl to the Seahawks by a score 43-8. He has been outscored in Super Bowl losses 179-48. But none of those devastating losses are the lasting image of Elway in the Super Bowl.

The most-underrated attribute of Elway is his ability to be brutally knocked down and get back up. When he gets back up, he doesn’t just keep eating punches, but instead he looks for the knockout. He doesn’t get scared and he doesn’t throw in the towel. He remains confident and unshakable.

The ability to keep pressing forward and chase Super Bowl rings is why Elway has a winning legacy.

The approach Elway brought to the Broncos as a player he has brought as an executive. Elway didn’t allow the loss in Super Bowl XLVIII to become the lasting image of the Manning era in Denver. The Panthers had a great team in 2015 and have nothing to show for it. The Falcons had a great team in 2016 and have nothing to show for it.

The Athletic recently had a fascinating column about what NFL Player Agents say about general managers. The agents were less-than-kind when talking about their dealings with Elway. Whatever. There isn’t one person in NFL history that has been able to brush off losses on the biggest stage and return a winner like Elway.

I was on the air recently with Chad Brown and we talked about this. Brown explained that it was tough for him after losing Super Bowl XXX. He said it stayed with him well into the following season. This makes total sense.

The Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in sports. Getting there is hard enough, let alone winning it. The disappointment is very tough to overcome. That’s why, other than the Patriots, you don’t see teams quickly return to the Super Bowl after feeling the sting of a loss.

The Panthers looked like they had bright future with Rivera and Newton in 2015 and in the end, it was just one really great season. The Rams didn’t even make the playoffs last season after losing the Super Bowl the previous season. The Seahawks haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since they gave it away at the goal line.in Super Bowl LIV. The loss of a Super Bowl stays with teams and organizations.

Elway’s greatest quality, one that he has better than anyone in NFL history, is not letting Super Bowl losses deter him from trying to get back and win. Elway has rightfully taken a lot of heat in the past four seasons for his decisions in regards to players and coaches. He hasn’t let the criticism rattle him, he has continued to push forward and because of that Broncos Country is once again excited to watch their team play.