John Elway and Peyton Manning aren't just the two most-celebrated quarterbacks in Broncos history.
They're now also two of the 10 most-celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history.
In a two-hour TV special on Friday, the NFL completed its six-week reveal of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, which is comprised of 100 players, including only 10 quarterbacks. A 26-person blue-ribbon panel that included current and former NFL coaches, personnel executives, players, media members and league voters picked Elway and Manning to be two of those 10 players.
Elway, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, helped the Broncos reach five Super Bowls and won two. A nine-time Pro Bowler and the league's 1987 MVP, Elway was the NFL's all-time winningest starting quarterback when he retired after winning back-to-back titles in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was on the show as a member of the blue-ribbon panel, coached against Elway in Super Bowl XXI as the Giants' defensive coordinator.
"John was a dynamic player," Belichick said during the show. "He had a tremendous arm. I don't know if anybody had a stronger or more accurate arm down the field than John did. He could throw on the run, could obviously throw from the pocket. It was very athletic: He could scramble, could make plays and extend plays on his own. Very smart player that seemed like he played his best football at the most critical times of the game — two-minute drives, in the fourth quarter, [on] third down, [in the] red [zone] area. … I'm just glad he didn't have three Super Bowl wins."
NBC sportscaster Cris Collinsworth, who co-hosted the show with Belichick and Rich Eisen, watched Elway's career as a colleague during his own eight-year career with the Bengals, and he agreed with Belichick's assessment.
"[He was one] of the guys that would try throws that others wouldn't, that you could literally see the effort in the motion, when he needed to get it into that gap," Collinsworth said. "… He wasn't the fastest guy, but he had something in his ability to see it, escape it, get outside on the edge and make throws from anywhere to anywhere. There were so many times that he would scramble to one sideline and hit somebody across the field on the other sideline. It was just phenomenal talent and [he was] such a competitor."
Manning was just as dangerous a quarterback as Elway, even if he didn't have the same arm strength or mobility. Rather, it was his ability to process information quickly, his accuracy and his understanding of the game — in addition to a reliable arm — that made Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
"When you play against Peyton Manning, you play against the quarterback and the game-planner and the offensive play-caller," Belichick said. "… He's playing you, he's under center, he's got the game plan, he's going to handle the protections, he's going to make the adjustments and he's going to call the plays, and he's going to execute the plays. You've got to really figure out how he sees the game, because in the end, that's going to trump everything else. It's unusual to see a quarterback like that. He's a little different than any of the other ones.
"Call it a chess game, call it a matchup, but he was all those wrapped up into one. You've got to know the play-caller, you've got to know who's making the game plan, and you've got to know how the quarterback thinks — and that was all Peyton Manning."
In a career that stretched almost two decades, Manning racked up five NFL MVP awards, 14 Pro Bowl selections, seven first-team All-Pro nods and won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and Colts.
Perhaps even more impressive was how he revolutionized the game through the air. By the time he retired, he was pro football's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, and he still holds the record for most passing touchdowns in a single season.
"Peyton was such a spectacular player," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on the show. "We had so many great games against him. To be on the other sideline, you just knew the margin of error was razor thin. He was a relentless competitor. And I think he had incredible expectation[s]. One thing I really admire — I felt like as a 199[th-overall] pick, I had a year where I could essentially just learn and play with no expectation. I mean, he was the first pick overall, he was probably the top-rated recruit in high school, and then ends up having the most prolific career of anybody that's ever played. I think that speaks a lot about him about expectation and meeting expectation, as well. Only he himself could really match his expectation; he was that type of athlete and competitor."
Manning and Elway are two of three former Broncos selected to NFL 100 All-Time Team. Cornerback Willie Brown, who played for the Broncos from 1963-66 before spending 12 seasons with the Raiders, is the other.