ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Six and a half years ago, John Elway strode to the lectern in the Broncos' team meeting room, stared into a phalanx of cameras, reporters and bright lights and told the football world that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
"This is what I have wanted to do for a long time," he said on Jan. 5, 2011, just a few seconds after Chief Executive Officer Joe Ellis and Owner Pat Bowlen had introduced Elway on his first day as the team's final authority on football operations.
Of course, to keep having the chance to push that boulder up the mountain for one season after another, you must succeed. There was only one standard, and after Ellis introduced Elway, Bowlen set the expectations in the clearest possible terms:
"I think we will win some more Super Bowls and I will not be saying, 'This one is for John,'" Bowlen said. "Maybe he will be saying, 'This one is for Pat.'"
Just over five years later, Elway did.
When Elway looks down at the largest and most grandiose of his three Super Bowl rings, he sees the words "This one's for Pat" engraved it. The ring and the four words stand as tangible evidence of the Broncos' Super Bowl 50 triumph over the Carolina Panthers and a goal accomplished for Bowlen, who could not fully share in the accomplishment as he grappled with Alzheimer's disease.
Elway's five-year extension is a reward for what's happened -- and the fact that Elway did what Ellis and Bowlen expected of him: He guided the Broncos out of the wilderness of mediocrity to relevance, contention and, ultimately, another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
His legacy as an executive already has plenty of definition. No matter what happens from this point forward, he has the big ring, another AFC title and five consecutive division titles from a club that went 36-44 and missed the playoffs in each of the five seasons before his arrival.
But his contract extension isn't just about what's happened.
It's about what's next.
It's about the belief that the man who guided the Broncos to one title as their lead football-operations executive can get them to at least one more. It's about the faith that Elway can do as a general manager what he did as a player: point the way for the Broncos to get to the Super Bowls in two different eras with different teams that evolved over time.
It's about the knowledge that the person who is best qualified to maintain the standard is the one who Ellis and Bowlen tapped to bring the franchise back to an elite level.
"John's clearly established himself as one of the best general managers in all of sports," Ellis said. "He's demonstrated impressive football instincts, a strong business acumen and a consistent ability to build competitive teams."
"While there's still a lot of work to be done, I'm excited about the future of this team and this organization," Elway said.
Elway wanted the hot seat, wanted the opportunity, wanted the pressure of the job. He got it, and he delivered, just like he did at every step of his football life, from high school to the pros, from the small field of Arena Football to the biggest stage.
Since taking over as EVP/GM in 2011, John Elway has made a number of strong draft selections. As the 2017 draft approaches, the Broncos' digital media staff took a look at his best pick from each round. (Photos by AP)
The odds are strong that he'll do it again in the place that most defines his professional identity.
"The Denver Broncos are in my blood," Elway said when he returned to the team.
They are in his blood, and he is in theirs. Their fates are intertwined. Given the success that they have achieved together in 22 combined seasons on the field and in the front office, it seems right that their bond will continue.
"This is a special place," Elway said as the new five-year contract was announced, "and the Broncos are home to me."