Football 101: No. 37, John Elway
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Let Me Count the Elways (Sonnet 98)
How do I loathe him? Let me count the Elways.
I loathe him to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For his horror movie smile and the way announcers praise
His every move, like that time he almost fell down
And he flipped a stupid little pass, and his receiver broke
Like a million tackles and scored, it was a joke
And they were like, “John Elway does it again, give him a crown”
Like he’d done anything; he’d oftentimes smash my faith
By stinking for three quarters, and only then
Put on a comeback cape and steal my breath
Lead his dumb Broncos to another win
And leave me gasping and wishing for death
OK, I don’t know if that gets across how much I abhor John Elway. So how’s this: In 2005, I went to a furniture store in Kansas City. The reason? Well, over the weekend, I happened to be looking through the advertising pullouts in my Kansas City Star. And in there they had a flyer from a furniture store. And on the fly, sitting on a loveseat and smiling that death smile, was John Elway.
The store was promoting an “Elway Home Sale.”
What in the name of all that’s holy was this madness?
An Elway Home Sale? Was I dead? Had I gone to the Bad Place?
I had to go the store and see if this was real. And if it was real, I don’t know, somehow I had to stop it.
This was 2005, understand, seven years after Elway retired, a decade after he crushed the spirit of Kansas City, almost 20 years since Elway ripped my heart out with The Drive and whatever role he played in The Fumble. And yet, seeing Elway in that ad, sitting on that loveseat, holding a football, well, the pain rushed back like all of it had happened 10 minutes earlier.
“What is it?” my wife, Margo, asked as she saw my face go to ash. I couldn’t even speak. I just pointed at the photograph and said something like, “Him! Him! Him!”
So we went to the store to determine if this nightmare was real, and we met a nice salesperson, who innocently handed Margo and me a John Elway Home Collection brochure, which featured six photographs of Elway either sitting in one of his furniture pieces (in one of them he’s watching a football game on TV like he was just a normal guy and not, as we now know, the devil) or standing beside them.
“Would you like to see the video?” the woman asked us.
Oh, yes, that’s right. There was a video. I know right now you’re saying: Wait, John Elway is the No. 37 player in The Football 101 and all you’re going to do is talk about how much you hate him and his short-lived furniture venture?
Yes. That is correct. There’s a great scene in one of umpire Ron Luciano’s books. From memory, things got so bad between him and manager Earl Weaver that the league separated them for a while. Finally, some sort of peace was brokered, and Luciano was assigned an Orioles game. In like the first or second inning, Weaver made some sort of semi-innocent comment like “Looked like a strike from here.”
Luciano threw him out of the game.
“You’re throwing me out for that?” an incensed Weaver asked.
“Earl,” Luciano said, “I haven’t seen you in a year. OF COURSE, I’m throwing you out.”
Right. I’ve waited almost 40 years to write this essay.
The video, I have to admit, was marvelous. I believe it was a Jim Jarmusch film. It began with Elway in the furniture factory wearing goggles, as if he was going to make an ottoman personally. Then there was a shot of Elway signing a furniture maker’s shirt. Then, Elway moved into an office where he met with some of the world’s top furniture designers. They were showing him plans, fabrics, types of wood. He nodded; he seemed to agree with the direction. He then offered some suggestions of his own. It was so riveting and I was so absorbed by it, that I didn’t even notice the salesperson sneak up behind us.
“Are you John Elway fans?” the salesperson asked us.
What was there to say? Could I really tell her that I have never hated any person in my life … except John Elway? Could I tell her that Elway stole my youth, stole my innocence, stole my sense of well-being? Could I tell her that Elway, with a 98-yard drive and constant comebacks and his annoying style and style of play that was somehow overrated and underrated at the same time, and his all-around villainous persona, broke my spirit?
“No, not really fans,” I told her.
“That’s OK,” she said. “You don’t have to be a fan. John Elway stood for quality on the football field. And now his furniture stands for quality.”
Yes, she said that. There was no response, not one I could think about. We left immediately, not only because Elway had won again, but because Margo was eyeing an Elway coffee table that she really liked, and if she had made a move to buy it we would have had to get divorced. On the way home, we stopped at a drive-thru, and I ordered a large Diet Coke. The person at the window spilled it all over me.
Elway. I really, really, really hate that guy.