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Was Sunday Elway's Final Hoorah?


There were times Sunday when John Elway was a jumble of emotions, elated with winning another Super Bowl, saddened by the possibility this could be his last game.

Elway, who earned MVP honors, added another exclamation point to his Hall of Fame career, joining Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman as the only quarterbacks to win consecutive Super Bowls. At age 38, he is also the oldest to do it.

That makes the future questionable.

"I'm thrilled to death we won this game," Elway said. "I'm going to enjoy this win for a while."

And retirement?

"I'm not going to talk about that now," he said. "I'll cross that bridge later."

There was speculation a year ago that Elway would retire after winning the Super Bowl, but he chose to defend the title. Now there is the temptation to try and become the first quarterback to win three in a row.

And don't think the challenge doesn't appeal to him, especially after passing for 336 yards and tying the record for the second longest TD in Super Bowl history, an 80-yard hookup with Rod Smith, as Denver beat Atlanta 34-19.

"This definitely throws a kink in it," he said.

Elway also scored a TD on a 3-yard keeper, his fourth career rushing touchdown in the Super Bowl, and was 18-for-29 passing for the third highest yardage total in Super Bowl history.

Not bad for an old guy.

In the final minute, he was lifted and trotted to the sideline, helmet held high and tears in his eyes.

"That walk I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "I got emotional a couple of times. It ended up helping me in the long run."

Elway blistered the Atlanta Falcons over and over again, completing passes to a half-dozen different receivers and picking apart one of the best defenses in the NFL. He beat them short and beat them long, and did it without one of his chief weapons, tight end Shannon Sharpe, who missed most of the game with a twisted left knee.

Elway never missed a beat. He knew before the game Atlanta's defense would zero in on 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis. "Everybody talked about the running game all week," he said. "Anybody can stop the run if they put enough guys up on the line. I went in knowing I'd have the opportunity to throw the football."

That means the Falcons dared Elway to beat him. And that's what he did.

"I was looking forward to the opportunity," he said.

A year ago, Denver's win over Green Bay went down to the final play. This time, Denver was in control at the end, and Elway enjoyed that.

"To do this two years in a row is unbelievable," he said. "It definitely hit my heart because it was a great thrill."

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If John Elway doesn't come back, he went out on a perfect note. (AP)

When he ran a lap around Mile High Stadium after the Broncos won the AFC championship two weeks ago, some considered it a farewell to the home fans. Not even Elway is sure, though.

"I thought about it last year," he said before the game. "It would always be nice to go out on top and be able to walk away from this game winning the Super Bowl. That was one of the thoughts that I entertained last year."

He put it aside, though.

"I think the thrill of winning the game is really hard to walk away from," he said. "I have to cross that bridge."

This year's championship might =have been more difficult to achieve than last year's. There was the summertime illness of his wife, Janet, who underwent colon surgery. Then there were nagging injuries that cost him four games at a time when he said, "I don't have that many games left." And finally, there was the week-by-week pressure of Denver's 13-game winning streak, a run at the second perfect season in NFL history.

Still he reached significant plateaus during the season -- over 50,000 yards and 300 touchowns and the 47th fourth-quarter comeback of his career. And he capped it all off by beating his longtime coach, Dan Reeves, with whom he had a messy feud and split six years ago.

The health of his wife was an overriding issue in Elway's decision to return this season. "She wanted me to play another year and I think, deep down, I did, too," he said.

"All football players physically eventually run out of gas. I don't think you ever want to stop playing, and I think that's the biggest thing. Ever since I've been alive, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall have always been circled around a football game. The question of the unknown and how I'm going to react is definitely a scary thing and I'm sure there are a lot of things I'm going to miss. I don't want to leave too early, and I don't want to leave too late, either."

That hardly sounded like a man who had made up his mind.

Elway said retirement would be a family decision.

"We'll sit down and talk about it," he said. "Sometimes you run out of physical ability before you run out of mental desire. If you run out of mental desire before you run out of phyical attributes, then it makes it a little easier."

Neither quality was missing Sunday, and that's why the Broncos have another Super Bowl trophy.

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