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The Elway Cross: When A Football Became A Cannonball

In 1998, I went on a ride that took me around the country with one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks that ever played the game of professional football. I had the privilege and absolute pleasure of spending a full season following the Denver Broncos’ legendary quarterback, John Elway, while producing and photographing his authorized pictorial biography “Elway.” I was able to be a fly on the wall and document the entire season as he put another win in his Hall of Fame career and won his first NFL Super Bowl title.

John Elway Super Bowl Win

During that year, I photographed John at home with family, socializing with teammates, and competing at the highest level with his teammates that winning season. Elway, along with three other members of that Super Bowl championship offense, including Hall of Famers Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, and Gary Zimmerman beat a stout Green Bay Packers team. The Packers were the defending Super Bowl Champions, the favorites to win, and a team team that also had future Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie white.

Reggie White and John Elway

While on the road with the Denver Broncos, I started to hear stories from his teammates about, and see photos of, the infamous “Elway Cross.” Allegedly, one of Elway’s college teammates told the story that if given the choice of catching an Elway pass in their hands or against their chest, the wide receivers always chose to trap the ball against their chest. The football was thrown so hard that the seams used to keep the ball together would leave a cross like imprint on the wide receiver’s chest. That became known as the “Elway Cross.”

Rod Gilmore, one of Elway’s college teammates, touted that Elway consistently impressed players with the power of his arm. Gilmore recalled that the first time John Elway passed a football at Stanford, everyone thought he had a cannon for an arm. In fact, Elway threw the ball so hard during practice that legend has it he broke two fingers on two of the team’s wide receivers. After two practices, both back up quarterbacks on the depth chart decided to transfer because of Elway’s arm strength and ability. He went on to win two back to back Super Bowls and was the NFL’s most valuable player in 1997.

I myself tried to catch a pass from John Elway while photographing him during practice that year. I didn’t get an Elway cross because I tried to catch it in my hands, but I can tell you that I remember to this day that my wrist felt like it was broken for a week after! My fingers are still numb from that one attempt at catching an Elway throw.

I will never forget the letter from the first publisher I contacted about publishing my Elway book at the beginning of the Super Bowl-winning 1997-1998 season. He basically wrote: “Marc, thank you for sharing this wonderful idea, but John Elway will never ever win the Super Bowl.” That publisher later called me while I was sitting on a stool next to John in the locker room after the Super Bowl game. John was showing his son Jack a copy of a newspaper with the headline that read “FINALLY!” Needless to say, the publisher ate crow!

About The Author

Marc Serota

Marc Serota

As a Portrait photographer Marc Serota has lensed iconic athletes and celebrities for CORBIS and GETTY as well as major brands such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the NBA, NHL and the NFL. Serota is a renowned award winning photographer having logged 25+ years with news agencies such as REUTERS, Getty Images, The Associated Press and UPI shooting the biggest entertainment, news and sports stories from the early 1990’s to the present. Marc has covered numerous Super Bowls, Olympic games, NHL Stanley Cup’s, NASCAR races, ATP and PGA events. Visit Marc's website: marcserota.com

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