Moving Tribute Stirs Elway

Eric Sondheimer is the local columnist. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422

The band played "Scotland the Brave," the cheerleaders danced, the bleachers were filled to capacity and John Elway seized everybody's attention. It almost seemed like 1978 again at Granada Hills High.

"Everybody has dreams, but this is something I never thought of," Elway said Thursday during a poignant ceremony renaming the Granada Hills football stadium in his honor.

All morning, students, faculty, alumni and community members visited with Elway, a 1979 Granada Hills graduate and Super Bowl hero with the Denver Broncos.

Ed Gunny, a Taft High physical education teacher and father of Granada Hills wide receiver Peter Gunny, said he took the day off from work "to meet a nice guy."

"There's not too many like him," Gunny said. "I watched him shake 500 hands and he smiled to every person [at last year's alumni baseball game]."

Former Granada Hills basketball coach Bob Johnson, who served as Elway's high school counselor, drove in from Palm Desert for the ceremony.

"If you ever have a prototype of an All-American boy, he was it," Johnson said. "He was just a neat kid."

Freshman football player Bobby Baca shook hands with Elway and was ready to charge onto the field right then.

"It's something I'm going to remember," Baca said. "Not everybody gets to meet John Elway. We'll be the first players to play in the stadium."

The 37-year-old Elway brought along his 8-year-old son, Jack, an aspiring quarterback. Granada Hills football Coach Darryl Stroh gave Jack a Highlander hat. "I'm signing him up," Stroh said.

Jack, like his father, has been taught to speak honestly to the media, so when I asked what he thought of everything, he said, "It's kind of boring."

But then little kids were asking Jack for his autograph. Son, like father, tried to honor the requests.

It was an inspiring day, particularly for Granada Hills football players. Their record is 3-27 over the past three seasons.

"We've got the No. 1 band, the No. 1 cheerleaders, but our football team stinks," one Granada Hills student told another while leaving the ceremony.

If only their classmates knew that Granada Hills defeated two-time City 4-A finalist Taft in a spring passing game last weekend. There's a rebirth of Granada Hills' football program under way, and Elway's presence will only reinforce the players' renewed enthusiasm.

Earlier this week, Elway announced he would return for a 16th season as quarterback for the Broncos. He said he doesn't expect Kansas City Chief players to treat him any more kindly.

"If anybody's in Arrowhead Stadium when I'm there, you'll realize there's not going to be a farewell tour," he warned. "They'll want to kill me as much as ever."

Elway spoke about hope, loyalty and fulfilling dreams.

"You are the guys I started with, and I'll never forget you," he told a group of his former teammates.

He reminded students not to be afraid of failure.

"Chase your dreams, because dreams happen," he said.

Elway, so calm and cool under pressure on the field, was genuinely moved by the honor he received.

"It's almost mind boggling," he said. "It's truly unbelievable."

Sorry, John. It's truly deserving.

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