He had been the franchise for 15 seasons and was something of a tragic figure after agonizing Super Bowl losses in 1987, 1988 and 1990.
But John Elway found redemption Jan. 25, 1998 at Qualcomm Stadium.
Elway, 37, didn't have to put on an aerial show and carry the burden of the Denver Broncos' history on his shoulders as they faced the Green Bay Packers. This time, he had a new dimension to his offense in running back Terrell Davis, who rushed for 157 yards and a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns in the Broncos' 31-24 victory in Super Bowl XXXII.
Elway's statistics were ordinary: 12 for 22 for a season-low 123 yards, with one interception. No touchdown passes. Packer quarterback Brett Favre threw for three.
But the Packers didn't have Davis, who was voted the game's most valuable player.
Elway, however, was easily the most ecstatic.
"It feels two times better than anything I could have imagined," he told the Sporting News. "I have wiped the slate clean."
Not until the fourth quarter, though, was Elway sure the Broncos would end the NFC's streak of 13 Super Bowl wins.
The score see-sawed the first three quarters. The Packers scored first, on a 22-yard pass from Favre to Antonio Freeman, but the Broncos pulled even on a one-yard run by Davis in the first quarter and went ahead, 14-7, on a one-yard run by Elway five seconds into the second quarter. A 51-yard field goal by Jason Elam extended Denver's lead to 17-7, but Green Bay pulled close on a 17-play, 95-yard drive capped by a six-yard pass to Mark Chmura.
The Packers pulled even on a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell with 11:59 left in the third quarter, but Elway engineered a 13-play, 92-yard drive that ended in a one-yard run by Davis to give Denver a 24-17 lead. Again, Green Bay came back, tying the score, 24-24, on a 13-yard pass from Favre to Freeman. A 23-yard pass by Elway to Howard Griffith fueled a Denver drive early in the fourth quarter, and Davis capped it with runs of 17 yards and one yard to give the Broncos the lead with 1:45 left.
The Packers got to the Bronco 30, but Favre couldn't find Chmura on a fourth-and-six with less than a minute to play, and that elusive victory was finally Elway's.
"This is what we play for and this is what I play for," Elway told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
"There have been a lot of things that go along with losing three Super Bowls and playing for 14 years and being labeled as a guy who has never been on a winning Super Bowl team. To finally come out and show them ... it's unbelievable. This was the ultimate win."
Said owner Pat Bowlen: "There's one thing I want to say: "This one's for John."
Elway would return the next season and lead the Broncos to a 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, where he would win the final prize that had eluded him -- the Super Bowl MVP trophy.
But it was that first victory that certified him as a winner.