Former Denver Broncos star Karl Mecklenburg is confident that John Elway can match his Hall of Fame playing career with success as a football executive.
“John is an excellent leader. He understands the game, and he’s also had a lot of success in business,” Mecklenburg said Friday in Billings.
Elway, Mecklenburg’s close friend and former teammate, was named the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations last January, and Bronco fans are hoping the former quarterback can help turn around a franchise that slumped to a disastrous 4-12 record in 2010.
Mecklenburg was drafted No. 310 as a defensive lineman in 1983, the same year that Elway was the draft’s top pick. Mecklenburg overcame long odds and blossomed into a disruptive player who gave offensive coordinators fits by lining up in seven different positions in the defense. He went on to play in six Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls before retiring in 1995.
Speaking at the Billings Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau’s 47th annual Sales Persons Breakfast, Mecklenburg emphasized the qualities of leadership: courage, desire, honesty, goal setting and the ability to forgive yourself when you don’t perform up to expectations. A record 1,001 people turned out to see Mecklenburg speak.
The Minnesota native overcame numerous obstacles during a 25-year football career that was interrupted by injuries and other setbacks. But a desire to be “the best football player in the world” always motivated him.
“If you take that first step in the right direction, the angles change in your favor,” Mecklenburg said.
Mecklenburg played his first two years of college football at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. After a breakout second season, the coach called him into the locker room. Mecklenburg was expecting praise. Instead, the coach suggested that Mecklenburg give up his scholarship because his father, a physician, could afford to pay for his college.
Mecklenburg transferred to the University of Minnesota and made the team as a walk-on. His coaches again threatened to pull his scholarship after he was injured. That simply motivated Mecklenburg, who rehabilitated his knee, who then had a successful college career and blossomed into an NFL star.
Mecklenburg gives about 50 motivational speeches a year. His strong Christian faith and his commitment to family are prominent themes in his talks. But he also emphasized the ability to make changes.
During his third season, Broncos coaches hatched a plan to transform Mecklenburg from a defensive lineman to a linebacker. Mecklenburg said the years that he spent playing hockey gave him the strength and agility to make the switch to linebacker.
While signing autographs afterward, Mecklenburg provided a few other Broncos-related observations.
He said he has confidence in new Broncos coach John Fox, assuming that the NFL labor dispute is solved between now and September.
Mecklenburg believes the Broncos will select a defensive lineman with the second pick in the April draft.
He also believes that quarterback Tim Tebow, a first-round draft pick last year, has the potential to be a star. “He has a lot of great leadership qualities,” he said.