By Larry Fine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - John Elway lived the dream 17 years ago when he hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champion before riding off into the sunset of retirement after a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos.
Now Elway is trying to orchestrate another happy ending for the Broncos as general manager and possibly another perfect exit for one of the game's best players, Peyton Manning, when Denver meet the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's Super Bowl 50.
Two years ago, Denver rode a high-scoring offense to the NFL title game, with Manning throwing for an NFL record 55 touchdown passes and record yardage before suffering a 43-8 shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
"We broke all of those records that year, but we had the opportunity that offseason to get better on the defensive side with (outside linebacker) DeMarcus (Ware) coming available, (safety) T.J. Ward was out there, (cornerback) Aqib (Talib), and then (safety) Darian Stewart this year," Elway told reporters.
"Plus, we've drafted on the defensive side of the ball, and I think it's all come together."
Denver enter the Super Bowl as the National Football League's top-rated defense, a metamorphosis similar to one that helped Elway achieve a career goal of winning the title as a quarterback.
For all his previous strong-armed passing feats, Elway was not able to wear the NFL crown until the Broncos developed a dynamic ground game with Terrell Davis to make them complete.
That change led to back-to-back Super Bowl titles for Denver, with Elway, who played on Denver teams that lost three Super Bowls in a span of four years in the 1980s, calling a brilliant career quits after the triumphant 1998 season.
Elway now takes pride in the job he has done as architect of another championship contender.
"Sure I’m proud of it. I’m proud that we’re able to compete and have had good teams since I’ve been back," said Elway, who took over as general manager in 2011.
Part of his plan was getting Manning to agree to a $4 million pay cut to free up money for free agents, dropping him to $15 million in salary this season.
Manning, who missed seven starts due to a foot injury and showed diminished power in his throwing arm as he registered nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, has admitted he is considering retirement.
Elway said he gave some advice to Manning, 39, on how to approach this trip to the Super Bowl.
"Stay in the moment," Elway said. "He doesn’t need to worry or think about retirement now.
"He has plenty of time in the offseason to reminisce and look back."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)