Young George Paton’s aspiration was to be the next John Elway.
He’s finally achieved it.
As a high school quarterback at Loyola High School on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, Paton tried to emulate his idol, Elway, who had played quarterback 35 minutes to the south on the 405 at Granada Hills Charter on Zaelzah Avenue.
“Everyone wanted to be John Elway where I grew up,’’ Paton said to denverbroncos.com.
Paton never was a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he has become the next Elway as general manager of the Broncos.
In his only interview with the team’s website prior to the media conference Tuesday, Paton praised the Broncos as “an iconic franchise with a winning tradition.’’
Yes, the Broncos were (past tense). The Broncos reached 10 conference championship games and played in eight Super Bowls, winning three. Elway was the quarterback in five Super Bowls and the Broncos’ top football executive in two championship games.
Paton must be envious. In his 24 years in the NFL, none of the three franchises Paton was employed by won a championship, competed in a Super Bowl or played for a conference title.
Can Paton emulate Elway now? Can the Broncos advance to another Super Bowl or back to the postseason during his reign? Can the franchise’s 13th GM get lucky and great? Can the Broncos be iconic with a winning tradition once more?
The Broncos had four consecutive playoff seasons with a man whose first name was Peyton. Can a man whose last name is pronounced the same lead the Broncos out of the wilderness in the West?
These are bullet points:
* Although Paton was extolled throughout the league as a draft evaluator, a salary cap specialist and an analytical authority, he was completely unknown in Colorado and didn’t know much about the state until 10 days ago. Since he joined the Bears as an intern in 1997 (when the Broncos would win their first Super Bowl) and moved on and up with the Dolphins, then the Vikings (2007-2020), Paton’s teams have played the Broncos only 10 times in exhibitions and regular-season games — including six in Denver. The last was a Vikings-Broncos exhibition in 2018 with Case Keenum (the Minnesota starter the year before) and Kirk Cousins as quarterbacks.
* One highly respected executive told me the Broncos “will take a step backward before taking three steps forward’’ and Paton certainly is aware the franchise must confront Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in four games every season.
* Vic Fangio and Drew Lock definitely will return in 2021, but nothing is guaranteed beyond. Paton’s agent also represents Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a popular choice as an NFL coach soon.
* Paton has a proclaimed philosophy of “draft and develop,’’ which is not a unique refrain in Denver. Both the Rockies and the Nuggets’ GMs have uttered that identical phrase. George is not as mile high on trades and expensive free agents. He does inherit 35 Broncos who are 25 and under. Paton will have as many as 11 picks in the 2021 draft.
* Paton doesn’t have an extroverted, charismatic personality. He won’t do commercials and have a regular TV or radio show, or play golf weekly. He is a nuts-and-bolts, dig-in-the-dirt work maniac who turns 51 in May, but still will work out as much and be in as great shape as his players.
* Paton, who has a degree in history, has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of NFL teams. Those Bears who hired George had four straight seasons of 4, 4, 6 and 5 victories. The Dolphins made the playoffs in Paton’s first season (2001) as director of pro personnel, losing in a wild-card game, but didn’t return to the playoffs before he left for Minnesota in 2007. The Vikings have finished with double-digit victories in six seasons and seven or fewer in five seasons. They’ve had a 3-6 playoff record.
* Paton personally and physically was fortunate to live in Minnesota 90 minutes from the Mayo Clinic. Several years ago he endured serious spine and back problems — described as similar to issues that forced Warriors coach Steve Kerr to take an indefinite leave of absence. Mayo Clinic doctors were amazed that Paton worked daily through his health concerns, which were treated and eventually alleviated.
The Broncos’ GM won’t ever be John Elway, but he will be George Paton and do it his way.