Crush Lite

John Elway, owner, wants to throw a touchdown with Arena football.

"This is a chance to bring another football team to Denver," he said. "Because we know there are a lot of football fans that don't get a chance to go to Broncos games. Now they can come and watch us play. We have seats for as little as $7 -- the same price as a movie ticket. It's been a great experience for me, learning the business side of sports from the ground up and also having a chance to be involved in the football side, getting back to competing on Sundays." Translation: The CEO in the expensive suit makes the major personnel decisions.

Denverites love their sports, but Elway's godlike local image is certainly the thing that sold 10,300 season tickets before Sunday's opener -- five times as many as some AFL teams, and a couple of thousand more than this year's Denver Nuggets. The former Super Bowl MVP also has an extraordinary effect on little-known players who practice at the dog track, live together in the Holiday Inn and earn, on average, more than TV imposter Joe Millionaire but less than a competent plumber. "This is John Elway," one team official says. "When he talks, they're all ears."

Not surprisingly, many of those ears are attached to members of the family. Head coach Bob Beers is a former college scout for the Broncos, but Elway has known him since he was ten, when his father, Jack Elway, coached Beers at the University of Montana. Crush players Cyron Brown, Butler B'ynote' and Andre Cooper are all former Broncos getting a second chance; ex-Broncos quarterback Jeff Lewis is on the practice squad. The offensive coordinator is Mike Perez, another former Elway teammate, and the line coach is Keith Kartz, who played with Elway for eight years. Former receiver Michael Young is marketing director for the Crush; ex-lineman David Diaz-Infante is the color man on radio.

Even the team name -- supposedly chosen by a fan ballot -- is, in part, a throwback to the famed Broncos defense of the late 1970s. Just ask the grizzled old troupers who wore tattered "Orange Crush" T-shirts and huge orange-foam cowboy hats to Sunday's debut against Georgia. One of the serious alternatives, by the way, was "Colorado Wildfire" -- a name rejected as "insensitive" in the wake of last summer's raging forest fires.

For Kartz, a witty, playful guy who hung up his predominantly orange jersey in 1994, coaching is a blast. "I love it," he says. "It's a great deal, and a learning experience for me, too. Most of these guys are defensive players, and we're trying to make them offensive players, too. With only three linemen, the pocket's that much tighter, and we have to be more aggressive. Everything happens a lot quicker. I love it. This doesn't pay as well [as playing], but it's a lot more fun."

And what's it like working for his old teammate?

"We've been together for a long time, and it's good to see him," Kartz says. "We get along very well. It's hard for me to consider him the boss. But that's what he thinks he is" -- here Kartz bursts into laughter -- "so we'll just let that go."

After all, the president and CEO is only a rookie, and he has a lot to learn.

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