DENVER -- On the eve of the NFL draft, the Denver Broncos still don't know the intentions of their 38-year-old, Hall of Fame-bound quarterback.
Apparently, neither does he.
But some of his teammates are preparing for the unthinkable: life without John Elway.
Of four players interviewed during off-season workouts on Thursday, two said they believe Elway will retire this year. Another said he was surprised Elway came back for the 1998 season.
Only one, running back Terrell Davis, said he thought Elway would return for a 17th season this fall to try for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl victory.
"My gut feeling is he's done it all and I think he'll retire," defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "For my own selfish reasons, I don't want him to. But he can't live for everybody else.
"He's been in the league, what, 16 years? He's 38 years old. He's done everything he can do. He has two Super Bowl rings, was the Super Bowl MVP and has all those records. He could have gone into the Hall of Fame five years ago.
"People say he should come back for a third straight title. Then why not a fourth one? It never stops. If he wants to retire in peace, he has to do it eventually."
Fullback Howard Griffith agreed.
"I don't know what he's going to do, but my guess is he'll probably retire," Griffith said. "The selfish side of us wants him back on the football team. But at this point in his career and his life, he's achieved a lot of things. He's got to do what's best for John Elway and his family, as opposed to what his team and his organization want him to do.
Wide receiver Rod Smith said he has given up anticipating Elway's moves.
"My gut told me last year he wasn't coming back," Smith said.
Smith also said those who note that Elway has not participated in the first two weeks of the voluntary conditioning program at Broncos headquarters are reading too much into his absence.
"He's been doing this so long, he doesn't need to get his body going this soon," Smith said.
Davis was the lone optimist.
"My gut feeling is that he'll be back," Davis said. "But there's nothing that I've seen or heard to support that.
"I think right now everybody is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. As a team, we have to be prepared for either decision."
Last week, Elway said the major question in his mind was whether he was physically up to the challenge. He said he wavers daily about whether to play another year and has no timetable for making a decision.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has declined all interviews in the weeks leading up to the draft.
But at the NFL meetings in Phoenix last month, Shanahan said, "At the end of the season, I was 99 percent sure John was going to retire. Right now, I don't know. I think it could go either way."
Shanahan said the competitor in Elway and his opportunity for a third straight title make the decision difficult.
Shanahan has expressed confidence going into the 1999 season with Bubby Brister as his starting quarterback and second-year player Brian Griese as the backup. With Elway missing all or part of six games because of assorted injuries last season, Brister filled in admirably, compiling a 4-0 record in games he started.
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