STATELINE, Nev. - John Elway carried mixed emotions Wednesday as he enjoyed a practice round with some friends in preparation for this weekend's American Century Championship at the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Elway is one of four celebrities who have played in each of the 23 events since its inception in 1990, when NBC conceived the event to fill the void the network had after losing the major league baseball contract.
"It was 1989. We had just lost major league baseball and (president) Dick Ebersol called me in his office," recalled Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network.
Ebersol told Miller, "You're the programming guy. We just lost baseball and you now have 26 weeks to fill. But you have no money to spend."
The network was open to many new ventures in sports to fill the void. One of the ideas was a celebrity golf tournament.
"Let's give it a shot," Miller thought. "This event was the first and most successful of those ventures. But we knew we needed the biggest star of that time to make it go, and that was Michael Jordan."
He said yes, and a good friendship was born. Jordan is playing in his 17th Tahoe event.
Elway also said yes, and he's been here ever since, with a runner-up finish in 2010 being his best. He finished tied for 15th in 2011.
"This is the last hurrah for me before we jump into the season," said Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who is now executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos. "I like playing here and I think I'm still competitive, but my chances of winning here are dwindling."
Next week, the spotlight will begin to shine for the anticipation of Denver Broncos training camp, where Payton Manning will wear a new uniform after many great years with the Indianapolis Colts.
"The hype is still there with our team," said Elway. "I think we've gotten better on both sides of the ball and having Payton Manning immediately makes us competitive. Payton works really hard. There's a reason he's so good. I'm looking forward to the season."
But for this week, Elway is looking forward to having a chance at beating other quarterbacks and former quarterbacks for a chance to hold the winner's trophy on Sunday. The favorite is Tony Romo, even though actor Jack Wagner is the defending champion
The 54-hole celebrity event uses a Stableford scoring system that awards graduated points for pars or better. The three other celebrities who have played in all 23 championships are Wagner, Mike Eruzione and Jim MaMahon.
By Craig Smith, former director of media relations for the U.S. Golf Association.