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Special Super Bowl Edition

Aired January 31, 2014 - 22:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight, from our set on Super Bowl Boulevard in Manhattan, a special edition of UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS.

Unmatched. Peyton Manning's boss knows a thing or two about Super Bowls. John Elway took the Broncos to five and won twice. And Elway brought Manning to Denver for a reason.

JOHN ELWAY, DENVER BRONCOS: We were getting a hall of famer quarterback with a chip on his shoulder. To me, you can't find any better guy than that.

Unreal. Joe Montana won four Super Bowls and was named MVP three times.

Unparalleled. Emmitt Smith won three Super Bowls and he misses the rush.

EMMITT SMITH, FORMER NFL PLAYER: This is physicality. This is like boxing. This is like getting into the Colosseum in Rome.



RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST: Welcome to a very special edition of UNGUARDED. Yes, that's us up in the box, suspended above Super Bowl Boulevard, where we have not one, but three football Hall of Famers with nine championship rings between them.

And we start with John Elway.

Elway will forever be a hero in Denver for winning back-to-back titles in the late '90s. Now he's returned to the Super Bowl, once again with the Broncos, but this time as the team's chief of football operations. He's the man who lured Peyton Manning to Denver.

And I asked him just how he managed that. Plus, what it feels like to be here without his jersey.


NICHOLS: This is your first time in a blazer at the Super Bowl. How different does it feel this week?

ELWAY: It feels a lot different actually. You know, as a player, this is the biggest game of your career, especially as a quarterback. There's a lot of things that ride on this game because of the attention that the game gets. Being with a coat on, you're a lot more in the background, which is a little more enjoyable, especially physically it's a lot easier, because I know physically I can't handle it these days.

NICHOLS: What is the hardest part for sitting and watching the game? Do you get pit in your stomach?

ELWAY: Yes, you get nervous. But I also know that we have a good football team. And if we go out and play like we're capable of, and we have a good chance to win.

NICHOLS: You had that great commercial a couple years ago where you showed off your dance moves.


ELWAY: We were having fun together and so, therefore, I wanted to, you know, break out the moves.


NICHOLS: Did you guys win? Are we going to see a John Elway dance if you win?

ELWAY: You might, yes. You know what? They can see anything -- it's anything you want. And the fact that we're able to win, I'll be able to show that off. It would be great.

NICHOLS: Come on. It'd be good.

ELWAY: I'll try anything if we can win.

NICHOLS: All right. Well, we all remember your second Super Bowl win, holding up that trophy. You walk off the field, you retire. You're only 38 years old. You still have your half of your life ahead of you.

What was it like trying to figure out what you wanted to be when you grow up from there?

ELWAY: Well, you know, when I first retired, for the first couple of years I wanted to get away from football.

I was in the car business. At that point in time realize, after two years, I played enough golf and kind of wanted to dip my foot back and get involved in football again and therefore got involved with Arena Football League.

Just came by to welcome you to Arena Football and wish you luck in tomorrow's game. Had that for six years and run that team. And so, and I enjoyed that. I realized that, you know, having been in the game of football my whole life, that's where I was born to be. It was hard not having a scoreboard on Sundays afternoon in the fall because that's all I was used to. So, I found out that I needed a scoreboard.

NICHOLS: You also had some hard years personally after you retired. Your dad died, your twin sister, I know you were very close to battled cancer and she died, you got divorced. How did you emerge from that change from the man we knew and saw on the field?

ELWAY: There's learning experiences in everything. I think that those are also situations meant to make you tougher. To me, it's God saying, OK, you're going to see both sides of it and make you a better person. Winning championships and having some tough times.

NICHOLS: That's the person you were when you arrived back at the Broncos. You got all these other star athletes who tried to make it as executives. The track record is not great. Your contemporary Dan Marino went into player personnel with the Dolphins. He lasted three weeks before he quit.

What were you scared off when you started?

ELWAY: Well, I mean, I think any time you take on a new challenge, it's the unknown. I knew a lot about football, but there was also -- I knew I had a lot to learn. As I said when I took the job, I know what I don't know. I'd just enjoyed the position because it's given me a chance to be back in the game and have that scoreboard and continue to learn.

NICHOLS: You went to Stanford. We all knew you were a smart guy, but you were known for your arm as a player. Now, you enter the second stage in a second arena. You can't throw your way out of this situation.

Was it strange for you not to have one of your main gifts in football just not at your disposal?

ELWAY: Well, I mean, I think there's -- you know, obviously when I had the arm that I had, that was my security blanket. So, when you move away from that, I think that's -- as a football player, you have the control of everything that goes on the field, really as a quarterback. Whereas in the position I'm in now, now you're putting those guys together with no control between the lines.

So, you know, fortunately, I got no problem in turning that control over to Peyton. He's done a tremendous job with that, and my job has been to get the best team around him.

NICHOLS: Your signature move as an executive at least so far was moving on from Tim Tebow and acquiring Peyton Manning. For people who don't remember, Tim Tebow had just won a playoff game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shotgun for Tim Tebow. Sets, throws, pass caught, touchdown! NICHOLS: He was enormously popular in Denver and across the country. What made you think, you know what, this isn't the right situation and I'm going to take the risk to move on?

ELWAY: Well, I mean, Tim had a tremendous year and after being 4-12, the way he came in, I think he won seven out of his first eight starts. But anytime you have a guy like Peyton Manning, and you got a guy that's a Hall of Fame quarterback that's out there that still had a lot of football left in him, we couldn't pass up that opportunity.

NICHOLS: It was still a risk with Peyton. He had multiple neck surgeries. You bet the farm on him.

ELWAY: Well, you know, after having met -- you know, he got -- when Peyton got released, and he came to Denver and I had a chance to spend the day with Peyton and kind of see where his mindset was, we were getting a hall of fame quarterback with a chip on his shoulder. To me, you can't find a better guy than that. He's a competitor.

He was on a new mission, and I was ready to jump on that mission with him.


NICHOLS: We have a lot more for you right after the break. Elway says he knows whether Manning plans to retire if he wins here on Sunday.

Plus, Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith on the state of the NFL.


SMITH: You see some of the carnage that's been left from the game.



NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols and welcome back to a special Super Bowl edition of UNGUARDED.

We've been talking to two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway, who now heads up the Broncos' football operations.

Two years ago, Elway had a lot of competition recruiting Peyton Manning, including from -- of all teams -- the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle coach Pete Carroll flew to Denver unannounced to try to snatch Manning away before he signed his contract. But Elway persevered.


PEYTON MANNING, DENVER BRONCOS: We all know that nothing lasts forever.

NICHOLS: There were a handful of other teams also chasing after Peyton Manning. In the end, Peyton said he picked the Broncos largely because of you. What did you do right?

ELWAY: I put myself in Peyton's shoes, if I was, what would I want in my second team? So I tried to provide that with the Broncos. And then I didn't hard sell him, you know? And I said, you know, that's what we have to offer.

NICHOLS: Did you have some big moments with Peyton?

ELWAY: I think the one big moment we had is the night he came to Denver. I said, here's my advice to you, not s somebody that wants as a friend and a fellow quarterback, number one, take your time on this decision, because it's a big decision.

And number two, make sure you get away from Indianapolis. I know that's where you wanted to finish your career, unfortunately the way things work out, that's not going to work out. So you need to come to grips with what happened there. Get over that. Once you do that, you can pick where your next team is going to be, what's going to be the best for Peyton Manning.

And he did a nice job in doing. He took a couple weeks. Each though it was tough for us waiting that long, you know, it was well worth it.

NICHOLS: What was it like to wait and wait and pick up the phone and have him say, OK, I'm coming?

ELWAY: Well, the funny thing is, when he called me, he said, you know, how are you doing? He says I'm doing well, he says it's hard calling these teams telling them I'm not coming there.

MANNING: I called John Elway Monday morning to let him know that I wanted to be a Denver Bronco.

ELWAY: And thank God when he said we're coming.

NICHOLS: So Peyton commits. And was there a moment where you said, all right, I hope this works?

ELWAY: Yes. I mean, you know, I made the bet. I knew we were going to sleep in it, so it was our job to get the best people around him that we possibly could, and the best coaches. So we went to work from there. You know, we had our fingers crossed that things were going to come back.

NICHOLS: And, of course, it's clearly worked. You're in the Super Bowl.

You had the ultimate Super Bowl walk-off home run, right? You win two Super Bowls, walk into retirement. There are people who think Peyton should do the same thing. If he wins, that he should retire. What do you think?

ELWAY: Well, I think Peyton has a lot of football left. I think his body is still in really good shape and he still enjoys the preparation and still works hard at it. So, no, I don't -- I think there's more in his future and I think he's got a lot still to do. So I don't think it's time for Peyton to walk away.

NICHOLS: Said by the man who wants him on the field for his team, that's for sure, right?

ELWAY: That's right.

NICHOLS: There's all this talk about what would it mean if Peyton won the Super Bowl. But I want to know, what would it mean to you?

ELWAY: Well, I mean, I think there's -- there would be lot to -- I worked hard in this position, especially when I took this position, a lot of people that said, you know, a lot of naysayers, so it's nice to be able to, you know, say you've done something people said you can't do. So, it would be a great first step. You know, I still plan on doing this for a while, and so it would be nice to be able to get a Super Bowl championship under our belt.

NICHOLS: Your dad was a football coach. He went into personnel. He was the director of pro personnel for the Broncos in the neighborhood of what you do now. What do you think he would say if he saw you now?

ELWAY: I think -- believe me, I thought about that several times, especially when I first got this job and with the success we've had in the last couple of years. I miss him. It makes me miss him each more, because I wish he could have been part of it, because I know how much he would enjoy it. You know, really, how much of a help he would have been, too.

So, it definitely makes me miss him more now.

NICHOLS: Are you going to be thinking of him Sunday morning?

ELWAY: Will do. I'm hoping Monday morning, and it's a very good thought on Monday morning.


NICHOLS: That would be very touching indeed.

All right. We have a lot more of our special edition of UNGUARDED to come. We've got a lot Super Bowl rings around here. Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, three rings, Hall of Famer Joe Montana, four rings. They're stopping by.

You are going to want to stick around.


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. We are out here on Super Bowl Boulevard.

And there's no one over the past few decades whose name has been more synonymous with the Super Bowl than four-time winner Joe Montana.

Joe stopped by earlier this afternoon and I got his inside take on everything from the weather to quarterbacks.


Joe, you played Super Bowls in Detroit, indoors, of course, and Miami, and California, New Orleans. Did you ever think you would see this, in the middle of Manhattan, and getting ready for the Super Bowl? And how do you think the weather is going to affect everyone?

JOE MONTANA, NFL HALL OF FAMER: Well, by the looks of what I just saw on TV, that's not going to be too bad. And there may be a little more rain, but that would affect it a little bit.

I think this game, as much as I love New York City, it should be a place where weather has no effect. At this point in time, the game has changed from what it used to be. You've got all these guys throwing the ball now. Let's everybody be the best. You've got number one offense against the number one defense.

NICHOLS: So, you'd rather see that Super Bowl in perfect conditions as they like to say?

MONTANA: Yes, you know, being a quarterback especially.

NICHOLS: Right. Well, the Seahawks don't have a single player on their team who has been to a Super Bowl before. You've been on both sides of it. You played in four, so you've got your first experience when you were a newbie, and then, of course, your fourth when you were a old grizzled veteran. How much is the experience factor, how important is it?

MONTANA: I don't think it's as important as you think, but happens to them is that people beat it into their brain that it's different and it's really just another game. Once they get involved in the game and it gets started, the defense hopefully for them will set the tone and let the offense kind of settle in, because they're going to try to run the ball with Marshawn.

But I really don't think after it gets going it's going to be much of an issue.

NICHOLS: I do want to ask you about the quarterbacks in this matchup, Peyton Manning specifically. We've heard so much talk this week. Does he need this Super Bowl win to cement his legacy? Does the number of Super Bowls matter or is it just how great is he?

MONTANA: I don't think it matters. I mean, he's already been there and won one, been to another one. It's just -- the numbers that he's throwing up right now is crazy. You know, obviously, the rules are helping him a little bit, but he's still a great player -- very accurate throwing the ball and, you know, I think what he's done already speaks for itself. If he wins it adds to it. But I don't think it matters if he loses.

NICHOLS: And, of course, you just filmed a Super Bowl commercial with him for Papa John's. Who is a better actor, you or Peyton? MONTANA: Peyton is pretty fun. He's actually comes pretty easy for him. We had a lot of fun, 30th anniversary, and they're trying to go back to where it all began for Papa John's 30 years ago, and on their way back, they find a stowaway in the back. So --

NICHOLS: We'll look for the acting off between you and Peyton during the Super Bowl. It will be fun.

Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

MONTANA: My pleasure. Thank you.


NICHOLS: Well, if Joe Montana was the face of Super Bowl excellence in the '80s, then my next guest was the face in the '90s. Running back Emmitt Smith won the Super Bowl three times. He was named MVP.

So, to get the real story of what the players here are about to go through, we figured he was the man to ask.


NICHOLS: Give us the inside story here, what sit like right now for the Seahawks and the Broncos?

SMITH: I think the players right now are going through this surreal moment, a moment of truth, if you will. And it's all going to culminate come Sunday.

NICHOLS: You start to get nervous, because it starts to sink in, it's coming.

SMITH: You start to get little butterflies, and the butterflies come even more come Saturday.

NICHOLS: You played on a Cowboys team that led the league in bravado, so you've heard trash talk up and down for your lifetime. What did you think of what Richard Sherman did after the NFC championship?

SMITH: At the end of the day, when Richard Sherman makes the biggest play of his career and then he goes up to him and tries to shake his hand after talking trash and the guy push him in the face, yes, I'm upset too.

NICHOLS: So, you're on board with what Richard Sherman said?

SMITH: Oh, yes. I am on board. Most people -- people see on that sidelines, they can say anything they want to until someone get in your face and until someone actually challenge you in that way.

This is not like corporate America, so to speak. This is not corporate America. This is like -- this is physicality. This is like boxing. This is like getting into the Colesseum in Rome and going for it.

NICHOLS: So, we see all the bravado, you see some really good football. Now that it's Super Bowl time, do you miss it a little? Is this is the time of year that you kind of wish you were back on the field?

SMITH: This is the time of the year that you want to get back out there and play for one game. But you know, I've lost a lot of those urges, though.

NICHOLS: Do you remember the soul searching moment you had when you finally decided OK, I'm going to step away from the game?

SMITH: It happened fairly quickly for me. When I got dressed in a Dallas Cowboys -- in Texas Stadium, as an Arizona Cardinal, I walked into the locker room, the visitor's locker room and I was in there as an Arizona Cardinal. Rachel, I cried for about 30 minutes.

NICHOLS: Really?

SMITH: I mean, sobbing tears. It was one of the worst experiences for me.

NICHOLS: What am I doing here?


NICHOLS: You had gone to the Cardinals after your long Cowboys career.

SMITH: Yes, after 13 years.

NICHOLS: Trying to extend your career.

SMITH: Exactly. I'm looking around like -- and I have this surreal moment, why am I here? What am I doing?


SMITH: This hurts too bad. And that's when I realized it was time for me to move on. That's when I knew the game had passed me by.


NICHOLS: Smith had played 13 years in Dallas before jumping to Arizona for two seasons. And when he did quit football in five, he signed a one-day contract to retire as a Cowboy.

We're going to have much more from him after the break, including why he's worried he might become the next ex-player suffering from dementia.

You're going to want to hear this.


NICHOLS: Welcome back. I'm Rachel Nichols.

Yes, that's me, up high there. And for our Super Bowl special edition of UNGUARDED, we have been catching up with three-time Super Bowl champ Emmitt Smith.

Of course, these days, Smith is known for a lot more than just football.


NICHOLS: You've had more of a public post career than most people. All the commercials we've seen you in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your beard is weird.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Your stash is trash.

SMITH: Oh, it's bad.

NICHOLS: "Dancing with the Stars", of course, was a huge success for you.

Well, it's amazing, because I told people I was going to talk to you today and half the people -- you're in the Hall of Fame. Half the people said oh, the guy from "Dancing with the Stars." Did that happen to you?

SMITH: It happened to me quite often.

NICHOLS: When you signed up, did you have any idea the reach that it would have?

SMITH: No, didn't have a clue. Didn't realize how impactful that would be, let alone not having a helmet on, so people could see my face, see my smile and see everything else that I am, and see a different side of me.

NICHOLS: It's not all fun and games, though. There's health issues that former players have. You've struggled with gout. What's been the most difficult for you?

SMITH: I'll tell you, gout has been the most painful experience I've had since I retired the game. Gout is a severe form of arthritis. And as a former football player, yes, I am set up for arthritis because of the pounding that I've taken over the years.

NICHOLS: Former football players, some are having problems like you, some are having more significant problems. Your idol growing up was Tony Dorsett. Tony Dorsett has recently come out and said he's struggling with what might be the beginnings of dementia. We've had players high rate of suicide.

As somebody who sees what's happening to some of your peers, what are your biggest concerns?

SMITH: Those are some of my biggest concerns because I scared more than Dorsett, I scared more than anyone else. I grew up in a house, you flipped the lights on and you see the roaches scatter. You flip the lights on now, you see some of the carnage that's been left from the game.

NICHOLS: The NFL recently settled their concussion lawsuit, $765 million, but a judge stepped in and says she doesn't think that's enough money.

SMITH: Right.

NICHOLS: What do you think?

SMITH: I agree with the judge.

NICHOLS: Is the NFL doing enough?

SMITH: I do agree. When you take that number that the judge was talking about and you divide it amongst the 20,000 athletes that have come through the sport, it's equivalent to $20,000 each.

NICHOLS: Now, I can't let you go without asking about the Dallas Cowboys. Cowboys fans right now are frustrated. Are you frustrated, do you understand?

SMITH: Yes, I am. Yes, I am. You're talking about a great organization, a brand that is synonymous with greatness. Unfortunately, over the recent years, the play on the field or the winning, I'm going to say, has not met that brand quality.

NICHOLS: I mean, do you throw things at the TV like everyone else?

SMITH: Sometimes. Sometimes I do. But I do know it's my television and I've got to replace it, so I'm not going to do it that much.

NICHOLS: Maybe Emmitt Smith can come back and fix things, play for them.

SMITH: No, play, no. Play, no. Emmitt Smith doesn't want to play football any further.


NICHOLS: You hear that, Tony Romo? You are on your own.

All right, that is it for us out here on beautiful Super Bowl Boulevard. But you can follow me on Twitter, visit us on the Web at And for the next month, you can also catch me reporting for CNN at the Sochi Olympics. Then after that, I'll see you right back here in March for all new episodes of UNGUARDED -- where the end of the game is just the start of the story.

Good night.