March 11, 1999 12:00 AM

After dazzling fans and confounding defenses for 16 years, John Elway on Sunday made official what everyone had known for more than a week. The record-setting Denver Broncos quarterback delayed his retirement announcement because of the school killings in Littleton, and his news conference began with a moment of silence for the victims. He was upbeat at the start, cracking jokes and telling war stories about himself and his team. Then the quarterback turned to his retirement — and that’s when it hit him. His face crumpled, and the sobs came. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” said Elway, 38. “I can’t compete at the level I want to compete at. That’s what it came down to.”

  • Elway, master of the last-minute comeback, becomes the third superstar to leave his sport since January, joining Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.

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