John Elway a Raider? Ten fascinating revelations from 'Elway To Marino', ESPN's '30 for 30'

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN's critically acclaimed documentary series 30 for 30 examined the 1983 NFL Draft Tuesday night -- the draft that saw future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway traded to the Denver Broncos.

The allure of the NFL Draft is what it is today because, 30 years ago, there was the 1983 Draft.

It is The Draft That Changed Everything.

(Oh, how it almost changed everything so differently...)

That's what I take away from ESPN's latest installment in its 30 for 30 documentary series, Elway To Marino, which premiered Tuesday night. Elway's agent Marvin Demoff, who also represented Dan Marino, reveals all in this 90-minute gem, including near-trades and almost-picks that would have altered the NFL landscape in completely different ways.

Among the things I learned:

10. Colts GM Ernie Accorsi -- GM in name only -- wanted five draft picks for the top overall choice heading into the draft: three first round picks and two second round picks. One of the first round draft picks had to be a top six pick in 1983 because he -- like many others -- expected the Chiefs to select Dan Marino 7th overall.

(Of course, the Chiefs selected QB Todd Blackledge instead, to Chiefs fans' undying chagrin.)

9. John Elway and his father Jack believed they had a "gentlemen's agreement" with Accorsi that John would be traded by April 19, a week before the draft.

8. Elway's public reason for not wanting to play in Baltimore -- that he wanted to play on the West Coast -- was a concoction of his agent as part of the gentlemen's agreement. The Elways were not to blame Baltimore.

7. San Diego Chargers owner Gene Klein feigned interest in trading for John Elway as a negotiation tactic to get Dan Fouts to sign his contract. It worked.

6. The Raiders tried to execute a three-team trade that would have sent Howie Long to the Chicago Bears and John Elway to L.A. Owner Al Davis was convinced that Commissioner Pete Roselle conspired against and ultimately stopped it.

5. Terry Bradshaw really didn't like John Elway, telling him to "play baseball."

4. The Seattle Seahawks were internally interested in John, and John was interested in them. But they had a need for both a quarterback and a running back. They ultimately traded out of the #2 spot and selected running back Curt Warner out of Penn State -- passing on running back Eric Dickerson. The Seahawks missed out on two Hall of Famers in April 1983.

3. Legendary San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh, only a year removed from winning a Super Bowl with Joe Montana, considered trading Montana to the Colts for John Elway. Walsh had recruited Elway to Stanford.

2. Other teams offered the Colts more than the Broncos did for John Elway. The Broncos ultimately got Elway for a backup QB, a draft pick, and the fourth overall selection in 1983 Chris Hinton. Other teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, offered more.

What was the difference? Then-Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser negotiated directly with Colts owner Robert Irsay. Other teams were talking with GM Ernie Accorsi or Coach Frank Kush.

"We offered three starters and a future pick for next year," Cowboys VP of Personnel Gil Brandt says in the documentary. "In my mind, it was a better offer than what they ended up doing with Denver. The only thing is, we were dealing with Frank Kush instead of dealing with Mr. Irsay."

1. John Elway was right not to want to play for Baltimore. The documentary may not sit well with Colts fans, because owner Robert Irsay was portrayed in a damning light. Irsay interfered with his GM's duties and supported a coach undeserving of a support. He ultimately accepted a trade that led to Accorsi resigning.

"To be the person who made that trade -- a bad trade," Accorsi says, "I wasn't going to go down as the guy who gave this quarterback away."

We offered three starters and a future pick for next year. In my mind, it was a better offer than what they ended up doing with Denver. The only thing is, we were dealing with Frank Kush instead of dealing with Mr. Irsay. -Cowboys VP Gil Brandt

The documentary provides even more context. The Colts' infamous Mayflower move from Baltimore to Indianapolis took place only a year later. Chris Hinton, the player the Broncos drafted in 1983 whom they ultimately traded to the Colts, even spoke of the noticeable difference between Denver and Baltimore that spring.

"I was expecting the same reception in Baltimore that I had in Denver," Hinton said, laughing. "I got off the plane, and I looked around, and there were no autographs to give out."

Dumping on the Colts notwithstanding, perhaps the film's biggest impact will be the impression it left that the Denver Broncos were extraordinarily lucky to be able to trade for John Elway. The deal that changed orange and blue history was a culmination of good fortune, shrewd negotiating, and a lot of luck.

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