Welcome to another edition of the Broncos History Lesson. This week I will be covering the Broncos "trade of the century". The historical trade that brought the face of the franchise to Denver, John Elway. This trade is important to Bronco fans not because of how he helped Denver become a perennial winner, but because without him a large portion of us may not have even become Bronco fans in the first place.
John Elway was a rare athlete of his day. He excelled not just in football, but in baseball as well. He even threw a 93 MPH fast ball. Although it was obvious he was far more talented as a football player, Elway preferred to keep his options open. In the summer of 1981 he signed a $150,000 contract to play Class A ball for the New York Yankees. Elway batted .318 during his six week stint with the Yankees - not bad for a football player.
I don't know about you, but seeing Elway in a Yankees uniform gives me the willies. Maybe its my fanaticism of the Broncos or more likely it is my hatred of all things Yankee, but I am grateful history played out like it did.
Through Elway's career at Stanford he displayed an ability beyond anything scouts had ever seen from a quarterback. Elway had it all, a rocket arm, precision accuracy, and an uncanny ability to escape the clutches of frustrated defensive linemen. He went on to break many NCAA passing records on a woefully bad Stanford team.
In Elway's final collegiate game, he led a drive to score a touchdown with a mere seven seconds remaining to take the lead, however, an unlikely kick off return for a touchdown matched only by the Music City Miracle gave the Cal Bears the victory and denied Elway any hope of going to a bowl game.
So along came the 1983 draft. The NFL, having just been brutalized by a players strike the year before that ended up being a throw away season for most teams. The Broncos received the 4th overall pick, but were still three picks away from being able to pick up John Elway - the drafts top prospect. The number one overall pick was held by the Baltimore Colts who were coming off a 0-8-1 regular season record.
Elway had different plans, he wanted to play on the west coast. He had no desire to play for a franchise that had no plans of going to any championships anytime soon. So he laid a bombshell on the NFL by letting the world know that he would not play football for the Baltimore Colts. If they drafted him, he would play baseball for the Yankees. No NFL prospect has ever slapped a franchise in the face like that before and most in the media figured it was a bluff.
However, even after getting clubbed in the groin by Elway's baseball bat, the Colts owner Robert Irsay and Coach Frank Kush drafted Elway #1 overall. One cannot blame Baltimore for making this move, because they were in a bind and needed a quarterback badly. The previous year their number 1 draft pick, former Ohio State QB Art Schlichter, ran up a six-figure gambling tab with bookies and ended up entering FBI witness protection. Elway was unsympathetic, however, and demanded a trade or he would sign with the Yankees before training camp.
The Colts struck a deal with Denver on May 2, 1983, seeming to purposely reject a better offer from Al Davis because the Colts didn't want to give in completely to Elway's demands of being traded to a west coast team. Al Davis cried foul and as crazy Al usually does, claimed that a "league conspiracy had prevented him from trading for the Elway pick."
In any case, the Broncos had more to offer right way. They gave up their #4 pick of Chris Hinton, and their number 1 pick in the 1984 draft, along with a back up QB and one million dollars of cold hard cash. Many thought this trade was one of the worst of all-time, but in reality the Colts got Chris Hinton, who churned out 7 pro bowl seasons out of a 13 year career and also Ron Solt who gave a solid career as a starting NFL Guard. An interesting blog written by Chris Hinton can be found here.
So it wasn't like the Colts got nothing out of the deal, although Elway did go on to lead a talentless Bronco team to three Super Bowl berths, as well as leading a talent-filled team to two Super Bowl titles.
The Denver Broncos quickly signed Elway to a five year, five million dollar contract, which at the time was the biggest deal in NFL history. Elway went on to become one of the all-time greats and the Denver Broncos became an elite franchise, dedicated to winning.