Three picks after the Baltimore Colts selected John Elway with the 1st pick in the 1983 draft, the Broncos selected tackle Chris Hinton 4th overall. How on earth did the Broncos end up with the 4th overall pick? The 1982 season must have been just awful.
The 1982 season was indeed awful in ways that challenge the traditional definition of terrible. First, there was the NFLPA strike that wiped out NFL football for over half the season. Imagine the third game of the season being played the weekend before Thanksgiving! Thankfully, I was only 3-years old at the time and don’t remember it.
The 1982 Denver Broncos fielded holdovers from the Super Bowl XII team like Craig Morton, Rob Lytle, Riley Odoms, Tom Glassic, Rick Upchurch, and Randy Gradishar while featuring stars we’d all get to know during the tragic Super Bowl runs of late 1980’s like Denis Smith, Rich Karlis, Gerald Willhite, Keith Bishop, Sammy Winder, and Steve Watson. Managing this collision of eras was Dan Reeves in his first year as head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Denver won just 2 games in 1982, none of them in division and none of them in conference. Before the hiatus, the Broncos hosted Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and their San Francisco 49ers at Mile High and eked out a victory with the aid of a barefoot Rich Karlis field goal.
The other victory came against Ray Malavasi’s Los Angeles Rams. Broncos history honks will remember him as the Denver Broncos interim head coach that replaced Mac Speedie after he dropped the first two games of the 1966 season. Malavasi would notch just a 4-8 record as Broncos head coach before being replaced by Lou Saban for the 1967 season.
After turning in a horrid performance in the first game of the season against the San Diego Chargers and getting off to a shaky start against the 49ers, Craig Morton was benched in favor of Steve DeBerg.
After falling behind in Anaheim, 21-0 in the 2nd quarter, the Broncos finally found their groove with DeBerg hitting Rick Upchurch for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Running back Rick Parros added another touchdown when DeBerg found him to close out the 2nd quarter. Outside of a Rams field goal in the 4th quarter, the Broncos would own the rest of the game adding two Rich Karlis field goals and another Rick Parros touchdown. Broncos won, 27-24.
Interesting side note, in Super Bowl XXXIII, the Broncos faced Dan Reeves, as coach, and Steve DeBerg, as backup quarterback for the Falcons. While everyone remembers that victory over Atlanta as John Elway’s last game, few remember that it was also the conclusion to Steve DeBerg’s 20-year career.
So how did this game ‘help pave the way for the Broncos to acquire John Elway’?
If you haven’t seen the ESPN’s 30 for 30: Elway to Marino you need to stop what you’re doing right now and seek it out. The documentary details the minutiae of the 1983 NFL draft and gets deeply into what happened between Denver and Baltimore in the historic trade that changed both franchises forever.
The Rams and Broncos both finished 1982 with 2-7 records. Since the Broncos won the head-to-head, the Rams got to pick 3rd overall in 1983, right before Denver. Had the Broncos lost to Los Angeles, the Rams trade with the Houston Oilers to get the 2nd overall pick and hall-of-famer Eric Dickerson would have been more difficult to make or wouldn’t have happened at all. Denver could have picked someone other than Chris Hinton and the 1983 draft would have been different.
Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Hermann, and the Broncos 1st round pick in the 1984 draft were traded to Baltimore for John Elway. Would Elway have come to Denver without Hinton? The 30 for 30 mentions that the trade was more a product of then-Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser’s relationship with Colts owner Robert Irsay than the elements that were actually exchanged. However, if things didn’t sit as they did on draft day in 1983 as a result of the 1982 season, you can’t say for sure that Elway becomes the cornerstone of Denver Broncos history. It’s crazy to think of the impact a single game can have on a franchise.